On Data Privacy—Where Do You Fall on the Tolerance Scale?

February 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm 2 comments

By Mary Ludloff

While all the keynotes at Strata were interesting, one stood out in particular: Scott Yara’s “Your Data Rules the World.” For those of you not in the big data space, Scott’s take on the amount of data being churned out by the government, internet, phone and tv, as well as the financial, medical, and retail industries and what is, and should be, done with it is well worth its 15 minute runtime.

But what fascinated me was how Scott started his session. He talked about himself from the viewpoint of the Internet. He showed where he lived (via Google Maps), showed a small section of his college transcript, showed how you could find out what he paid for his house, showed what his house was currently worth, showed the property taxes pending, and finally, showed a snapshot (from a website) of him running a red light that resulted in a traffic ticket. Now, if you read a previous post of mine about how much information is publicly available about you, you’re not surprised by this. Neither was I.

I’ll tell you what did surprise me. Scott did not really “show” all the information available. For example, he did not show the grades on his transcript nor did he show financial information pertaining to his home—that information was blacked out. I can understand why: do you really want everyone to know your actual college grades or how much you paid for your house?

Let me put this another way for you: where do you fall on the privacy tolerance scale? What’s okay for everyone to know and what would you prefer remain private? That’s the conundrum we deal with today. There are some of you (not me) who would say I have nothing to hide and am not concerned about how much information is out there about me. There are others who would, if they could, live life “off the Internet grid.” There are still others, like me, who fall somewhere in between.

And where we fall on the tolerance scale is pretty much directly related to how we view the privacy of our data. For example, according to an Opera Software and YouGov survey:

  • Americans are more concerned about data privacy violations (25%) than they are of bankruptcy (23%) or losing jobs (22%).
  • 35% are more concerned with the data the government is collecting about them while 15% are more concerned about the data that social networks collect.
  • 16% aren’t concerned at all about the data being collected about them.

This is pretty much all over the board wouldn’t you say? But here’s what’s interesting: the majority of those surveyed (54%) want the ability to protect their online privacy. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Here’s my fantasy world (professionally speaking of course):

  • Everyone has their own online privacy profile which has a privacy tolerance level (low, medium, or high) associated with it based on how we answer simple questions about what is acceptable to us and what is not.
  • A “use my data (anonoymized  or not) for the greater good” option is available where you “allow” your data to be aggregated and used in studies. Companies, like PatternBuilders, that provide analytics tools for Big Data need as much data as possible to predict future sales of a new product or the best way to use marketing dollars. That same data might also produce analysis that could have a profound impact on the greater good,  such as optimizing disaster relief, improving medical care, or disrupting terrorist networks. So why not share it? But again, it should be your choice.
  • Whenever our tolerance level is violated, we are immediately “alerted” about it and given the option to continue (opt in) or stop (opt out).

This is not rocket science—Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google have all announced that they are building Do Not Track options into their browsers. Of course, for this to work all the companies that gather data about you must join in and honor this option.  That’s the hard part—getting those companies that track your online behavior and either use it, or sell it, for advertising purpose to honor Do Not Track or any other privacy mechansim or policy (such as my fantasy world outlined above).  

And don’t rule out my fantasy world just yet. Not only is data being collected, there are data market markets that now sell, well, data. Gnip and Microsoft Azure Marketplace are two examples of what looks like a trend towards centralized data markets. If this trend continues, Terence predicts that  a perfect storm of market forces and privacy regulations could actually make my fantasy not just a possibility, but a reality.

If you’re not sure where you stand on the data privacy issue, here’s something else to think about: a recent USA Today/Gallup poll revealed “that more than 2/3’s of consumers polled oppose online behavioral tracking and related targeted advertising.” It’s time for all of us to join in on the conversation and let the government, the companies that collect, aggregate, buy, and sell our data know how we want our “privacy” handled. After all, our data now rules the world.

Entry filed under: Data, General Analytics. Tags: , , , , , .

Care Less About the Data: It’s What You Do With It That Matters Big Data is the New Black… And it’s Here to Stay

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. iadvize  |  February 10, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I think that we should be in control of what we share and what we do not. Data privacy is a huge issues these days since there seems to be a lot of the time that we share and we don’t even know it. I think that the line needs to be drawn somewhere, but we have to be the ones to take that stand.


  • […] in control of how their data is shared. This is very similar to what Mary described in this recent post.  However, I think the centralized management of individual consumer’s data has deeper […]



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