Data: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

26 Feb

It’s become apparent that many companies collect data in hopes that it’ll be helpful in the long term. Short term, however, no one really knows what to do with it, how it can be used, or ways that it can be leveraged to move a company forward. Those that are able to leverage the data collected have made great strides in better understanding their consumer base. On the flip side, what happens when the data collected gets into the wrong hands? These avenues lead to very different outcomes, and both public and private organizations are just beginning to wrap their heads around the Internet of Things (IoT); specifically, the connected devices that create it, the constant exchange of data that happens within the IoT and its implications.

It’s estimated that, by the year 2020, over 20 billion things will be connected to the IoT – that’s a lot of innovation potential, as well as information collection possibilities. Currently strides are already being made to connect more and more devices to the IoT under the guise of making everyone’s lives infinitely easier. For example, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas previewed a number of simple household appliances that are now Internet-capable. The immediate pros are obvious: making it easier to see what’s in your fridge lest you don’t want to open the door to find out, or even ordering laundry detergent with the simple click of a button located on your washer/dryer. However, it could also mean that they are using this same data to do the following – place ads on your refrigerator or any other display screen you may have active in your home, and inundating what was otherwise a personal, home life with living advertisements. When does the constant interconnectedness and need to collect data become an invasive and hurtful part of life?

A loss of data during a cyber attack doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s just erased from existence – normally, if it’s remotely valuable, it could end up on one of the many markets that pop up on the Dark Web. Sounds scary, but some startups are beginning to do the dirty work for companies and organizations that need to know what information of theirs is in the darkest corners of the IoT. Matchlight is one of those startups – when data is stolen during a cyber attack and the like, Matchlight sends a web crawler throughout the Internet to index the websites where stolen data would normally be found. Searching the Dark Web, however, is a whole other ballgame; to paraphrase, they’re trying to uncover and organize what people don’t want found. Though the information cannot be recovered once it’s on the Dark Web, this service at least gives organizations a head’s up before the rest of the world reads about it in the morning paper.

Data collection can be a great way to streamline life’s little bumps and corners – however, too much of a good thing can sometimes be taken advantage of by the wrong people and do irreparable damage. In the short-term, obviously steps can be taken to protect the data companies and organizations collect about the people that use their services over the course of time. Long-term decisions are an entirely different story – there are some who urge for groups to practice “data minimization”, like FTC Chairwoman Ramirez. However, as mentioned previously, a lot of corporations and companies are biding their time and continuing to collect as much data as possible, even if they don’t know its use just yet. As the IoT continues to grow and mature, not only will data collection views change with it but so will the otherwise neutral attitudes of its everyday users.