An on the individuals’ previous purchase behaviors, which

An Introduction of Big Data Privacy

The appearance of computers has promoted the
digitalization of information. For example, many paper materials which before
were not convenient to store, analyze, and share are digitalized now. With the increasing
amount of data, there is an urgent need to convert this data into useful
knowledge and reveal its potential values. Therefore, the big data analysis
comes up at this historic moment. Big data is the technology that analyzes and does
inductive reasoning from a vast amount of data, which can produce potential
values to help decision-makers adjust strategies, reduce risks, and make the
right decision. For example, online shopping websites can send information about
products to individuals by email or floating advertisements based on the
individuals’ previous purchase behaviors, which can increase sales. However,
private information is threatened in the process of big data analysis because
most of the data comes from people’s
activities on the internet. This includes users’ browsing histories, shopping
records, social network information, and comments. This data not only has its surface
information but also can produce commercial values by predictive analysis.
Duhigg (2012) wrote a story in The New
York Times in 2012 about a father who went to a Target store and complained
that his daughter had received some baby products and clothes for pregnant women.
This means Target got the information that his daughter became pregnant based
on predictive analysis. Target analyzed 25 items of personal shopping and
generated a “pregnancy prediction” conclusion. This news called people’s
attention to the big data privacy issue. People realized that their personal
information is not safe in the big data environment. In addition, personal
information, such as name, email address or phone numbers can be sold and
shared as products on the internet without much control or limits, which leads
to many cybercrimes. For example, criminals can use this sensitive information
to hack into users’ online account. According to an August 2017 survey in the
United States, 32% of internet users had had their online account hacked
before; as of August 2015, 70% of respondents of a worldwide survey stated that
they were concerned that their personal information could be stolen (Gordon,
n.d.). Therefore, privacy protection is a great and pressing challenge facing
the era of big data, and people should pay more attention to privacy disclosure
and privacy protection.

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The Social Concerns
of Big Data Privacy Disclosure and Protection Are Not High

With the digitalization of information, big data analysis
has become the mainstream approach to guiding commercial development and
marketing decision making. For example, Google analyzes users’ habits and
hobbies through its big data system to help advertisers evaluate campaign
efficiency, which can estimate there may be up to hundreds of billions of
dollars in the market size in the future. Another example of how big data
analysis can guide commercial development is that data scientists can predict
the future stock prices based on analysis of data provided by social media
services, such as Twitter, Facebook, and so on. Therefore, big data analysis
can produce huge commercial values.

However, people are enjoying the benefits of big data
analysis while ignoring the importance of privacy protection and the harm of
privacy disclosure brought in by big data. There are a few concerns, actions and
strategies, such as mature technologies, legal provisions, or industry
standards, to protect personal information which can be used for big data analysis. For example, Strang
(2016) noted that from 13 dominant topics which captured 49% of the big data
production in journals between 2011 to 2016, “privacy and security topics
accounted for only 2% and this trend recently dropped to less than 1%” (p.
4305). However, personal information is a part of individual’s property. Floridi claimed that “each person’s right to
bodily security and property” (2005, p.193) should be protected and respected.
People have the right to know when, what, and how their personal information is
used. People also have the right to allow or reject a third party to use their
personal information.   

Privacy Disclosure is Easy in the era of Big Data

In the big data environment, personal privacy disclosure
becomes much easier. The Internet has become a part of people’s lives and people
can leave a lot of personal information while visiting different kinds of
websites. Moreover, people are always exposed to the “third eye”. Some shopping
websites, such as eBay, Amazon, and Taobao, are watching people’s shopping
habits. Google, Bing, and Baidu are monitoring people’s searching content. Corporations
and governments spy on people’s social networks by monitoring WeChat, Facebook,
phone numbers, and other communication tools. Even though President Obama
claimed that the government is “not listening to your phone calls or reading
your emails,” this claim obviously ducks the question of whether the government
is storing this information. A lot of monitoring systems are monitoring
people’s E-mail, chat records, surfing records and such. Flash-cookies also can
reveal people’s habits and position information by tracking people’s personal
information online (Soltani, 2010). Therefore, personal privacy is easy to be disclosed
in the big data environment.

