August 18, 2012–An interesting article on the ethical concerns surrounding big data was recently published by the San Diego Times, “Deontology and data mining” by J.D. Hildebrand. What in the world is deontology, you ask. Good question. Hildebrand explains the term by contrasting it to utilitarianism, a school of philosophy that believes in pursuing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Deontologists argue that certain acts are always wrong, even if they benefit the greater good. What does this have to do with data analytics?
According to Hildebrand:
“Several commentators in the tech community have suggested that the “Batman” massacre of July 20 could have been prevented with a little data mining. Relatively simple software might have monitored the future shooter’s statements on social media, public records, school transcripts, and online purchases, identifying him as a legitimate threat and alerting police. Data mining software could have saved a dozen lives. And at least one blogger has suggested that this fact is reason enough to curtail online privacy concerns and due-process constraints, allowing law-enforcement agencies to monitor our lives, especially our electronic lives, with an eye toward preventing us from committing crimes.”
We stand firmly behind privacy laws and appreciate Hildebrand’s point. However, this should not detract from the incredible potential that exists for data analytics to benefit both the greater good and the individual. There is plenty of public information available to keep data miners busy. Intrusion into the field of private information is simply illegal and should be avoided at all costs. Fortunately, many companies focusing on data mining are simultaneously, hard at work creating security systems to guard against the illegal intrusion into private information. Digital Reasoning, Barracuda Networks, and Gazzang are a few of the more interesting companies we recommend.