On Big Data, Google’s new privacy policy and more

Noted cryptographer Bruce Schneier, speaking at the RSA Conference in San Francisco this week, compared Big Data to Big Oil or Big Pharma. “I think the rise of Big Data is as important a threat in the coming years, one we should really look at and start taking seriously,” Schneier said, according to ReadWriteWeb.

On that note, let’s talk more Big Data, which Schneier says has important implications for privacy and security:

Google is going ahead with its plans to consolidate the privacy policies of its many offerings tomorrow despite the outcry. (See Google’s latest controversial move: updating its privacy policy. What will it think of next?)

What’s the fuss all about? Once a user logs in, Google will treat that person as a single user across all its platforms. That makes some people squeamish, including French regulators who say the policy may violate European Union rules. Also, the U.S.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) sued the Federal Trade Commission, asking it to stop the new policy’s implementation. Google and the FTC reached a privacy-related settlement last year, and EPIC had argued that Google’s new umbrella privacy policy appeared to violate it. A judge last week threw out EPIC’s lawsuit, and the FTC has yet to take action. But FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz reportedly said this week that Google is forcing users to make a “somewhat brutal choice” in accepting its new policy.

Google has said it is merely simplifying and clarifying. In a phone interview with GMSV shortly after the announcement in late January, Google spokeswoman Katelin Todhunter-Gerberg said users will continue to have control over the information the company collects, through tools such as the Dashboard. “We’re not collecting new information at all,” she said. Among the things she suggested users can do if they remain concerned: not signing in, creating multiple accounts to keep information separate and turning off personalized search. Other tips being reported include clearing your search or YouTube-viewing history, or using the incognito mode in the Chrome browser.

• The Wall Street Journal interviews Reid Hoffman, whose wealth comes partly from the rise of Big Data. The LinkedIn co-founder repeats something we’ve Quoted him on before: “Never ambush your users. Your users may not know what you are doing, but when they discover it they shouldn’t say, ‘WHAT!?’ ”

That’s the thing, though. Some would argue that these “what” moments have become far too common, with the rise of smartphones, social and the cloud. And sometimes they involve Facebook, in which Hoffman is an investor. Or Google. Or Apple — the most recent news is that apps developers can exploit a loophole to access iPhone users’ photos, although it’s unclear whether they have. This follows news that some apps makers were uploading users’ contacts. (See Twitter, Path and the privacy controversy over contact info and apps.)

We’ll let Schneier, via RWW, have the last word. He points not only to the big tech companies mentioned above as players in the Big Data industry, but also other data companies “and really the entire marketing ecosystem that surrounds the Internet. …The collection is becoming ubiquitous. More importantly, it’s all being aggregated. And we kind of knew this in the background, but we’re seeing new examples of it.”



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