Carnegie Mellon Researcher: Value of Search Data Hindered by Privacy Risk

How valuable is your privacy? How valuable is it compared to the overall health of society? These are questions that Tom Mitchell, the Head of Carnegie Mellon University’s Machine Learning Department, is trying to work out.

In a recent column for the scholarly journal, Science, Mr. Mitchell explored the issue of data privacy versus the potential for data mining. According to an article in PC World, Mitchell believes that by collecting and analyzing search data, scientists could improve society in a number of ways. When you factor in the considerable privacy risk associated with accessing this information, however, the risk to reward ratio changes.

As a solution to this problem, Mitchell proposes developing new technological tools to anonymously parse the information.

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From the article:

For example, one way to protect data privacy is to mine data across organizations without aggregating it in one repository (separate organizations would analyze data, then encrypt the results before pooling it with others’ results).

Mitchell also talks about the need to open up a dialogue about privacy issues so that the public and private sectors can agree on what is best.

“Perhaps even more important than technical approaches will be a public discussion about how to rewrite the rules of data collection, ownership, and privacy to deal with this sea change in how much of our lives can be observed, and by whom,” Mitchell writes, according to CMU. “Until these issues are resolved, they are likely to be the limiting factor in realizing the potential of these new data to advance our scientific understanding of society and human behavior, and to improve our daily lives.”

As we have reported here on the ReputationDefender Blog numerous

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times, the government is becoming increasingly wary of companies that utilize behavioral advertising and data mining techniques. By the by, this is a good thing, as it forces companies to consider how the interact with their customers.

However, Mr. Mitchell is right in saying that there is legitimate scientific value to search information. Finding the right balance between protecting personal privacy and using data mining to improve society (not just a company’s bottom line) is a difficult proposition. Hopefully, by working together, we can achieve this balance sometime soon.

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