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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Big Data is Watching You

Identity, Privacy
Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
3:17 pm


Nishant Kaushik’s tweet today prompted some paranoid thoughts about the use of big data analytics.

Scary #Privacy News Day: Raytheon RIOT – http://t.co/FB4dsnjv AND Equifax selling Employer shared employee data – http://t.co/HZSeqN9E

The first article, “Software that tracks people on social media created by defense firm,” explored how Raytheon has developed a system to track us all:

A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people’s movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites. …

“Riot is a big data analytics system design we are working on with industry, national labs and commercial partners to help turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation’s rapidly changing security needs.”

The second article, “Your employer may share your salary, and Equifax might sell that data,” stated:

The Equifax credit reporting agency, with the aid of thousands of human resource departments around the country, has assembled what may be the most powerful and thorough private database of Americans’ personal information ever created, containing 190 million employment and salary records covering more than one-third of U.S. adults.

These two articles triggered thoughts about Axciom

[Axciom] peers deeper into American life than the F.B.I. or the I.R.S., or those prying digital eyes at Facebook and Google. If you are an American adult, the odds are that it knows things like your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, buying habits, household health worries, vacation dreams — and on and on. …

Few consumers have ever heard of Acxiom. But analysts say it has amassed the world’s largest commercial database on consumers — and that it wants to know much, much more. Its servers process more than 50 trillion data “transactions” a year. Company executives have said its database contains information about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. That includes a majority of adults in the United States.        

… and Lexis Nexis:

LexisNexis … is the largest data-broker in the world. They create vast profiles on people and use that information to create various reports that they sell to companies of all kinds. These reports are used to make decisions about renting, insurance and more. In the past these reports have been purchased by law enforcement and criminal organizations; all to find out more information about you.

Are there legitimate uses for all this data? Yes.  But is there potential for illicit exploitation and mis-use of that data?  I’d bet my bottom dollar on it.  The unintended consequences of amassing all this personal data are what worry me.

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