Big Data: Will We Be Judged By The Tin Man?

Big Data: Will We Be Judged By The Tin Man?

Big data, the enhanced ability to collect, store and analyze previously unimaginable quantities of data in tremendous speed and with negligible costs, delivers immense benefits in marketing efficiency, healthcare, environmental protection, national security and more. While some privacy advocates may dispute the merits of sophisticated behavioral marketing practices or debate the usefulness of certain data sets to efforts to identify potential terrorists, few remain indifferent to the transformative value of big data analysis for government, science and society at large. At the same time, even big data evangelists should recognize the potentially ominous social ramifications of a surveillance society governed by heartless algorithmic machines.

In Judged by the Tin Man: Individual Rights in the Age of Big Data, Omer Tene and I present some of the privacy and non-privacy risks of big data as well as directions for potential solutions. In a previous paper, we argued that the central tenets of the current privacy framework – the principles of data minimization and purpose limitation – are severely strained by the big data technological and business reality. Here, we assess some of the other problems raised by pervasive big data analysis. In their book, “A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents,” Samir Chopra and Larry White note that “as we increasingly interact with these artificial agents in unsupervised settings, with no human mediators, their seeming autonomy and increasingly sophisticated functionality and behavior raise legal and philosophical questions.”

In this article we argue that the focus on the machine is a distraction from the debate surrounding data-driven ethical dilemmas, such as privacy, fairness and discrimination. The machine may exacerbate, enable, or simply draw attention to the ethical challenges, but it is humans who must be held accountable. Instead of vilifying machine-based data analysis and imposing heavy-handed regulation, which in the process will undoubtedly curtail highly beneficial activities, policymakers should seek to devise agreed-upon guidelines for ethical data analysis and profiling. Such guidelines would address the use of legal and technical mechanisms to obfuscate data; criteria for calling out unethical, if not illegal, behavior; categories of privacy and non-privacy harms; and strategies for empowering individuals through access to data in intelligible form.

Many of the leading academics in the U.S. will be convening on September 10 in Washington to debate strategies to reconcile Big Data and Privacy. Wish us luck!

-Jules Polonetsky.  First published as a LinkedIn influencer post.  Photo: Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

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Privacy Calendar

Apr
22
Tue
10:00 am Privacy Principles in the Era of Massive Data @ Georgetown Law Center
Privacy Principles in the Era of… @ Georgetown Law Center
Apr 22 @ 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Experts from the public and private sectors will join public policy experts from the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy and privacy law experts [...]
Apr
24
Thu
all-day 6th Biannual International Surveillance & Society Conference
6th Biannual International Surve…
Apr 24 – Apr 25 all-day
The 6th Biannual International Surveillance & Society conference hosted by the University of Barcelona and supported by the Surveillance Studies Network is currently calling for [...]
Apr
29
Tue
all-day IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive 2014
IAPP Europe Data Protection Inte…
Apr 29 – May 1 all-day
The IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive features timely programming centred on the top issues impacting the European data protection community, with a focus on addressing [...]
May
7
Wed
all-day IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium 2014
IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium 2014
May 7 – May 9 all-day
The IAPP Canada Privacy Symposium is the leading conference for education, debate and discussion of issues that matter most to Canadian privacy and data protection [...]
Jun
5
Thu
all-day Privacy Law Scholars Conference (7th Annual) @ The George Washington School of Law
Privacy Law Scholars Conference … @ The George Washington School of Law
Jun 5 – Jun 6 all-day
  UC Berkeley School of Law and The George Washington University Law School will be holding the seventh annual Privacy Law Scholars Conference (PLSC) on [...]
Jun
8
Sun
all-day Computers, Freedom, and Privacy 2014 Conference @ Airlie Center
Computers, Freedom, and Privacy … @ Airlie Center
Jun 8 – Jun 10 all-day
Mark your calendars! The 2014 Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference will be held June 8-10 at the Airlie Center in Warrenton, Virginia. The Airlie Center [...]
Jan
28
Wed
all-day Data Privacy Day
Data Privacy Day
Jan 28 all-day
“Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008, as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. The [...]
Jan
28
Thu
all-day Data Privacy Day
Data Privacy Day
Jan 28 all-day
“Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008, as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. The [...]

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