Tag Archives: big data

Why the US elections show us Big Data will never trump personal data

Whatever you think about the result of the US election, it’s widely acknowledged that there was a failure of polling.

In just a few hours, what seemed an assured but narrow victory for Hillary Clinton morphed into the landslide win of Donald Trump.

The reason – as with Brexit, where very similar happened – seems quite straightforward; that people minded to vote for a candidate or policy featuring non-liberal views or characteristics tend not to shout about it, and may well even lie.

Now, this is completely their right – but the issue comes when pollsters assume their population sample is a robust indicator and apply it to the population at large.

There’s a whole debate to be had about why so many people are disenfranchised, and the role played by journalism and social media in feeding this – but that’s not one for this blog.

Our interest is purely in the data – the data that was ultimately inaccurate. The data that is likely to put the whole polling industry’s credibility at stake.

While time may show us exactly what went wrong, it will have to be a factor that when data from one cohort is applied to all others, essentially when people are depersonalised from their own data, that errors can creep in. And that’s without reckoning with bias, margin of error and all the other fun that polling inherently brings.

Our data, our views – the thoughts, feelings and actions that belong to and make up each of us, need to stay with us for maximum accuracy. In the same way that we are the best guardians of our own health and financial data, when our polling (or any other important data) is associated with us, rather than pulled away to become part of a population average, it’s likely to be more accurate – and therefore more useful.

If both political polling and political journalism need to undergo a regeneration, then maybe polling and voter intention methodology does too.

One thing is sure – keeping our own data where we can share it, not anyone else, in a true Internet of Me, can only be a good thing in so many areas going forward.

What is big data?

Personal data makes up the sum of our lives – but how often do we use the phrase ‘big data’ without fully understanding what it means?

We know – or should do – that pretty much everything we do these days leaves a digital footprint of some kind, but how many people think about or know what happens to that data once we’ve created it? Or that it’s not just what we do online, but offline as well – if it involves carrying a smartphone or using something like an Oyster travel card that knows where you’ve been and when.

Creating more data about ourselves every single day, we also produce an evermore detailed picture of who we are and what we like and do, that is easy for advertisers to track, gather and then monetise, either by tracking us online or selling that data on.

Scary, right? And more than a little annoying. The most obvious manifestation is targeted ads, that follow you around the web once you’ve searched for something.

But, as the advertisers don’t actually know you, although they’re trying very hard to act as if  they do, that information is very often inaccurate – not least if you’be bought a present for a friend or relative of the opposite gender, for example, or for a child.

So big data is omnipresent, evergrowing and often wrong – but what else is it? As a primer, this piece by BBC Radio presenter Timandra Harkness is my new go-to.

Smart on how data enriches our lives while also succinctly flagging up the issues with letting artifical intelligence overtake the human variety, she sums up thus:

“Big data has immense potential, no doubt about that. I met people who are using it to fight disease, to build a global database of destructive and dangerous insects, to prevent plane crashes, and to look into the darkest corners of the universe. But when it comes to human beings, it can be too big for its boots. And the fact we’re so willing to hand over life-changing decisions to big data says less about its true capabilities than it does about our lack of trust in ourselves, and in each other.”


Why what big data knows about you is not scary

An article about 21 scary things that big data knows about each and every one of us RIGHT NOW caught my eye this week, but I didn’t find it as creepy as the author did – in fact all I could see were the possibilities.

The article, as you would expect, goes on to list all of the ways we’re leaking data constantly in our everyday lives, some obvious, some not so well known.

So while most people are aware that Google knows what they’ve searched for, they may not be so aware that the search giant has also assigned each of us an age and gender, based on those searches and other tracking. (As previously discussed, this is over the creep line of what is acceptable for most people, and is certainly one of the factors behind the millions of people who’ve installed ad-blocking devices on their computers.)

Facebook, on the other hand, has a pretty good idea of how healthy or otherwise your relationship is -as well as how intelligent you are, and how satisfied with life.

Those cat pictures you’ve uploaded to the internet mean, thanks to geo-tagging, that anyone who wants to can work out where you live, while your phone also knows where you live and work.

