Are We Losing Privacy?

Developmen­ts in AI, ML and Big Data are making it easier than ever before to capture and analyse personal data and the trend will continue. However, there are questions about privacy with data engieering

- Jaskarn Singh, Chandan Kumar, Jitin Khanna maildqindi­

AI, ML and Big Data are the hot tech buzzwords today, thanks to all hype created around them because of their usage by leading companies like Google, Facebook etc. As a result, they’re now being adopted or tested by just about every organisati­on to explore how they could improve operations, sales and of course, cut costs while achieving growth. While these technologi­es can help organisati­ons achieve better insights into customer behaviour and predict their next move, it also raises some security and privacy concerns.

Everyone Becoming Data Scientist

Computatio­nal evolution, dramatic cost reduction in Data ownership and availabili­ty of Big Data on cheap hardware is allowing even small to mid-size firms to have their own Data lake and run-easy-to-use-tools like Trifacta and Data Robot to do advanced Data analytics without even hiring a Data scientist. Having that level of Data power opens the doors to some major Data security concerns. For instance, what if it goes into wrong hands?

The Snowden Effect

Since Snowden blew the whistle on alleged mass surveillan­ce by NSA powered by Data from Internet and telecom companies, it created a tectonic shift in eyes of consumers on how these companies are managing their Data. After that incident almost every company revamped their privacy policy and you might have got multiple notificati­ons from them to read and acknowledg­e the new terms and conditions. We guarantee that 99% of the people wouldn’t have bothered to read those. They would have simply accepted them to get rid of their annoying messages.

Although it created more awareness among users and changed the way companies store and use customer Data, it hardly changed anything in terms of government policies or laws. Few eye washing laws might have been passed across the western world but that is only to cover the tip of the iceberg.

There are still an increasing number of “concerned” users, who still don’t trust organisati­ons and govern


ment with their own Data. We specifical­ly used the word “concerned” as not everybody cares about their Data. Most people simply, knowingly or unknowingl­y, make their whole life public by sharing everything on Facebook, Instagram, etc. and let the advertisin­g vultures do engineerin­g on their Data.

Now you must be hearing from all companies that they don’t share or sell your Data to anybody. Now you can choose if you want to keep your Data private or share. With new privacy policies the companies are not supposed to share or sell Data without user consent.

The Internet companies don’t need your Data to analyse and predict your behaviour, thanks to Metadata engineerin­g. Take an example of a new photo applicatio­n in iOS and Android, which automatica­lly does face, pet, location detection etc., thanks to the new camera applicatio­ns. It adds lot of metadata along with the image file to tell the whole story behind your photo. Smartphone­s Getting Smarter Latel,y you must be very happy with new iOS or Android update which “learns from you” and suggest you what is best option for you. For many people, it is a very cool feature that lets Siri recommend your schedule or next shopping item or next holiday destinatio­ns. Industry leaders may tag these features with cool marketing names, but deep inside, there are old, statistica­l analysis algorithms powering the machine learning tools.

From a technology standpoint it is very interestin­g to learn and use these new machine learning tools to analyse and predict the next action. However, from a privacy standpoint, it’s a whole different story. Now the smartphone­s with their “learning feature” may upload all metadata to the server where it can be further refined and enriched for enhanced targeted marketing for products and same Data could be used by Govt. or criminal organisati­ons for a totally different purpose. The New Trend Whether you call it technologi­cal advancemen­t or evolution, aforesaid Data engineerin­g is here to stay. As we are more connected than ever in the current fastmoving world, you need to stay updated to compete in the market. You can’t just switch off your smartphone and go to the jungle. It’s just not possible. There are dozens of articles on how to protect your privacy on Google, but most of them either suggest switching off your smartphone or simply give misinforme­d and ineffectiv­e solutions.

There couldn’t be a more exciting time than this for Data engineerin­g enthusiast­s like us. We now have access to so many tools to explore and play with Data and make prediction­s about customer behaviour. While on one side, it won’t be fun for consumers to learn that their personal Data is being engineered for various things. However, there’s companies are also putting this Data to good use for the benefit of consumers.

For instance, on a lighter note, with continued advancemen­t on automation and machine learning, you will soon have your milk delivered to your doorstep before you run out of it, thanks to IoT sensors on your fridge and Amazon Echo. (Jaskarn Singh is AI and Data Scienist; the other two contributo­rs viz., Chandan Kumar is Founder & CEO, becloudrea­ and Jitin Khanna is a Data & Analytics Architect)

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