Privacy & Big Data

Personal Data and Privacy

Most web sites collect some personal information. This is especially true though of Social Media sites which encourage lots of personal disclosure.
Mobile devices also collect data through apps and links back to service providers.

Why is this a problem as it is only my friends that see my private stuff isn't it?
No, not really.

Every website is tracking your behaviour but social media links that behaviour with your personal details in your account.
This is how they give you free social media - your personal information and behaviour is the price to use the site.

Targeted Advertising and Ad Blocking

Your personal data is used for targeted advertising and some of it is known by third parties for commercial purposes.
It is also known by governments if necessary, as they can tap records stored by service providers.
If you use apps within social media, those apps also can collect and use your data to determine things about you.
Unless you use preventive measures, your internet activities, mobile phone calls, texts and app use are all stored for future review. Many providers also let you opt out of some targeted advertising if you wish.

You can use ad blockers and tracking prevention apps to reduce the tracking that is done.
In fact, targeted advertising has become so pervasive that something like 40% of computers and 20% of mobile devices have an ad blocker installed. This has caused concern for advertising agencies and media companies that rely on advertising revenue. It is especially of concern as the strongest users of ad blocking on mobile devices are below age 40. It may be that ad blocking will grow even further as currently (2019) only about half of users are aware that ad blocking is possible.

Some advertising groups attempted to make ad blockers illegal but failed.
Some in the advertising industry recognise that targeted advertising may not achieve anything like the effectiveness it was promised as consumers resist this technology.

Consumers find the targeted advertising annoying but also they have realised that web page advertising often slows the loading of a web page and that it consumes considerable data. Effectively the consumer is paying in data charges and time wasted to be presented with ads. Many find this objectionable.

What is Big Data?

This is the name used to describe the huge information banks ('Big Data') that have been developed, mostly from storing millions on millions of internet searches and social media actions. These information banks are able to be analysed to predict potential personal behaviour and purchasing behaviour to more effectively target advertising.

While you might prefer advertising that better fits your interests, remember that the hope is that you will make more impulse purchases when the targeted information is presented to you. This may well mean that you make a purchase that is more expensive, has lesser quality or has other undesirable features that you might have avoided with a more careful purchase.
Remember that advertising mainly appeals in the emotive areas of fear and hope. This can easily drive unwanted purchases, wasted money and perhaps excessive credit debt.

There are also the concerns of other types of manipulation to affect the thinking of populations by behavioural predictions. The recent (2018) Facebook data leak is a case in point where it appears that voting in the USA was manipulated by appealing to emotive issues.

Big Data has also been used for discriminatory purposes where businesses believe that there is a correlation between some business risk (eg giving a bank loan) and certain types of customer data (eg some types of behaviour on Facebook)

There are some more positive aspects of Big Data where there is some potential for assisting medical modelling and other social outcomes. There are also some concerns that there is no guarantee that 'Big Data' is statistically robust* and that government and businesses will rely on a tool that is flawed when making critical decisions.

Video presentation about Big Data issues

Presentation about Big Data and security issues.

*Statistically robust - it means that the information can be considered to be a representative sample of the information being considered. If it is not representative then it cannot be accurate. To make an extreme point, analysing information from Facebook users does not help to say much about non-Facebook users except to identify who they are NOT.

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