Author Bernard Marr concludes by saying: “This is actually just the tip of the iceberg. As we dive deeper into the benefits big data can provide to us, we’ll also be happily coughing up more and more data. The iPhone Health app, for instance, can collect data about all kinds of intimately personal things about your health.

“It’s up to us, as consumers, to be aware of what we’re giving away, when, and to whom.”

Well, yes – awareness is one thing, but it’s also unarguable that using free and ubiquitous services like Google and Facebook, which are so involved and important to our lives these days, is impossible without handing data over.

But I’m digressing slightly, because my main reaction when I read that list was simply wow. Amazing. What great things technology can do these days.

If it’s creepy at all, it’s because all that information about me, and you, and everybody else is collected externally by hundreds of different companies, and we can’t access it or use it for ourselves in any meaningful way.

But the data itself? The insights it gives into my life, thoughts, interests and purchases? That’s fascinating and insightful – and if all in one place would give me a unique picture of both who I am and what I show to the world.

So it’s not the data that’s creepy, it’s how it’s taken and where it ends up. So that data, under your control in your digi.me app, would be a thing of beauty and wonder – and it’s not just a pipe dream, it’s a working reality that is coming soon!


Data is a UK success story – but more action is needed for true revolution

A new report by an influential government committee says the UK’s data economy is a success story – but calls for more openness of official databases to increase innovation.

The Big Data Dilemma, published by the Science and Technology Committee, also warns that existing data is nowhere near fully exploited, with companies estimated to be analysing just 12% of their data.

It wants to see the Government do more to make its databases open and to share them with businesses, and across Government departments to improve and develop new public services, estimating that 58,000 jobs could be created and £216bn contributed to the economy (2.3% of GDP) over a five-year period if this and other steps are taken.

The committee noted that distrust arising from concerns about privacy and security is often well-founded and must be resolved for further growth to continue.

Nicola Blackwood MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “We are living in the data age. ‘Big Data’ is driving a revolution in the speed and extent of the data applications that are shaping all aspects of our economy and our day-to-day lives. The use of ‘big data’ is already bringing big benefits. Exploited further, big data will be transformative, unlocking new life-saving research and creating unimagined opportunities for innovation. The Government has a role in this, in sharing and opening up its own data.

“But big data is also raising legitimate concerns about privacy and the way personal data is being used and sometimes re-used in ways which re-identify previously anonymised data. There is often well-founded distrust about this and about privacy which must be resolved by industry and Government.

A ‘Council of Data Ethics’ should be created to explicitly address these consent and trust issues head on. And the Government must signal that it is serious about protecting people’s privacy by making the identifying of individuals by de-anonymising data a criminal offence.”

The committee also warns that there is more to do to breakdown Government departmental data silos, to bring data together in order to further improve public services, as well as to improve data quality. It recommends that the government should make more datasets available both to decision-makers in Government and to external users and establish a framework for auditing the quality of data within Government departments and identifying data-sharing opportunities to break departmental data silos.

The failure of the ‘care.data’ initiative, for sharing patients’ health data, shows that patients’ consent cannot be taken for granted, it said, urging the government to learn the lessons of similar, more successful, scheme in Scotland.

The committee was clear that businesses and governments that communicate most effectively with the public, giving the citizen greater control in their data transactions by using simple and layered ‘privacy notices’, and allowing the consumer to decide exactly how far they are willing to trust each data-holder, will gain most.

They said: “If informed, freely-given consent is the bedrock of a trusting relationship between a consumer and a data-holder, then it must always be part of that deal that consent freely-given can also be freely-withdrawn.”

Nicola Blackwood MP added: “Seeking to balance the potential benefits of big data and people’s justified privacy concerns will not be straightforward. A debate is needed at this critical juncture, now that the new EU data protection regulation has been agreed.”


Digital innovation in the UK ‘at risk because of personal data concerns’

The UK’s move towards a digital-first society risks being slowed because of public concerns over the use of personal data, a new report has found.

The sharing of personal data is both crucial for innovation and also improving personal online experiences, which is only made possible through tailoring services based on unique data.

But while we live in a connected society, and give out information about ourselves dozens of times a day on social media or by using online services, the ongoing sharing and use of that data is still creating significant unease among consumers.

