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As Big Data gets hot, the temperature rises on data security

In response to a New York Times article published last month about the data collection practices of Axciom, eight members of US Congress have opened an inquiry into the data broking industry. Letters of inquiry have been sent to nine leading industry players (including my company Experian), asking for information about how they collect, enhance and sell consumer data.

Gaining consent, securing consumer data and being transparent about business practices are of course the keys to building consumer and government trust. As Big Data gets hotter, the greater will be government and regulatory scrutiny, even though government and the public sector are some of biggest proponents of Big Data in a post 9-11 world.

This month the FTC issued its biggest ever civil penalty of $22.5M to Google for misrepresenting how Apple Safari users were having their Internet activity tracked (incidentally, Google earns this much in 5 hours).

Locally, ASEAN has become one of the most active regions in the world from a privacy regulatory perspective. And an alleged violation of local consumer privacy law in China was the downfall of D&B’s Shanghai Roadway subsidiary earlier this year.

Science fiction authors like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson saw the Big Data world coming in the early 90s. In their novels Neuromancer and Snow Crash, the coolest and most valued professionals were the leather clad data jockeys who could interpret geospatial visualisations of huge databases (think GoogleEarth meets Second Life; or Tom Cruise working the data screens in Minority Report), and in real-time pluck out million dollar insights.

We’re entering this era now; but whilst there is an industry forming around Big Data, the reality is that few people know what to do with it, at least from a marketing perspective.

Big Data promises to give us personalised medicine as a result of the genomics initiatives coming out of Human Genome Project. The failure of US intelligence agencies to predict 9-11 has driven big data competency in national security. But few marketing managers and analysts have the skills to ask the right questions, let alone generate actionable insights.

In 20 years time, every university will have a dedicated Data Analytics department. But in the coming years, the talent shortage will be the marketing data scientist.

It might finally be time to take my ‘Data is Cool’ T-shirt out of the wardrobe.