The Guardian discusses the issue of privacy in the age of “big data” — when more and more personal information is being gathered:
The second decade of the 21st century is epitomised by Big Data. From the status updates, friendship connections and preferences generated by Facebook and Twitter to search strings on Google, locations on mobile phones and purchasing history on store cards, this is data that’s too big to compute easily, yet is so rich that it is being used by institutions in the public and private sectors to identify what people want before they are even aware they want it.
The most important thing for data holders in the Big Data age is the kind of information they have access to. Facebook’s projected $100bn value is based on the data it offers people who want to exploit its social graph. Its holdings include more than 800m records about who’s in a user’s social circle, relationship information, likes, dislikes, public and private messages and even physiological characteristics. […]
In a trend that is remarkably similar to the plotline of Philip K Dick’s Minority Report, Big Data is being used to predict social unrest or criminal intent. For example, Pax, an experimental system developed by the documentary maker and historian Brian Lapping, predicts the conditions for uprisings using aggregated search terms in different regions of the world. The analysed intelligence is then sold to governments, which can act accordingly.
The systems used to parse, synthesise, assimilate and make sense of the information are starting to make sophisticated connections and learn patterns. Big Data proponents view this as an opportunity to observe behaviours in real time, draw real-time conclusions and affect real-time change. Yet their conclusions can trip into areas that require human sensibilities to truly understand their implications. […]
In the EU, [European commission vice-president Viviane Reding] has campaigned for the “right to be forgotten”, already part of the 1995 data protection directive, which establishes by law that private data is the property of the individual and must be deleted from a system on request at any time. “More and more people feel uncomfortable about being traced everywhere, about a brave new world,” she said. Information held by public bodies, however, remains exempt.