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FTC warns of using big data to exclude consumers

Grant Gross | Sept. 16, 2014
The collection and analysis of big data holds great promise, but may also lead some companies to create profiles of consumers leading to discrimination, the chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Monday.

Policymakers need to look "situationally" at the nature of the data when thinking about rules for big data, added Stuart Pratt, president and CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, a trade group representing companies that collect consumer data. "Law often is too monolithic and too rigid."

But the U.S. shouldn't abandon long-held ideas that individuals should have control over their personal data, said Pamela Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum.

"I don't think the [longtime] structures need to be reinvented or shoved aside because data sets are larger," she said. "It's important to keep the regulations that we have ... to ensure that fair information practices are still applicable and relevant."

Dixon and Danah Boyd, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, both noted that the big data industry is in many ways in its infancy. Many companies using big data are still figuring out how to use the information responsibly, Boyd said.

Researchers at Microsoft have found they can reliably predict that search engine users will soon be admitted to the hospital based on the searches they make, Boyd said. But that doesn't mean Microsoft Bing search engine should send a warning notice to a user saying he should see a doctor, she said.

"That's creepy," she said.

 

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