The Trust in Personal Data UK review by Digital Catapault set out to assess the UK’s progress on the way to becoming a data-driven nation and found three clear issues: the public care about personal data but a knowledge gap remains; consumers don’t trust organisations with their data and they also don’t understand the benefits of sharing personal data.

Some of the key statistics from the report:

  • 96pc of respondents claim to understand the term ‘personal data’, but only two-thirds (64pc) picked the correct definition
  • 65 per cent of consumers are unsure if their data is being shared without their consent
  • 30pc of respondents believe they are responsible for educating themselves on the use and protection of data
  • 32pc believe this responsibility lies with the government
  • 30pc declare themselves interested in a service to help them collect, manage and preserve personal data
  • 79pc believe the primary use of personal data is for organisations’ own economic gain
  • 21pc of consumers say monetary gain would convince them to share their personal data

The study saw 4,005 consumers aged between 18 and 64 questioned earlier this year. By far the biggest concern when asked about data fears (76pc) was that they had no control over how it their personal information is shared and who it is shared with.

Infographic: the survey in numbers (PDF)

Equally, what would make the most people (43pc) share their data was if it was going to be used for public good, for example in the fields of healthcare or education.

Media (28pc) and retail (30pc) were the sectors seen as most guilty of using personal data without being clear they do so, with the public sector (43pc) seen as most trustworthy in this area.

It was also clear that respondents did not believe they benefited from sharing data with organisations, with the vast majority (79pc) believing instead that only the organisations profited economically from having it shared with them.

People were happier to share their data if they were paid, with £30 a month being the most popular option (61pc), which does at least show potential for mutually-beneficial working together between businesses and consumers if trust and best practice issues can be overcome.

Interestingly, the report did find a general increase in data knowledge, but because this was largely as a result of negative media coverage of data breaches, the potential opportunities and benefits of data sharing have often been sidelined.

One overwhelmingly clear issue is the desire for control – a huge 94pc of those questioned want to be more in control of the data they share, how they share it and what they get back from it – a mindset that mirrors exactly the wisdom behind the setting up of digi.me, which gives control of your data back to you, to use and organise as you choose.

In summary, the report finds: “In future, the creation of trust in the way consumers share personal data will be one of the defining competitive differentials for business.

“Moreover, it will be one of the key dependences in creating better citizen services and improving the way we all live.”

Digital stakeholders at all levels of all businesses in sectors across the marketplace need to be doing all they can to recognise and reassure that personal data, as Dame Wendy Hall says in the report’s foreword to prove to the public “that data will be used responsibly, be stored safely and called upon sparingly”.

What do you think? Do you have trust in how your personal data is stored or used? Let us know in the comments below.

The Future of Personal Data

What is the future of personal data? How will it affect me personally and how will it affect my work and day to day life? These are all big questions when it comes to our personal data and these questions become even more prominent when we start to look at who currently has access to data about us.

Currently our banks, telecoms companies, social networks, fitness band companies, search engine providers and shopping sites all have information about us. Whilst this data is somewhat dispersed across the internet it is also duplicated. In some ways because it is not all in one place it seems safer.  However over time that data becomes out of date and unreliable.  We move house and have to inform everyone of our new address for example and it takes forever to get round to changing everything over.

These big companies aren’t allowed to share the core data about us between themselves without our permission but in some cases they have that permission without us even realizing it as we sign up to the small print or miss an opt out tick box.  Before we know it we have unrelated companies spamming us or cold calling.

Now imagine if we could easily revoke that permission to access the information about ourselves from those companies without having to write letters or chase, just at the click of a button.  Wouldn’t that be easier… and wouldn’t it be easier if we could give permission through simple but understandable terms and if we didn’t agree they couldn’t use our data.

Going one step further, if we owned our health data we could carry our health records ourselves when we travel and when we go to hospital with an illness or injury.  Lost medical records become a thing of the past. Clearly we would want to backup and securely store this information but once we can do that we can do so much more with it.

In order to make this sort of future a reality there are a few things that have to happen first. Companies need to understand better how data is owned and by whom, they also need to realize that it is no longer acceptable to lose data or sell it on without our knowledge.

