White House unveils Big Data and Privacy report amid week of tech privacy news

It must be privacy week.

Facebook announced private ways to log on to apps, as Dan Nakaso wrote for the Mercury News. Google said it would stop scanning students’ emails for advertising ideas. And inBloom, the educational data company that sparked privacy concerns, called it quits.

In the midst of these privacy headlines, the White House dropped its 79-page Big Data and privacy report highlighting concerns and making policy recommendations.

On the White House blog, White House counselor John Podesta discussed some of the darker sides of big data:

In particular, our review raised the question of whether the “notice and consent” framework, in which a user grants permission for a service to collect and use information about them, still allows us to meaningfully control our privacy as data about us is increasingly used and reused in ways that could not have been anticipated when it was collected.

Specifically, one concern Podesta highlighted was whether big data analytics lead to discriminatory pricing in areas such as housing, employment, credit and the marketplace.

Privacy advocates such as the ACLU and Common Sense Media praised the report, as did at least one industry group, the Software & Information Industry Association.

President Obama called for the Big Data report in January during a speech on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. It appeared to some tech observers that the president was trying to change the conversation away from the NSA to an area tech is sensitive about – data privacy.

The report includes some specific policy changes that have been kicking around for years, such as a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and national data breach legislation.

Some, like Alan Charles Raul, former vice chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, writing in Politico Magazine argue that existing laws already provide sufficient ways to protect people’s privacy.

It will be interesting to see if the report will lead to a bigger legislative and regulatory push. Or will it be credited with providing a snapshot of the data privacy issues of the day and placed on a shelf?

Above: President Obama in January speech on the NSA in which he called for a report on big data and privacy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)


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