Privacy concerns regarding big data initiatives

The considerable proliferation of big data and analytics initiatives in countless industries and businesses has caused these tools to become viewed as routine by many. Even outside the business world, data management is regarded as commonplace. For instance, look at the range of everyday functions that rely on the use of big data – everything from GPS-based maps on smartphones to the algorithms used by streaming music services like Pandora and Spotify. As a result, the average individual likely has some awareness of how his or her data is collected and used, particularly in a professional setting, where employers' tracking of workers' data is viewed as the norm.

As an example, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that pest control business Accurid Pest Control used GPS trackers on employees' mobile devices to determine whether they were using work hours to deal with personal matters in a way that the company's management deemed excessive. 

With that being said, it should be an organization's priority to be transparent about its uses and tracking of data and analytics – particularly when it comes to employee and customer personal information. If they fail to do so, they could fall under the suspicion of regulatory authorities.

According to The New York Times, members of the U.S. Senate have begun to closely scrutinize the data mining practices of businesses engaged in education technology. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) is leading the examination into this matter, stating that while these companies' collection of data has its benefits, it can also spiral out of control and become invasive. Markey wrote an open letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan regarding the issue.

"By collecting detailed personal information about students' test results and learning abilities, educators may find better ways to educate their students," Markey stated in his letter, according to the source. "However, putting the sensitive information of students in private hands raises a number of important questions about the privacy rights of parents and their children."

Markey went on to beseech Duncan and the Department of Education to explain exactly what types of personal data and analytics were being collected and inform those affected – as well as the general public – what regulations and security protocols were in place to ensure that the information would not be somehow compromised or exploited.

The news source reported that these practices were common at many schools, with little guidelines in place to restrict private companies' use of the gathered information. Businesses that rely heavily on the collection of business intelligence from personal data would do well to clarify to customer and employees what information is being used, in order to preclude questions about the legitimacy of such initiatives.

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