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Privacy Corner, April 2014: The role of trust as it applies to privacy

April 4, 2014

The success (or failure) of the big data and analytics paradigm may very well rest on the notion of trust. Much has been written of the need for trust in your data, and I fully support that discussion. We still have such poor data practices still in many of our enterprises and this will only be exacerbated by noisy machine data. 

Trust is a complex state of mind and speaks to attributes such as faith, veracity truth and reliance. It is the basic mechanism for humans (and machines) to use in determining whom to interact with at a very personal level. Privacy is a key component of establishing and maintaining trust between the users of big data and analytics and the consumers (or other parties) who generate (and by extension share) the data sets that feed these systems.

The success of this relationship is based on the consumers’ trust that their private information will not be used for unauthorized or illegal activities. How this level of trust is established, much less maintained, is the subject of great debate today given the behaviors of governments across the world, as well as that of internet and application providers. Both claim to respect the consumer's privacy and want to foster trust, but the daily revelations of unauthorized spying, breaches of PII and the wholly inappropriate use of data has eroded consumer trust to virtually nothing. In spite of this, consumers continue to purchase internet devices and applications at record numbers (The growing Internet of Things). This has created a paradox between what is promised and expected versus what is delivered and experienced. We all claim outrage when our privacy is being violated, but do nothing to change the behavior of the offenders because of our desire for the experiences and rewards that they provide. This must not continue if we are to see the full breadth of strategic benefits from the Internet of Things, much less big data and analytics.

Across western governments there is a growing wave of new privacy and data protection regulations being proposed along with nationalistic entrenchment on acceptable use principals and security of consumer data. These legislative activities are being bolstered by citizen-based initiatives of all shapes and sizes focused on reigning in government and commercial behaviors. What may result from all of this is a perfect storm of laws and behaviors that work to stop the big data and analytics juggernaut in its tracks. This would be disastrous for all parties.

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Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and is reproduced with permission.

To reach a harmonious balance of the legitimate needs of government, commerce and consumers we need to re-establish trust through a rational approach to privacy, security and compliance (PSC). We must create a type of Privacy Bill of Rights (or what I call a Universal Privacy Doctrine), which clearly articulates what privacy guarantees are mandated and that it is adhered to by everyone involved. This could then set boundaries, protections, measures and methods for recourse within a trust-based privacy scheme. Without such an approach I would expect to see the balkanization of the internet, consumer dis-engagement and a myriad of new laws and regulations that seriously curtail innovation within big data and analytics. This may appear grandiose to many in the technical audience, but a necessary seed change in my opinion.

In my upcoming posts in The Privacy Corner, here on the Big Data & Analytics Hub, I will bring us back to Earth and focus on what we can do now to foster greater trust through the use of a privacy-driven approach to big data and analytics.

The big data and analytics community must get ahead of the wave of eroding trust by partnering with consumers on stronger privacy protections and practices. In the meantime we wait and see how these broader issues and initiatives play out on the global stage.

Listen to a podcast with Richard on "Trust in the digital age"