The Economist: Hiding from big data

InsightaaS: There is an old saying in consulting – a response to customer desires in which they are told “you can have fast, good or cheap – pick two.” An article from the most recent Technology Quarterly section of The Economist suggests that a similar choice is emerging around Big Data – we can choose between fast processing, low cost of storage and retrieval and privacy, but we can’t pursue all three objectives at the same time. After tracing approaches to securing personal data ranging from new generations of secure cellphones to homomorphic encryption and differential privacy, the article asks “does privacy sell?”, observing that “there is scant evidence that concern about privacy is causing a fundamental change in the way data are used and stored,” and noting that “businesses accustomed to exploiting the richness of data, legally or otherwise, may be flatly uninterested” in funding systems that protect individuals’ privacy. The latter half of the article explores this balance – but in the post, as in the market overall, there’s no clear indication that “interest in privacy-enhancing features,” while growing, will prompt “companies and consumers…to pay more for greater privacy.”

AS THE chorus of Twisted Sister’s 1984 anti-authority hit “We’re Not Gonna Take It” faded, Aral Balkan got ready to launch his latest project from the main stage at Handheld, a small technology-design conference held in Cardiff, Wales, last November. The entrepreneur’s big idea? A phone that flies in the face of a consumer-technology industry transfixed by big data and how to make money from it.

Users of Mr Balkan’s phone will have extensive control over any data it collects. However, those data will not be “monetised”. So far, what Mr Balkan calls his Indie Phone is just an idea and one that is largely dependent on a crowdfunding campaign aiming to raise the several millions of pounds needed to put the device into production.

But with online security frequently breached and personal data plundered, Mr Balkan is not alone in thinking there will be a big market for privacy products. Other new ventures are meant to appeal to an audience believed to have grown indignant at the gathering of personal data for commercial purposes by industry giants like Google and Facebook…

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