Knowledge is power, and when it comes to big data, there’s a lot up for grabs. Big data promises countless benefits to industry, consumers and society—from predicting wildfires to reducing wait times at airport security. As more data becomes available each day, the opportunities—and risks—grow, too.
“One of the things we always talk about in data is that we’re in an interesting time,” Sanjay Sardar, vice president of data science services at SAIC, told WashingtonExec. “With the advent of more connected consumer technologies and sensors, we’re able to track a lot more. The risk is, we’re able to track a lot more.”
There are a few different challenges when it comes to big data and society. The first is known as the mosaic effect, or as Sardar put it, “the unintended consequences of mashing up data.” For example, data from the Forest Service can provide information on population around dams. The Environmental Protection Agency has data on water levels. Putting together those things could identify potential targets for an attack.
“It’s a very real threat, but you’re not going to be able to control it,” Sardar said. “The best we can do is protect the assets we need to protect.”
That is the second challenge. Not only is protecting the data a challenge in the face of insider threats and cyberattacks, but knowing whose job it is to safeguard that data is also tricky. Who is responsible?
“Unfortunately, it’s complicated,” Sardar said, “and the answer is everybody who uses it, to a degree. People generating data sets need to know what they’re putting out into the open, and be aware that you might be putting lives at risk.”
At the same time, “Everybody should understand what data is being collected about them and how it’s being used. That’s a personal responsibility.”
Right now, there is no infrastructure to hold individuals and institutions accountable for what they do with data.
“We as a society need to think about how we get people who consume or repurpose data to be responsible and take some ownership,” Sardar said. One possible solution, he said, was a registry. “If people register when they create data products, they’ll be liable as much as the creator or producer of the data is,” Sardar said.
“It’s an infrastructure nightmare,” he said. “I get it. But without getting that infrastructure in place, we’re still going to be in the wild west of data.”