Whilst different disciplines of IT, ‘Big Data’ and ‘Cloud Computing’ are two very distinct technologies, and in the view of most end-users they are intrinsically linked.

So how are they linked?

We have all probably heard of names such as MapReduce and Hadoop, these are the underlying technologies that enable the move from unstructured to structured data that can be analysed.

The short term ‘peak’ of these technologies lends itself very well to the Cloud Computing model of technology on-demand.

But from a cloud platform provider’s perspective the rental of these processing or computing burst technologies and associated tools is the demarcation point. A cloud infrastructure (IaaS, PaaS) provider would never release data to a 3rd party data broker, otherwise the ensuing outcry would not lend itself to business longevity.

[easy-tweet tweet=”The age of creepiness is here.” user=”comparethecloud and @MrAndrewMcLean”]

The age of creepiness

Today there are a number of companies that provide ‘data services’ to enable ‘targeted advertising’ and a ‘relevant experience’. I call total BS on this, what these so called companies are doing is seeking to go beyond segment marketing, where you target customers by location, age range or other demographics, to individualised marketing where clients are targeted using unique identifiers. These identifiers include, but are not limited to, personal interests or even sexuality as well as a host of other highly personal particulars. These can range through to your relationship with, and the behaviour of other family members, and a range of other information points that are labelled as ‘contextual’ – or as I’d prefer to term it ‘creepy’.

The privacy trade-off

Your data is worth more to a provider than the smartphone application you play or the online dating site you visit. Every time you fill in a form or launch an application or sign up to an online email service you are asked to agree to a policy which is typically a very long document written in legal jargon, and in font 9 that you never really read, but that gives permission for everything.

The question is, if you use the application or software for free does that trade off matter? I would say that it depends on whether this is made clear in legible highlighted terms. But what if you pay for that online dating website or application? should that data be part of the devils bargain?

The Cookie Jar and PII (personally identifiable information)

Like a greedy ‘Cookie Monster’ dipping into the jar of cookies these creepy companies are hoarding information on us all like at no other point in history.

The claim to anonymity is gone and the technology driving this is ‘Big Data’. When 100s of ad-technology companies are able to synchronise your cookie data across all platforms to stitch all that disparate information together this is troubling.

So what kind of information are these Big Data platforms tracking?

  • Are you married?
  • Your sexuality
  • Credit card purchasing habits
  • Do you enjoy Football?
  • Your magazine subscription preferences
  • Online survey responses saying you like Chicken
  • Your online life
  • Your location and where you have travelled
  • Your spouses friends and family and your preferences compared
  • Geo-targeting based on your (assumed) income bracket
  • Your work history including previous employment
  • Your search history
  • Your browsing history

The issue is that when your online life is tracked by a small piece of code, when this code is deleted as a group it disrupts remembered passwords and automatic logins rendering deleting cookies a regrettable task. The secondary issue we face is the hidden aspect of what I call ‘stealth monsters’. Those that throw apps of useful information for free to grab your history.

Privacy is a ‘right’ not something that should be earned and those that go ‘all-in’ with these companies need to take a long hard look. Yes your advertising will be very ‘contextual’ and ‘targeted’ but at what price? That price is insecure mobile applications, data leakage, and stealth marketing under the guise of ‘contextual’.

There is a danger here on all devices, but it is typically most acute on the personal devices that we use to play games, use social media and subscribe to publications or news services. This is why organisations need to gain control of BYOD (bring your own device) and other personally owned elements of IT infrastructure such as tablets and smartphones.

End-user education is key. Explain to your staff the risks that web forms and smartphone apps bring to your IT network, and show them how to retain privacy.

Start demanding information on where the information from your magazine or newspaper subscription is going – and ask if it’s being supplemented or synchronised with the ‘cookie monsters’. If it is, find out how to opt-out and don’t buy the story of non-personally identified information because when you synchronise across all advertising and certain social media networks ‘context’ always identifies who you are.

Hey but don’t worry the cool looking dude or dudette from the advertising company in his Gucci loafers and (soon to be worn) Apple watch will tell you it is ‘all cool and contextual’.

On a more personal note: how about using Big Data technologies to cure cancer or solve world issues or something meaningful? Not to be Big Brother and track us all.