Julie Brill Calls For Consumer Anonymity From Big Data

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The Federal Trade Commission kicks off National Consumer Protection Week this Sunday, but ahead of that the its Commissioner, Julie Brill, delivered a keynote address at the Fordham University Big Data, Big Issues Center for Law and Information Policy event.

In the speech, Brill began by highlighting all of the uses of Big Data, which is basically the critical mass of data after it grows "too big, moves too fast," and becomes too unwieldy for companies to really process it. Brill notes how the mass of data can be put to "creative and beneficial uses" - so long as it remains truly anonymous.

"There are certain Big Data uses and practices that are on my radar screen and get between me and a good night’s sleep," Brill said. "As a Commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, it is my job to protect consumer privacy—a business that the FTC has been in for quite some time."

She goes on to list four must-haves in order for Big Data to respect privacy.

"First," she begain, "It is critical that we drill down and determine whether the information amassed for such analysis is in fact truly anonymous."

"In the vast collection of data about consumers," Brill added second, "We must be careful to insure that collection and use of sensitive information – such as information related to health, finances, or sexual orientation – triggers the heightened protection it deserves."

"Third, we are all very familiar with the harms that can occur when there is a data breach. The collection and retention of vast amounts of identifiable data creates a greater risk when a data breach occurs. Holding on to vast stores of data flies in the face of one of the fundamental principles of "privacy by design": data minimization."

Finally, Brill concluded with her list of requirements necessary for Big Data to truly preserve anonymity with consumers. " I am concerned about is the extent to which the analysis of vast amounts of data results in consumer profiles that will be used to deny consumers important benefits," she said.

Given the events of this week revolving around Google stiff-arming users into accepting the new Privacy Policy in spite of claims that it isn't even lawful, it's hard not to superimpose Brill's words onto the tech company. At this point, do you think that Google would ever relinquish their white-knuckled grip on users' information in light of Brill's calls for absolute protection of consumer anonymity?

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