I was talking to a programmer friend the other day. He helps develop actuarial algorithms for insurance companies. He is constantly pointing out that his algorithms are beneficial to insurance companies and beneficiaries alike. They are necessary to set fair premiums.
He had a slight change of tune the other day. His own insurance rates went up by 10% because of a discovery that one of his insurers made. He believes that they used his own algorithm to find some personal information about him. He didn’t reveal what it was, but felt upset that his privacy may have been violated, although in a perfectly legal way. He wasn’t so concerned about the change in his rates, so much as the feeling that his privacy was violated.
This forced me to start thinking about the consequences of big data.
Do we need to sell our privacy for the benefits of big data?
Big data has made our lives better in countless ways. Unfortunately, we don’t spend enough time talking about the cost that comes with it. The biggest downside of big data is the loss of privacy.
You can’t deny that our privacy has been compromised over the past few years. Facebook, Google, Comcast and other major corporations are willing to auction off our personal information to the highest bidder. Tax authorities and other government organizations routinely monitor our online activity for criminal investigations and other issues.
This wouldn’t be an issue without big data. Government organizations and businesses can use data in amazing ways. The problem is that they use that data in ways that we don’t like and we may feel that they are exposing our privacy to the world.
Hyperbole overwhelms the conversation
I have noticed that most of the people that are concerned about the privacy cost of big data don’t have a technical background. Many of their concerns are not rooted in reality.
While there are plenty of legitimate concerns, some of the fears of privacy violations are heavily overblown. We need to be careful not to have misconceptions deter us from realizing the benefits of big data.
Here are some misconceptions about privacy that are scaring many laypeople away from embracing big data.
Brands know everything about you
Brands use your social media data to watch you more effectively. Many people mistakenly believe that this means that they know everything about you. Fortunately, this is not true.
When you use sites like Facebook and Google, they use anonymizer tokens to check your activities without compromising all of your personal information.
There is nothing that you can do to protect your online privacy
This is simply not true. There are a lot of things that you can do to protect your online privacy. One tip is to use a VPN to encrypt all of your traffic and hide your connections from your ISP and other snoops. However, it is important to make sure your VPN is properly setup and is up-to-date. Using an outdated VPN will offer very little protection.
Your ISP sees everything you do online
It is a bit scary to think about how much your ISP knows about you. However, there is no need to be paranoid. They cannot see every single thing you do online.
Your ISP knows the following:
• What do you mean you access
• Content that you send and receive through unencrypted links
• Amount of time that you spend online or on any specific domain
They cannot see any information that is transmitted through an HTTPS connection. The amount of online traffic that is encrypted has risen by nearly 40% between 2014 and 2016. It now accounts for 49% of all web traffic. Your ISP can’t see anything that you send through Facebook and Google, because they are heavily encrypted. People would only see information that you send through those web properties if the companies released it themselves, which is usually against their terms of privacy.