“What’s Your Generation’s Choice?”

Privacy Protection in The Big Data Era.

“Saying I don’t care about privacy because I have nothing to hide.
Saying I don’t care about free speech because I have nothing to say.”


The General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA), came into effect beginning 25 May 2018.
In 2016, the Hollywood biographical thriller film “Snowden” once again aroused the public attention on this legendary whistleblower and the discussion on information security. PRISM, NSA and more of such relevant words have resurfaced among people around the globe.

There has always been a controversy between the advantages brought by the Big data era and the anxiousness from information privacy security, contributing two representative powers in such a game theory. On the one hand, people, especially the millionaires who are born in the information age, are now living in a world bombarded with information, data, and social media. Human race embraces the tremendous improvement in quality of material and spiritual life, as well as the revolutions in ways of communicating, information gathering and problem solving. On the other hand, endless privacy crises keep emerging, overshadowing the uncertain future of the big data era.
It is fair to say that privacy security problems have always entwined with the human history. However, due to the rapid development of information technology, data mining, analyzing, and predicting techniques, the process of privacy protection is facing more unprecedented challenges and uncertain influences.

“This article will discuss the challenges of the big data era and shed the light on privacy protection from the perspective of governments, businesses and individuals.”


Terrorists? Invisible hand?
Conflict between personal privacy and national interests.

Initially, when governments gained abilities and skills to control and utilize big data, the so-called “invisible hand” started to reach each single individual, not only their own citizens, but also other countries’ citizens around the world.

Due to the existence of a huge technical advantage, resource monopoly and asymmetric information, it couldn’t be truer that most governments in the world monitor their citizens’ both private and public information. For instance, PRISM in the U.S.

However, it is difficult for citizens to monitor their government in terms of the the gaps between powers that compete.

Think of Hillary Clinton email scandal. The general public is always at a disadvantage in the process of asking for information disclosure and transparency from government.

From the perspective of modern democracy, free speech, information privacy and so on, all belong to human rights and individual property. The government is forbidden to assess, interfere or even violate personal property. With this being said, based on big data technology, the government is able to silently monitor individuals’ information or privacy through their telephone, SMS, email and social media, as a source of information, without being noticed by individuals.

Although the United States government claimed that PRISM was proposed to investigate and monitor information from potential or existing terrorists, the it is relatively inefficient, unethical and even illegal. Let’s remember that Snowden refuted that himself, even if the purpose of PRISM is to screen the terrorists at the expense of the violation of user’s privacy security.

As a conclusion, at the national level, it seems there is a conflict of interest between individuals and the governing body. Yet, when dealing with the relationship between government and people, governments still need to put more efforts in finding a relatively fair and effective mechanism to avoid any potential crisis.

Absolute prohibition or repression is not a permanent solution. Only by focusing on technology advancements can governments efficiently utilize the advantages of big data to identify and distinguish potential terrorists from the public.


Commercial value? Customer first? Political pressure?
Conflict between privacy and business principles.

Big data is significant for enterprises to capture the needs of consumers, as well as enhancing user experiences, product or service customer satisfaction.

Nowadays, nearly all industries are benefiting from the infrastructural bonus from the Internet, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and information technology, etc.

It is the first time in history that human race obtains the capability to detect and explain the principles behind complexity of business phenomena, including predicting future trends, by applying data analysis skills to solve real problems.

For example, companies collect users’ search and past consumption records to trigger demand, via GPS positioning and algorithms to predict consumers’ preferences and future consumption trends. On top of this, data-based targeted advertisements are endowed with the ability to push real-time product information to existing and potential customers, therefore saving time, and offering convenience to customers at a premium. However, accessing to or even storing the users consumption records, contact list and geographic location information, will violate their privacy to some extent.

In a survey of 11000 interviewees in 11 countries, Ovum Co. found that 68% respondents said they would be more willing to use the search engine if their personal information would not be tracked. Only 14% respondents said they believed the Internet companies were honest about the use of their personal data. Obliviously, consumers are still concerned much about information security.

The actual situation of enterprises is that they are always stuck between the external pressures coming from the government, customers and profit. First, under the government pressure, companies have to provide some specific users information waiting for future inspection. Second, because business models are dependent on consumers’ trust and contract agreements, enterprises have the responsibility to protect customers’ data. Third, to seek maximizing profits, companies need to collect, analyze data collected and maximize utilization of existing limited data. Consequently, companies in the face of many uncertain situations have to make the appropriate choice.

For example, in February 2016, Apple refused to unlock its users’ iPhone when required by FBI. Apple’s real purpose was probably not to open a dangerous precedent for violating users’ privacy. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, said that Apple is not in sympathy with the terrorists, however if they succumb to the requirements of the government, it will endanger millions of law-abiding users’ data security. Google, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Huawei and other technology companies took sides with the company.

In China, starting March 2016, a total of seven Chinese cloud service providers have partly or entirely shut down their cloud service to abide by the requirement of the government’ inspection.

One reason is due to the unsuccessful profit model of these emerging data storage service providers. They had been providing free service for a while without generating enough income to cover their cost.

The other reason behind this, and more importantly, lies in the tremendous amount of illegal and tortious content stored in users’ cloud. They are forced to shut down for rectification by government.

Multiple factors, namely business model, privacy protection, information security, inspection on illegal contents and regulations, are entwined with each other, throwing companies to an uncertain future.

How to develop data technology in order to precisely distinguish discrimination and illegal content from personal privacy is a problem that needs to be solved. At the same time, the construction of relevant laws must follow up with the pace of technology.


Human nature? Freedom?
Conflict between privacy security, social relation and human nature.

With the considerable improvements in computing power, any individual can be precisely identified by collecting and analyzing the information of gender, age, educational level, social activities, occupation, geographical location and so on. That is, algorithms are prevailingly used in precise positioning of the individual. Everyone is living “nakedly” in the world of data.

Someday, perhaps privacy will no longer exist. Human daily life will be exposed, and will dramatically be affected big data, both positively and negatively.

On the one hand, due to more open, interactive and fast-responding features of data environments compared to the past, people started to prefer “actively” sharing their personal information, such as occupation, experience, social activities, business dealings, preference hobbies, entertainment habits on the network like Facebook, Twitter, WeChat and other social medias.

On the other hand, the awakening of self-awareness increases their awareness of protecting their privacy.

As a result, sharing and protecting in human nature are two confrontational concerns to a certain extent. When facing intrapersonal conflict, everyone needs to be calm and think objectively, concentrating on self-reflection, to help others and society as well.

Recently, TV drama “Black Mirror” has become the popular show that exposes these concerns effectively.

Its expressional theme is more or less emphasized on the fear, depression, distortion and release of human nature which faces the challenges from advances in technology and data, and consequently causes people to think deeply about their future.


All in all, the three dimensions discussed in this article conflicts at different levels. They are basically derived from the contradictions between open source big data and private personal information. All sorts of powers and roles play against each other in silence under such circumstances.

What are the duties and responsibilities of government, enterprises and individuals in our era? Is information technology a sharp sword or a solid shield? It seems there is no accurate answer for these questions.

Yet, one thing we can still be sure about is: the developing trend of big data will only keep evolving.

Citing from Snowden’s online live speech in 2016 at McGill University, Canada:

“We are at a decision point and we could have a very dark future or very bright future, but the ultimate determination of which road we take won’t be my decision, it won’t be the government’s decision, it will be your generations’ decision, and I am looking forward to seeing what it is that you guys actually decide.”

Perhaps the key to solving these problems is in the hands of our generation.