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Cover of Privacy and Big Data

Title: Privacy and Big Data
Authors: Terence Craig and Mary E. Ludloff
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Copyright: 2011
ISBN13: 978-1-449-30500-0
Pages: 82
Price: $19.99
Rating: 93%

 

In the interest of full disclosure, Iíve written numerous books for OíReilly Media and collaborated with John Blaber, then with OíReilly, to develop the book that became Privacy-Enhanced Business. I eventually sold that book to another publisher, but it was firmly rooted in my conversations with John.

Perception and Reality

The cover image of Privacy and Big Data, which depicts well-to-do businessmen playing cards in a smoke-filled room, is particularly well-chosen. Just as the salesmen in David Mamet's play Glengarry Glen Ross fight to get good leads, contemporary analysts struggle to glean every bit of useful information out of the torrent of information we generate as we interact with the world. Not all analysts are as unethical as Mamet's characters, but it's easy to treat individuals' information as a commodity when their information is available in bulk. This threat prompts governments at all levels to pass privacy laws, which are one focus of the book.

The authors, Terence Craig and Mary E. Ludloff are (respectively) CEO and VP of Marketing for the data analysis firm PatternBuilders. In Privacy and Big Data, they take a big-picture approach when describing data collection, usage, and privacy laws. They focus on the United States and Europe, but also provide links to the privacy laws of other countries, notably Canada. I read the ebook version of the book, so I was able to follow active links in the PDF file to read the sources on which the authors based their analysis. This strategy raises the issue of links going stale, which has already resulted in one erratum reported on the book's oreilly.com page, but the authors provide copious endnotes and an online search should allow readers to find information on any topic where the original link no longer functions. O'Reilly also updates their ebooks regularly and makes the updated versions available for free to individuals who purchased them from the oreilly.com site.

The Players

Craig and Ludloff highlight the roles of four players in the privacy realm:

  • Collectors, which include social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn

  • Users, which are marketing organizations, government agencies, and other entities that use the data in their work

  • Data markets, which are companies that aggregate and sell data to all interested parties

  • Regulators, which are government agencies and private organizations where the government allows some level of self-regulation

Privacy and Big Data describes how each of these actors approaches the privacy problem within the context of their country's legal tradition. I appreciated how the authors characterized the differences between the American and European approaches to privacy. In the American view, privacy is a right that can be negotiated away. For example, you can give up control over your personally identifiable information in exchange for discounts from a retailer. By signing the retailer's Terms of Use and accepting the discounts as consideration, you have made a binding contract that allows the retailer to use your information in the manner spelled out in the agreement. In Europe, privacy is considered a fundamental right that can't be bartered or traded away, just as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are deemed inalienable rights in the Declaration of Independence. Some European countries' pursuit of legislation implementing a "right to be forgotten," requiring data collectors to delete an individual's personally identifiable information upon request, highlights that distinction.

Conclusions

I'd characterize Privacy and Big Data as a very well-crafted executive briefing book. It's a quick read, but the authors still manage to cover significant ground and provide a very useful framework in its 80-plus pages. I hesitate to call the book an "airplane read," not because you couldn't read it on a cross-country flight (you could quite easily), but because most books of that ilk repeat one or two good ideas ad nauseum for 200 pages. These authors make good use of the reader's time by laying out the privacy story and providing links for further investigation. Their roles as senior executives in their company give them a useful perspective on what their readers need to know now and what should be made available for later study.

 

Curtis Frye  

Curtis Frye (cfrye@techsoc.com) is a freelance writer and corporate entertainer who lives in Portland, Oregon. He has written more than 20 books and recorded over a dozen training courses on Microsoft Excel -- you can find his free online resources for Excel users at www.thatexcelguy.com. In addition, Curt is a popular speaker and corporate entertainer. For more information about his performance and speaking work, visit www.curtisfrye.com.