On June 16, the Korea Business Leaders Alliance hosted a lunch seminar on the topic of “Big Data, Surveillance, and Privacy” at the Hyatt Hotel. The presenter was Rodney Johnson, president of Erudite Risk, a locally-based risk management consulting company. The seminar brought to light several important trends involved in the Internet and the business practices of large companies that impact both our professional and personal lives in many small ways such as the bulk collection of data. It also highlighted the key issues with these practices, and what they mean both for businesses and individuals.
Rodney began the presentation by emphasizing to everyone in the room, “You are leaking data.” He outlined in brief detail how much information is routinely being collected now, both by private companies and by government agencies, and why. The reasons he presented were simple: the data is worth lots of money.
One specific insight stuck out here – he showed in the presentation that more than protecting the privacy and secrecy of information, people most want to protect the context of their information. He brought up the good point that nobody cares if their doctor knows every healthrelated detail about their life. But, people do care if that information leaves the health care context and enters another context, like the workplace, because it could potentially have negative effects.
After the subject of secrecy, Rodney addressed the amount of data that is being collected by talking about one Max Shrem from Austria. He used E.U. privacy laws to request from Facebook every piece of information that the company had about him. He received a 1,222-page PDF from the company detailing 57 different categories of information that they had collected, from every single notification he had ever sent out, to his political views, physical location, and credit card information.
Rodney then went on to show how much this type of data was worth to the companies that collect it. He spoke about the largely-unknown world of data brokers like Datalogix and Recorded Future, companies that buy, sell, and combine databases to create profiles on as many people as they can identify. The data broker Acxiom, for instance, advertises to potential customers that it has “profiles on 10% of the world's population and an average of 1,500 data items per profile.” And he also said that government agencies of many countries around the world participate in this data marketplace, both buying and selling information about their citizens, and even those of other countries.
He also addressed why the data is worth so much, by saying that with enough data, companies expect to be able to reasonably predict the future. He pointed out in the presentation that while in the past companies would have to take polls of small sample sizes of the population, or work with limited amounts of data about their existing customers, with all of the data of every single person in an entire market segment, companies could make extremely well-informed decisions.
Rodney completed the presentation by saying that the increasing amounts of data available make it easier to link all the disparate bits of data together, and this “linkability” is the number one threat to privacy for the average individual. Unfortunately, it is also the Holy Grail for companies seeking to predict the future. Overall, the presentation was eye-opening to many of the businessmen in the room, and sparked a lively discussion between members of the KBLA.