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The Choice-Sized Gap

As Privacy Professionals, when we read about petabyte ingesting Big Data tools and some of the thorny applications … the analysis begins. We identify potential issues, weigh risks, and ruminate over solutions. But upon surveying the technological landscape, it’s not all risk and woe. In fact, some emerging technological trends are rooted in themes we’re quite familiar with. Among them—Choice: “the ability to specify whether personal information will be collected and/or how it will be used or disclosed.”

Choice is no longer just an implement in our policy and privacy-by-design toolboxes. Several tech innovators have identified a choice-sized-gap in the market, and they’re ready to meet the demand.

As questions surrounding NSA surveillance activities continue to devour headlines, consumers are asking more questions about their privacy. Amidst the sensationalist cries that we’re witnessing the emergence of “a new military industrial open source Big Data complex,” some long-present legitimate concerns are now getting attention. For example, the growing number of personal information collection points consumers encounter in their daily lives.

Some propose more robust laws to better protect consumers. Others argue that self-regulation is the answer. Then, there are the privacy tech entrepreneurs … Their solution? … Deploy the next generation of tools that will put consumers in control of their data.

One such innovator is windy city entrepreneur Alen Malkoc and his enterprise: Optyn. Optyn uses proxy and de-identification protocols that allow consumers access to services that would otherwise require a personal email address. Then there’s Boston based Abine—an unlikely alliance of data, finance, and policy wonks with an impressive line of tools including DoNotTrackMe, DeleteMe, and MaskMe. They’ve been on something of a tear as of late, featured across media outlets like Yahoo, Mashable, and Today.com.

As more choice platforms emerge and big data fueled challenges evolve, solutions will arise from the public and private sectors alike. I find Intel Global Privacy Officer David Hoffman’s argument particularly convincing that “[i]mproved laws can … provide a backstop of protection, while innovators work to provide mechanisms for individuals to take more control of their data.”

The technological trends of big data and choice are in play. The unmistakably American sensibilities that abhor State intrusions have awakened larger privacy concerns. The question is: Are consumers ready to take control of their data … or are they “out to lunch” … checking into their favorite spots on Foursquare?

(This content has also appeared at We The Data.)

photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

Written By

M. Capkovic, CIPP/US

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