Data security and the rise of Big Data. Who should we trust?

3 September 2014

Elliot Cooper

Elliot Cooper

Consultant

The rise in popularity of personal cloud storage software such as Dropbox, and more recently iCloud, poses the question, do users truly know where and how their data is stored?

Users are so accustomed to logging into email accounts, social media sites and banking sites with a simple username and password; that they often forget the security implications that the task they’re carrying out has.

Furthermore, because many of us find it difficult to create and memorise several different passwords that all fit the stringent criteria, we often use one password for several, if not all accounts.

 

(Source: xkcd)


It’s not only the businesses that we might suspect that are responsible for our personal data

Tesco used its ‘club card’ to obtain large amounts of data from customers and analyse trends. The initial analysis from the first batch of statistics produced was based on pregnant women and households expecting a baby. They hypothesised that soon-to-be mothers would increase their purchase of nappies, pacifiers or children’s toys. However, they discovered an unexpected revelation when it was uncovered that actually they find new parents expecting a child will increase their purchases of cleaning products and re-decorating items, because they want to redecorate a bedroom ready for a child to sleep in, as well as clean the house to ensure it is ready for a baby to live in. These results would not have been every analyst’s first choice when suggesting purchases for pregnant women, without the use of big data analytics.

The impact of big data on everyday life

From a big data analyst, or marketing department’s perspective, this might read as an intriguing and valuable concept. From an end-user and supermarket shopper’s perspective it should start to raise eyebrows and set off alarm bells.

We need to be aware that every electronic transaction we make is recorded in some way, and will result in the data being used in some form in the future. Soon will come the day when big data is integrated into our lives to such an extent, that an average day might look something like this.

Indeed, this is beginning to materialise in some forms around us today. Simply with location services and gps tracking that has become integrated into so many apps that we use today. Apps like google maps will have access to where you are when you are using it to navigate somewhere. But what about other apps? Oyster card apps which track your public transport usage. Social media apps that allow location tagging when sharing content. Mobile data apps which log where, when and what applications you are using to download data with. All of these can paint one part of a picture of your day. Combine this with information that can be gathered with businesses’ customer information databases and it is only a few short steps until this information is collated together to tell someone exactly what you have been doing every second of every day.

Keeping up with the competition is a risky business.

When consumer businesses look at this issue they often have a choice to make. For example, when HSBC developed its mobile banking app, it would have had to evaluate the weaknesses in the system and observed certain unavoidable security risks which are present with any system operating over a mobile network. It will then have had to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of producing the mobile app or not.

  • By releasing an app, existing customers are kept satisfied and it can act as a draw for potential new customers; however they will undoubtedly have customer information leaks, or increased fraudulent activity directly related to customers banking over a mobile network, which will cost them either financially or in bad publicity
  • If they didn’t release the app they will almost certainly have lost customers to competitor banks who provide a mobile banking service.

For most institutions, the data security risks are outweighed by the rewards of keeping up with competitors and current technologies. That’s great for the consumer when everything goes right. But what happens when it all goes wrong?

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