Gibbs acknowledges that this foresight can be “pretty good” but worries about the potential downside: “Anonymized data often isn’t that … so actually tracking specific people could be possible and could lead to abuse in real world deployments.” Not to sound like a reactionary, but we have that now. With proper evidence, law enforcement officials can order wiretaps and surveillance and who knows what else. If the data is there, why not use it? I don’t like those signs that say “we ask for ID for your protection” but if you’ve ever had someone steal your credit card, it’s nice to have someone checking to make sure it’s really you passing the card.
The problem here is one of boundaries – specifically the boundary between personal data and anonymous data. Big data can identify both, and its value comes from the ability to render both. It can recognize demographic patterns and trends on a grand scale. Its ability to identify personal trends – teen-age pregnancy notwithstanding – is less accurate. I once bought a book of French poetry on Amazon for my now-ex-father-in-law, an isolated action that probably confused the site’s algorithms for a while