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June 10, 2013



The way you characterize the motivation of businesses in the private data game is important but worth extending somewhat. Businesses have many motivations, including sometimes even the desire to create a better world. They're certainly about more than just selling us more things - because they are made of people. One of the things they're concerned with is the right to do business and themselves to be free from government caprice. In this case, that means they have done what they were told and handed over whatever data the government asked of them.

In turn, the problem with government is less that government cannot be trusted with the data than it is with the individuals and groups within government who then gain access to that data. The leak (and the many earlier leaks) demonstrate that government is entirely too blasé in its attitude to who has access to data. Perhaps more worryingly, it seems that the civilian contractors they grant seemingly unfettered access to are perhaps even more blasé.

When staff are vetted only through third-party credentials like 'clearance', there is little or nothing to prevent uses of these data-sets that anyone would consider thoroughly nefarious. From gathering of insider trading information (analysing changes in the call graph of a CEO) to stalkers, the power of data sets like this to help ne'er-do-wells is fantastic. The NSA couldn't protect simple documents from release. There is little reason to think they protect these large data-sets any better.

Businesses at least have incentives to prevent (or not encourage) such activities. So even does the civilian / unclassified government. The nether reaches of government and their contractors don't have any such incentive as far as I can see. That is scary.


Transparency has to be at both ends.

Chuck Hollis

Matt -- great points!


-- Chuck

Jim Power

Good points made. This is a complex issue and I believe that we need to have this discussion and make rules (and laws) as to what is and what is not permissible when it comes to Big Data.

A good example of this is in healthcare. Right now researchers are pulling in tons of medical records and looking for correlations between different treatments and the outcome. This has the possibility of really proving what treatments work and which do not based on certain factors. For example, men at certain weight that are of African descent who smoke respond the best to this drug combination to treat type 2 diabetes. This could help so many and even save lives.

BUT you are using people's personal and private medical histories to do this. On one hand you have the greater good and on the other people's right to privacy. What they are currently doing is that they strip out all personal information (name, address, etc) before the data is uploaded. That way everyone is a John and Jane Doe but the valuable data is not wasted.

Perhaps the government could do the same, get the data to analyze it but make it impossible to trace records back to an individual.


When you ask if we really care about privacy, I think you have to quantify who "we" is. I assume you mean North Americans. In other geographies, I think these things get much more heated - although I'm not sure the man-on-the-street would think differently. I suspect it would correlate directly to their view on their government.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Chuck Hollis

  • Chuck Hollis
    SVP, Oracle Converged Infrastructure Systems

    Chuck now works for Oracle, and is now deeply embroiled in IT infrastructure.

    Previously, he was with VMware for 2 years, and EMC for 18 years before that, most of them great.

    He enjoys speaking to customer and industry audiences about a variety of technology topics, and -- of course -- enjoys blogging.

    Chuck lives in Vero Beach, FL with his wife and four dogs when he's not traveling. In his spare time, Chuck is working on his second career as an aging rock musician.

    Warning: do not ever buy him a drink when there is a piano nearby.

    Note: these are my personal views, and aren't reviewed or approved by my employer.
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