Edited by Ian Andrews, March 2010
Last week’s edition of the influential London-based journal The Economist led with some interesting statistics on the amount of digital information produced globally each year: The Data Deluge.
The editorial suggests that five years ago some 150 exabytes (150,000,000,000 gigabytes) of digital information was produced worldwide. This year will see the creation of 1200 exabytes and it will increase at this breathtaking rate for the foreseeable future.
What does it consist of? Every telephone call (mobile and landline), credit or debit card transaction, Internet visit, traffic radar, journey by public transport, GPS enquiry, scan of the universe, sweater bought in the High Street…the list is as long as it is diverse.
Good, eh? The problem seems to be that there are more data than there is time in the year to read it, mine it, spot important trends and extrapolate useful knowledge from it. Here, it is suggested, data mining is the true challenge and the real opportunity of the digital age. But this data is far from being only the noughts and ones of binary code: it is names and surnames, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and bank account numbers. It is photos of your family and friends.
In these days of Facebook (4 billion photos uploaded), Buzz, Twitter, supermarket loyalty cards, business intelligence software and the rest, does anyone still remember that old-fashioned concept, privacy? Who knows about you? What do they know about you? Who do they want to sell it to? Do you mind being sold? Most importantly, is it secure? Well, let’s let the market decide, right? We’ve all heard that one before.
And this is where government must become involved. More open access for us to review personal data held about us along with the right to opt out of the trading of our data. Laws which oblige companies to publish annually details of breaches or attempted breaches in their digital security (who knows how many attempts, successful or not, our online bank or flight broker has been victim of) so we can make sure who really takes our privacy seriously. Only yesterday, a huge operation against this type of cybercrime was revealed. External security auditing, just like external financial auditing, need to guarantee that resources are invested in protecting our interests.
Not very fashionable, I know, but some of us still believe that big business needs big government.