Barry Devlin, founder of 9sight Consulting, says companies need to pay more attention to transparency when it comes to using data.
What is happening is that the likes of Google and Facebook are sucking huge amounts of data and using it to drive their own businesses, says Devlin, one of the pioneers of big data research, and now a business intelligence and big data industry analyst.
“It has become commonplace and people think it is normal, and yet it is not."
The analytics of human sourced information can drive serious breaches, he warns. He cites the fallout – including suicides – following the leak of data from the extramarital dating site Ashley Madison.
He says de-anonymisation of data is another issue. He cites the case of anonymised medical data being released for research but then ethical hackers showed that data can be de-anonymised very simply by cross correlating it with other data sources.
Just because you can collect the data does not mean you should use it.
“Businesses today have to start thinking about data and their storage and use of data in the same way banks protect our financial data,” he states.
“Privacy issues should be at the forefront of all organisations,” he stresses.
“What is it that you are trying to achieve? Do you understand potential future uses? If you get data from a client, customer or consumer, have they agreed to those uses of data, both current and anticipated?
Another area that should be front of mind is security. “Security is the foundation,” he states. “If data is accessed either legally or not legally, what are the implications for privacy?”
He says these issues around privacy and security are among the things CIOs need to discuss with the CEO and the board.
“What would happen if this data leaked? What would happen if it was stolen? What would be the implications for the business?
“Organisations need to be careful about the personal data they collect,” he points out. “Do they actually really need to go to that level of detail? Does it justify the extra costs of making it secure and putting extra control around who accesses it?”
He says organisations need to decide the ethics of data usage. “Take steps to ensure information privacy. Just because you can collect the data does not mean you should use it.
“What are the potential negative implications of having particular data about people? Don’t collect it unless you understand them.
“Avoid data from dubious data broker sources, who may have collected personal data without explicit permission,” he advises.
Above all, “be fully transparent about the intended use of data.”
'Big data is bold, beautiful and downright dangerous'
At a recent WhereScape forum in Auckland, Devlin looked at the different dimensions around big data:
Big data, he said, is:
Bold because it forces organisations to think about changing their business models entirely. Big data provides an explosion of business opportunities. The technology becomes so powerful, providing data and information that can be analysed in real-time for immediate and immense business benefit. Uber harnessed this power, providing cars when needed, using real-time demand based pricing. It is now valued at US$50 billion.
Beautiful because it enables business and ICT teams to work symbiotically to create new business opportunities and models. Big data demands a new and beautiful IT architecture. This collaboration is driving new analytics and data management approaches; and
Dangerous because the analytics of human sourced information can also bring a host of dangers around governance, privacy and economics.
Read more: Trade Me: How to build a data-driven culture
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Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.