Privacy and Big Data – Webcast Review

Privacy and Big Data: Is there room for privacy in the age of big data?

Broadcast live on September 14, 2011; 60 mins (approx); O’Reilly Community webcast presented by Terrence Craig and Mary Ludloff; available at and via YouTube.

This O’Reilly webcast discusses the position of privacy in the world of big data and ubiquitous digital devices, and follows on from the presenters’ book Privacy and Big Data 1.

Although nearly 5 years old, this webcast still resonates with today’s concerns trying to come to terms with the amount of personal data we (some willingly, some ignorantly) choose to give up to the corporate world as they track our movements around the web.

‘Our data,’ begins the webcast, ‘is the most valuable commodity in the world’ and is the price we pay for participation in the world of free, always-available information and entertainment.

Tracking – Digital Footprint

Our private lives are merged with our public persona – our digital footprints grow ever larger as we browse the Net. Mary Ludloff describes a Wall Street Journal experiment in which a new PC was used to visit the 50 most popular websites (2011) and then tested to see how many tracking cookies it had attracted; more than 3000 such pieces of software had been left!

Many of us are unaware that our privacy is being invaded in such ways: “Socially and culturally,” says Mary, “we don’t understand that just about everything that happens online is public….technology is tracking every move and every step we make digitally and collecting and using that information.”2

Utopia or Orwellian Nightmare

Terrence Craig reasons that technology is both good and bad; technology has brought the human race closer together, while tracking and the use of analytics brought to bear on big data has enabled beneficial public health mapping and forecasting and extra security. Terrence makes a strong case that it is not the technology itself that is dangerous, but rather the uses – good or bad – that we make it serve. It is our responsibility, he argues, to put in place social structures and relationships to regulate the balance between privacy and security.

The dichotomy between utopia and nightmare is not, believe the presenters, appropriate. Privacy in the digital age is complex; they make the point that on the same day in 2011 the Obama administration both called for a strengthening of Social Media infrastructure, citing the help it gave the Arab Spring and like popular movements, yet also called for the right for the US government to have access to personal email archives without warrant!


Both authors agree that the only way to avoid the loss of personal data is to stay ‘off-grid’; they also agree that data collection and use is extremely hard, if not impossible, to control via legislation.

Their conclusion is that we should not try to control the technology, but rather the society in which it sits: “Instead of trying to control where my data ends up, I’m going to try and influence how we as a society deal with privacy issues…make sure that my government and powerful people are just as transparent as individuals…’3


  1. Privacy and Big Data, O’Reilly 2011 (
  2. 10″ 
  3. 60″ 

2 responses to “Privacy and Big Data – Webcast Review

  1. Pingback: 6 topics in IS – Assessed blog posts | mscismarksanders·

  2. I always find this topic interesting – does the consumer walk blindly in to some of these things disregarding privacy?!? Or do we walk in to some of these things knowing that our data will be stored but for the ability to use a product we simply are “ok” with that?!? Ultimately do we know where our data is? What its being used for? and what will the reveloution of the Internet of Things mean to our expanding digital footprint!?!? Truly orwellian…. 🙂 good stuff Mark!


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