Hugh Pickens writes "Paul Ohm writes in Harvard Business Review that businesses today are building perfect digital dossiers of their customers, massive data stores containing thousands of facts about every member of our society. He says these databases will grow to connect every individual to at least one closely guarded secret. 'This might be a secret about a medical condition, family history, or personal preference. It is a secret that, if revealed, would cause more than embarrassment or shame; it would lead to serious, concrete, devastating harm,' writes Ohm. 'And these companies are combining their data stores, which will give rise to a single, massive database. I call this the Database of Ruin. Once we have created this database, it is unlikely we will ever be able to tear it apart.' Consider the most famous recent example of big data's utility in invading personal privacy: Target's analytics team can determine which shoppers are pregnant, and even predict their delivery dates, by detecting subtle shifts in purchasing habits. 'In the absence of intervention, soon companies will know things about us that we do not even know about ourselves. This is the exciting possibility of Big Data, but for privacy, it is a recipe for disaster.' According to Ohm, if we stick to our current path, the Database of Ruin will become an inevitable fixture of our future landscape, one that will be littered with lives ruined by the exploitation of data assembled for profit. The only way we avoid this is if companies learn to say, 'no' to some of the privacy-invading innovations they're pursuing. 'The lesson is plain: compete vigorously and beat your competitors in every legitimate way, except when it comes to privacy invasion. Too many companies have learned this lesson the hard way, launching invasive new services that have triggered class action lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media firestorms.'"
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