Big Data is Coming to Get You


Big data is what high tech companies are calling collecting massive amounts of data about their users. For Google, this includes all the trips you’ve taken, the places you’ve driven, where you’ve driven, your email (if you use Gmail), your searches, Google Now preferences, articles you’e posted to Google+, your pictures, and the list goes on. The idea is to use algorithms to mine this data for useful tidbits about user habits so products and services can be recommended just as you need it. These data can tell companies a great deal about the user including who their friends are.

However, what isn’t clear is who owns the data. Companies assume they own the data, which because you agreed to their terms of service, is true, even though you didn’t read them. However, with the recent re-categorization of fitness apps and trackers at medical devices a wrench has been thrown in the works. Data associated with Medical Devices is typically assumed to be Personal Health Information, which is protected under HIPAA. Which means that companies can’t really sell them AND that you are able to control what happens with the data. It’s the reason why doctors are required to share information with other healthcare professionals.

I believe that this is just the first step towards making our data more portable. In Europe you can already request a transcript of all the data Facebook collects of you, however they do not say you have control over what FB does with that data. Obama, is pushing to help increase privacy of personal information, but will only work if the companies feel like they have a stake or a penalty if they do not adequately protect data. Whenever they are an effective monopoly such as Apple or Google is of your data (through lock-in effects) their incentives to fully respective privacy is reduced because of the cost of switching to another monopoly.

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