Individuals need to realize that their data has a value, it belongs to them and is in fact part of their personal identity and not just something to be traded to the highest bidder for ad placements.  We need to stop giving away parts of ourselves without understanding how we can take control back of that data at any point in the future.

The “Internet of Things” is already a reality but the “Internet of Me” is just beginning. We all need to start taking a look at who we are, what data is of value to us and how that data could be used in ways that benefit us more as individuals.

Digi.me helps you to take that first step where you control of your personal web data.  We have started you off with putting you back in control of your social media updates and we look forward to bringing you even more control of your data.  Just remember we don’t see your data you do! It is yours and you own it all!

SocialSafe Aligns With Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Vision For Personal Data

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the internet, has spoken out about the issue of data ownership. An article this week in The Guardian talks of how the father of the world wide web sees a future in which the individual is the one who owns their personal data – not the big companies – and a future in which the individual can use that data for their own benefit.

Well they say great minds think alike, and we’re thrilled that this is precisely what we are actively working towards  here at SocialSafe – individuals aggregating their personal data from a variety of different sources to create a vastly superior data set that is more useful than the sum of its parts.  Today, SocialSafe is a social media organiser enabling users to download and aggregate a complete record of all their interactions in one safe place allowing them to view, search, export, organise it and more.

Looking towards the near future, SocialSafe will extend to all other personal data sets (e.g. shopping, banking, utilities, health, quantified self etc.) and users will be able to permission access others to their data for service, reward or convenience. The user has total control over what they choose to download and where they store it – we as a company never hold any of our users’ data, and they’ll always be able to access it.

We’ve been saying publicly for some time that we feel big data is wrong for the individual, and we’re immensely humbled to have our intentions and vision vindicated by the words of someone so influential in not only the tech industry, but the world as a whole. If you’ve not read Alex Hern’s article, we’d highly recommend that you do so. It may just change the way you think about personal data and who is benefiting from you being you.

Vote For SocialSafe In The Web Summit People’s Stage

We need your help!

Vote for SocialSafe now!

We’re always trying to spread the SocialSafe message as far and wide as we can – and that message is that the individual should be the biggest single owner of personal data. One of the ways we can reach people is by having a presence at industry events and speaking to audiences – this may even be how you came across us in the first place.

leweb startup competition

Following our success at last year’s LeWeb Startup Competition in Paris, we’ve applied to enter competitions at Dublin’s prestigious Web Summit this coming November. SocialSafe Founder & Chairman, Julian Ranger, would love the opportunity to talk to the assembled delegates about why we think that big data is wrong… for the individual.

In order for Julian to be in with a chance of speaking on the Web Summit People’s Stage, he needs to make it into the top 50 from his pool. All you need to do to help us get him there is to vote for him by clicking “Like” on Julian’s Web Summit People’s Stage voting page.

Here’s a short summary from Julian about why we believe big data is wrong… for the individual:

“We’ve lost control of our personal data, are unable to benefit from that data, and have prejudiced our privacy. Our data is also lost, we are unable to access it, nor to aggregate it. There seems no solution, but there is – return ownership & control to the individual. This allows the user to do more with their data AND also allows the user to permission access to that data for service, convenience or reward – all under user control, but benefiting businesses as well as users by providing access to a wider, deeper, accurate data set, all whilst respecting user privacy.”

Click here to read a more in-depth piece about our vision for the future of personal data.

Thank you for voting!!

Facebook Ads Based On Google Searches? How ‘Little’ Data Could Win The Day

 Today I witnessed firsthand circumstantial evidence that Facebook is somehow accessing my browsing history and using this information to show me targeted ads in my News Feed. Facebook ads based on Google searches is a topic that has been in the tech press a lot in recent weeks, but I hadn’t consciously encountered it myself until today.

This weekend I’m going to a wedding, and in my own typical style I have left it until the last minute to arrange overnight accommodation or a late night taxi to take me all the way home. So I fired up another tab in Chrome (within the same overall window in which I’m logged into Facebook on another tab), and set about finding prices for a pub/hotel I know near the groom’s house.

