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Big data has huge implications for privacy, as summarized in our commentary below:
Both the government and third parties have the potential to collect extensive (sometimes exhaustive), fine grained, continuous, and identifiable records of a person’s location, movement history, associations and interactions with others, behavior, speech, communications, physical and medical conditions, commercial transactions, etc. Such “big data” has the ability to be used in a wide variety of ways, both positive and negative. Examples of potential applications include improving government and organizational transparency and accountability, advancing research and scientific knowledge, enabling businesses to better serve their customers, allowing systematic commercial and non-commercial manipulation, fostering pervasive discrimination, and surveilling public and private spheres.
On January 23, 2014, President Obama asked John Podesta to develop in 90 days, a 'comprehensive review' on big data and privacy.
This lead to a series of workshop on big data and technology at MIT, and on social cultural & ethical dimensions at NYU, with a third planned to discuss legal issues at Berkeley. A number of colleagues from our Privacy Tools for Research project and from the BigData@CSAIL projects have contributed to these workshops and raised many thoughtful issues (and the workshop sessions are online and well worth watching).
My colleagues at the Berkman Center, David O'Brien, Alexandra Woods, Salil Vadhan and I have submitted responses to these questions that outline a broad, comprehensive, and systematic framework for analyzing these types of questions and taxonomize a variety of modern technological, statistical, and cryptographic approaches to simultaneously providing privacy and utility. This comment is made on behalf of the Privacy Tools for Research Project, of which we are a part, and has benefitted from extensive commentary by the other project collaborators.