The most exciting promise of Big Data–and if you hate that term, you’re not alone, but I think we’re stuck with it now–is this: the data collection happening on an increasingly gargantuan scale, run through modern data-processing and pattern-recognition algorithms, will unearth powerful new insights into our world and, especially, human behavior. Unfortunately this is also its most worrying problem.
Right now, Big Data and privacy seem to be mortal foes. Personal data can reduce your car insurance–at the price of privacy. It can provide valuable public health data–by capturing sensitive private health information. It can help the police track bad guys–by creating a facial–recognitionpanopticon with technology that is practically crying out to be abused. It can construct a meaningful narrative out of, say, all the pictures you’ve ever posted to the Internet–even if you didn’t intend that to happen.
These aren’t purely theoretical…
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