Tuesday, January 24, 2012

No More Hide in Plain Sight

A video recently posted to the Atlantic’s web site caught my attention.

Entitled, “Visualizing your Personal Data Online,” I posted the video to a couple of my social media channels along with a comment about the implied privacy implications. Shortly thereafter a follower commented that the narrator made no mention of any privacy implications in the video.

That got me thinking… although there was no specific reference, the implications were abundantly clear to me.

First, if you haven’t seen it, the video is a 3 minute visual rendering of a host of connections that can be made about you and me as we move along in the digital world. Shapes and images morph in and out of frame as the narrative flows.

I don’t know what the maker’s inspiration was, but the message I took away after watching was that the abundance of data we generate represent a constant torrent of puzzle pieces that can be collected and assembled into an ultra-high definition picture of who we are as citizen consumers. We have control over some of those pieces, but much of it is the result of doing things we take for granted: cell phone calls, email correspondence, television watching, web browsing, credit/debit card transactions, and all modes of modern travel.

Industry and consumer watchdogs have been warning of the dangers of this volume of digital detritus for years, but it wasn’t that long ago that some could credibly counter that there was simply too much information for anyone to make sense of it all. In effect, we could hide in plain sight as our personal digital deluges were creating a digital fog that was all but impenetrable.

Today, however, with the growing capabilities of Big Data analytics, that argument is obsolete. Instead of obfuscation, these puzzle pieces are coming into sharper and sharper focus, offering public and private entities remarkable (and remarkably troubling) ways to understand our behavior and profile individuals with pinpoint precision.

Law enforcement agencies are already testing the limits of these new capabilities, and marketers are fairly crowing about how much more effective they can be on behalf of their clients with access to this data.

And so I’ll say it again: Check out the video -- and its abundant privacy implications.

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