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Big Data and Privacy as Viewed by the White House and European Union

by Alex Giamas on May 20, 2014 |

The White House recently published a report on Big Data and Privacy. ACLU, Common Sense Media and other privacy advocates openly applauded the findings of the report. From the industry side, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) supported the report’s stance that Big Data provides “substantial public benefits“.

The report focused on how Big Data analytics can help identify excessive government spending, improve healthcare and education and help with the nation’s continuing economic recovery.

Among others, the report made specific recommendations regarding privacy protections such as advancing the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights to ensure student data is used only for educational purposes and ensuring that Big Data can not be used in a discriminatory way. Also among the recommendations are extending privacy protections to non-US citizens and amending the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to be more in line with how technology is currently used.

Big Data has evolved to a point that it is used across different industries from utilities to health insurance to price different customer segments in a different way based on common attributes they share. This, according to the report, could be used for discrimination against groups of customers.

Privacy around Big Data is an issue that governments are just starting to deal with. The European Court of Justice ruled that Google is responsible for the search results it delivers and should comply with legitimate requests to delete private information about individuals. This comes in line with EU’s stance about the “right to be forgotten” in the Internet. Since the ruling, Google and Microsoft have started receiving an overwhelming amount of deletion requests from users. And as the AOL data leak has proven back in 2010, even non identifiable information when dense enough, can identify a person out from the crowd.

Other technology companies have started facing concerns over data privacy in European Union. European Union’s privacy authorities recently approved Microsoft’s privacy policies for Microsoft Azure, Office 365, Dynamics CRM and Windows Intune. The European Commission has asked for stronger data privacy laws, affecting U.S. companies doing business in E.U. By this summer the safe harbor agreement regarding privacy data collection and storage will be updated to face the recent challenges.

Privacy policies are most likely going to be transformed as governments are taking a deeper look into what should be stored and how should it be handled by private entities. Big Data may get affected by these changes and architects have to follow closely on rulings ensuring that software platforms can be brought up to date with minimal engineering effort and service disruption.

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