Big Data: Big Issues?

• in categories: advice • by: Michelle Balestrat

A security breach involving a big data company can affect millions (or even billions) of people in a single incident.

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But did you know that consumer power can force companies to take these measures seriously?

What’s Big Data?

We’ve perhaps heard the phrase, but what exactly gives Big Data its name? Simply put, it’s data that’s collected from many sources, about many users, and about a large variety of things.

For example, usage habits for particular services, your favourite locations, close friends, relationships, favourite activities, and a host of other varied information are all within its scope.

It may seem like a case of unnecessary stockpiling of information, however Big Data is now the driving force behind the Internet. To put it plainly: without these vast stores of information, many of the web’s most popular services would cease to function.

The Problem With Big Data

While these masses of data are collected and kept often with the best of intentions, it goes without mention that these huge data stores also have the grave potential for abuse and breaches.

The larger the volume of data, the more difficult it can be for security experts to secure. The ‘best practice’ of having only limited access points to the data – for example, a single server warehouse secured 24/7, or limited accounts with administration privileges – are impossible to implement in the case of Big Data.

This is largely due to the storage of this information in many different locations, both physical (i.e. servers placed throughout the world) and virtual (for example, across many different accounts with many employees requiring access).

Big Data doesn’t just refer to information stored about Internet users themselves either: increasingly, data about the browsing, usage and clicking habits of users is stored for marketing and analysis purposes and used to explore trends over time.

However, in the event of a breach this previously insightful data can jeopardise the personal habits and privacy of users, as well as their identifying information.

The Power of You

When it comes to security levels, companies using Big Data tend to respond to consumer demand. If customers don’t express interest in high security levels, the company will often place these issues at as a low priority level as can be managed without scrutiny.

This, in turn, can lead to disastrously large data breaches arising from entirely preventable and often trivial security issues. Examples of this sort of grave error crop up daily, from Yahoo and Ashley Madison to LinkedIn and many more.

However, positive examples do exist. Consider Facebook, whose extremely large user base is vocal about privacy. Public mistrust of the social network’s vast stores of data have led to the company vastly improving privacy measures throughout their suite of products, from clearer privacy controls to improved app permissions for their mobile products.

As consumers, we need to hold (and continue to hold) Big Data companies accountable for their security and privacy policies, demanding transparency and honesty about where our data is being stored, and providing feedback where possible.

The more interest and awareness we display and expect, the greater the attention companies will need to pay in order to keep us coming back.

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