I left the booking site without making a reservation, and then a few minutes later when casting my eye across my News Feed, I noticed a very familiar building:

Facebook ads based on Google Searches

Yes, the very same place I had been pricing up as somewhere to rest my bones after inevitably dropping some questionable dance moves at the wedding reception on Saturday night. At first I thought, “well that makes sense, classic re-marketing there,” but then I thought “hang on a second, Facebook and Google are separate companies… are they sharing my data without my consent?”

It irked me for a short while to think that my information was being exchanged for another party’s gain (even if I might benefit from a favourable room rate in the long run), but then I started to think about how much further the breadcrumb trail could have been laid out before me.

For this particular wedding my friends used a Facebook Event as both a save the date, and as an easy way to communicate with the guests on mass about finer details nearer the time. Now… I’m sure it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for Facebook to work out that I’m searching for a hotel within 3 miles of the location of an event I’m going that is happening within the date period that I was checking room availability.

Many of the other people attending the wedding (as indicated by their response to the Facebook Event) are also my friends on Facebook. Would it be too much of stretch to then assume that Facebook knows that they’ll be needing accommodation based on my actions, and would they be shown similar posts in their News Feed?

Going a step further, and thinking largely outside the box, would it be possible to combine the Facebook Event information and the Google search information of people that Facebook knows are friends, in order to produce suggested posts and even deals, specific to tagged groups of people.

For example, two people who are friends on Facebook and both attending an event might have also both looked at the cost of a single room in the same hotel. Say single rooms cost £70 each, but a twin is only £100 a night. Could Facebook then issue some sort of alert to say that you and friend X could save £20 each if the two of you shared a twin room for the night?

Obviously we’ve crashed through a few (hopefully still very sturdy) privacy gates to flesh out this hypothetical example, but it’s not entirely inconceivable, is it? The only way it would really work is if there was absolute trust in the person holding the data, and if you were confident in those who you were allowing the data to be shared with. (Imagine the amount of domestic disputes that would arise if similar examples of people looking at hotel bookings led to the discovery of extra-marital affairs etc).

Many would argue that Facebook and Google are not the ones to entrust with this sort of information if it is to be used in a social matching scenario. Here at SocialSafe we have recently joined Respect Network, which has the goal of putting control of personal data back into the hands of individuals and not only gives them the choice of how their information is used, but compensates them for their value. This is definitely a step in right direction.

The future for data is definitely big, but is big data the future? We believe the economy surrounding the user sanctioned exchanges of lots of little data (always specific to, and owned by, the individual) could be even bigger than ‘big’ data.

Does Big Data Mean A Bigger Target For Hackers?

The bigger data gets, the bigger a temptation it becomes for hackers. US retail giant Target Corporation must be well aware of the irony found in its name, after last week’s attack that now sees the details of around 360 million of its customer accounts available on cyber black markets.

As we create, publish and store more and more types and quantities of information online, the potential for things to go wrong in some capacity or another also increases. In 2012 alone, 160 million people were affected by data leaks, which was 40% up on the previous year. While server failures and human error account for some of the data leaks and losses, 67% of data loss incidents have been the result of hacking attacks.

Data is highly valuable, that much is obvious. The fact that people are a) trying to get hold of it, and b) willing to break the law in some cases to do so only serves to further highlight this issue. But why in that case do so many individuals adopt such a laissez-faire attitude to looking after their own personal data? In a 2013 study, 50% of UK internet users surveyed said that they never back up the content they post to social networks.

More and more information is being collected and stored, with many companies looking to benefit from big data. So there is definitely value to your content. But is the over-eagerness to collate this information and subsequently harvest it actually detrimental to the overall quality of the data and what information can be successfully extracted?

Gordon Harrison, an industry consultant at data analytics specialist SAS said that “Big data is about pushing the needle out of the haystack irrespective of how big the haystack has become or how small the needle is.”

As well as the potential inaccuracies, as more and more personal information is amalgamated together, big data stores will be targeted by hackers more frequently. At SocialSafe we believe big data is wrong… for the individual. Instead of a number of organisations holding mass stores of information about millions upon millions of individuals, why not let the individuals hold all their own information themselves, putting them completely in control of their data?