Big Data Innovation Requires Privacy

I love to cook.  Preparing a new meal for my family is one of my greatest pleasures.  I enjoy the process starting from the selection of the recipe and then shopping for the ingredients.  I am glad we have regulations which require ingredient labeling and nutrition statements.  I am comforted by the fact that the food supply is regulated for safety.   I consider myself a careful person, but I must say I do not read every food label.  I also do not research the food companies for their inspection results, and I rarely wonder about the suppliers to the food companies and whether there is enough oversight of the suppliers to ensure high quality.  If I was forced to perform that detailed analysis for every meal, I would likely need to dramatically reduce the variety of my family’s diet, constrain myself to just a couple food companies and pay higher costs due to my inability to frequently choose competing brands.

Very few people want to shop and eat with those restrictions.   However, this would be the reality if food safety regulators created an environment similar to the current data privacy regulatory environment.

Our economy is currently going through a transformation in the use of data that has the potential to improve lives by solving problems in healthcare, energy, transportation, efficiency of government and security.   As one example, having access to location data from cell phone networks can help better time highway entrance gate ramps, thereby reducing traffic jams, saving energy and decreasing emissions.  It is not difficult to come up with hundreds of similar scenarios.

Some privacy pundits, though, would like us to restrict this use of data to situations where individuals have fully reviewed detailed notices of the privacy implications, and have explicitly consented.   This is the equivalent of having to sign a twenty page legal document before eating a bowl of soup.

Others look at the burden this puts on individuals, and the value to society from using the data, and conclude we must relegate privacy to an outdated activity like milling your own grain or butchering your own meat.  However, considering privacy obsolete fails to recognize that individuals need to trust their use of digital devices, or they will shy away from using them in new and innovative ways.

Intel sees the tremendous potential of “Big Data” to help solve the large social problems of our day, and produce a generation of economic growth.   We develop products at the core of this future, and it is our mission to make certain those products connect and enrich the lives of every person on earth.  To do this, we need to both safeguard privacy and security so individuals can trust their use of technology, and make certain any necessary laws and regulations do not burden people with understanding all of the detail about how their data is processed.

In their book “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think”, Ken Cukier and Victor Mayer-Schonberger provide a template to accomplish these two synergistic goals.  They call for shifting the burden away from individuals’ need to read detailed privacy policies, and to move it to organizations to demonstrate they are accountable for using the data appropriately.  Individual consent should still play a significant role for data uses which are more likely to result in significant harm (e.g., use of data to locate a child).   In most instances, though, we should take the burden off of the individual and place it where it belongs, which is on the organization processing the data. Regulators should require those entities to demonstrate their accountability, and punish bad actors harshly.

We can live in a world of legal documents before every meal, or one of varied and inexpensive cuisine.  It is time we move to a regulatory framework of accountable and appropriate use and more fully realize the potential of data.

This week begins a dialogue we call The Innovation Economy: Information Revolution.  With our remarkable partners, the Aspen Institute and the Bipartisan Policy Center, Intel will help convene experts in a variety of fields who share our sense that data has the potential to unlock unknown opportunity, but who also realize that smart policy will play a critical role.  Join us at The Innovation Economy

 

2 Responses to Big Data Innovation Requires Privacy

  1. Cliff Elam says:

    Very good points.

    It’s also good to point out that while people are having fantods about how UHC is treating their patient data there is a universe of very small and very unregulated (and very unsophisticated) players holding their patient data.

    I tend to think people need to relax because technology has, in the commercial sector at least, changed privacy parameters in a fundamental (like gravity, not like lowfat mayo) way.

    -XC