Privacy disclosure comes from inside and outside of enterprises.
Smith, Milberg, and Burke (1996) noted that inside of enterprises, personal
information can be leaked in the process of handling data. They claimed that
there are four relevant data dimensions which can lead information leakage:
information collection, information misuse, secondary usage of information, and
unauthorized access to information. Also, Smith, Dinew,
and Xu (2011) noted that the people who worked inside of the company can access
data, publish data, or steal data without authorization, then sell or share the
personal data to some third parties, such as financial institutions or
government agencies. Outside of enterprises, in order to obtain personal
information, some people use systems’ loopholes to steal data, such as hacking
people’s online accounts by some back doors of the system. At the same time, researchers also found that the
financial incentive compensation can encourage people to release more personal
information (Xu, Teo, Tan & Agarwal, 2009).
Similarly, if people want to get more customized services, they are required to
provide more detailed personal information, such as
real name, address, phone numbers, or social security numbers. Therefore,
privacy disclosure is difficult to avoid in the big data environment. Not
only do the enterprises have the responsibility to protect the privacy, but it
is the individuals who have the responsibility to protect their personal
information.

The challenges of Big Data Privacy Protection

Given that the information digitalization is
so prevalent today, the big data privacy protection faces many challenges. One
of these challenges is that it is difficult to define and differentiate which information
is private and which information is public in digital society. Just as Mai
(2016) noted, “in contemporary networked digital
information society, people sit in their private homes, connected to a
public network, communicating with private friends, using public wires, exchanging
private information, stored on public servers. In such a society, the
distinction between public and private surely becomes blurred” (p. 196). Since people heavily rely on the internet to do
activities every day, it is difficult to completely isolate oneself from
digital society. Therefore, the blurring of private and public information will
remain a challenge.

The second challenge is the scope of the
protection of personal privacy is difficult to determine. First, the concept of
privacy is changing with the development of information technologies. For
example, before the advent of big data technologies, personal information, such
as email address and phone numbers, did not threaten people’s privacy because
they are unlikely to be retrieved on the Internet, but now, the leakage of phone
numbers can lead to telecom fraud. At the same time, given
the different characteristics and backgrounds of different people, it is
difficult to define which data is sensitive for privacy protection. For example, for public figures, such as political officials
or media superstars, personal information like residential address is more
sensitive than for the typical person due to the great general interest these
famous people’s private lives. Thus, what
is private sensitive information for one person might not be for the next.

Another challenge is that acts of privacy violation and the
violators themselves can be difficult to identify. For example, the use of
pseudonyms online can make it difficult for victims to collect evidence and
identify the infringer. Moreover, the web page is always in update,
which makes it difficult to keep the evidence. Even if the victims obtain the evidence
by means of “web page backup”, it is hard for these backups to play
an effectiveness of evidence as long as the infringers do not confess a crime. Furthermore,
the methods of personal privacy violation are complex and diverse and can
outpace the ability of lawmakers to describe them, so it can be hard to define
whether a behavior is an infringement or
not according to the present law. For example, Google can scan and
electronically read people’s Gmail, but there is no law to determine such
activities violate people’s privacy. Thus, it is difficult to both identify
whether a crime has been committed as well as who exactly committed the crime.

In conclusion, along with the benefits of big data, people face
new dangers related to violations of personal privacy. However, the government, enterprises, and individuals pay little attention
to the issue of big data privacy disclosure. This has led
to crimes involving leaked personal information. Therefore, big data privacy protection is an urgent and pressing issue
facing in the era of big data. Society must learn how to segregate private information from
public information, define the scope of big data privacy protection, and
identify the privacy violations and violators. The difficulties of these
remaining challenges mean that big data privacy protection still has a long way
to go.