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A Review of the Policy Debate around Big Data and Internet of Things

Posted by Elonnai Hickok at Aug 17, 2015 08:36 AM |
This blog post seeks to review and understand how regulators and experts across jurisdictions are reacting to Big Data and Internet of Things (IoT) from a policy perspective.

Defining and Connecting Big Data and Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a term that refers to networked objects and systems that can connect to the internet and can transmit and receive data. Characteristics of IoT include the gathering of information through sensors, the automation of functions, and analysis of collected data.[1] For IoT devices, because of the velocity at which data is generated, the volume of data that is generated, and the variety of data generated by different sources [2] - IoT devices can be understood as generating Big Data and/or relying on Big Data analytics. In this way IoT devices and Big Data are intrinsically interconnected.

General Implications of Big Data and Internet of Things

Big Data paradigms are being adopted across countries, governments, and business sectors because of the potential insights and change that it can bring. From improving an organizations business model, facilitating urban development, allowing for targeted and individualized services, and enabling the prediction of certain events or actions - the application of Big Data has been recognized as having the potential to bring about dramatic and large scale changes.

At the same time, experts have identified risks to the individual that can be associated with the generation, analysis, and use of Big Data. In May 2014, the White House of the United States completed a ninety day study of how big data will change everyday life. The Report highlights the potential of Big Data as well as identifying a number of concerns associated with Big Data. For example: the selling of personal data, identification or re-identification of individuals, profiling of individuals, creation and exacerbation of information asymmetries, unfair, discriminating, biased, and incorrect decisions based on Big Data analytics, and lack of or misinformed user consent.[3] Errors in Big Data analytics that experts have identified include statistical fallacies, human bias, translation errors, and data errors.[4] Experts have also discussed fundamental changes that Big Data can bring about. For example, Danah Boyd and Kate Crawford in the article "Critical Questions for Big Data: Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon" propose that Big Data can change the definition of knowledge and shape the reality it measures.[5] Similarly, a BSC/Oxford Internet Institute conference report titled " The Societal Impact of the Internet of Things" points out that often users of Big Data assume that information and conclusions based on digital data is reliable and in turn replace other forms of information with digital data.[6]

Concerns that have been voiced by the Article 29 Working Party and others specifically about IoT devices have included insufficient security features built into devices such as encryption, the reliance of the devices on wireless communications, data loss from infection by malware or hacking, unauthorized access and use of personal data, function creep resulting from multiple IoT devices being used together, and unlawful surveillance.[7]

Regulation of Big Data and Internet of Things

The regulation of Big Data and IoT is currently being debated in contexts such as the US and the EU. Academics, civil society, and regulators are exploring questions around the adequacy of present regulation and overseeing frameworks to address changes brought about Big Data, and if not - what forms of or changes in regulation are needed? For example, Kate Crawford and Jason Shultz in the article "Big Data and Due Process: Towards a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms"stress the importance of bringing in 'data due process rights' i.e ensuring fairness in the analytics of Big Data and how personal information is used.[8] While Solon Barocas and Andrew Selbst in the article "Big Data's Disparate Impact" explore if present anti-discrimination legislation and jurisprudence in the US is adequate to protect against discrimination arising from Big Data practices - specifically data mining.[9]

The Impact of Big Data and IoT on Data Protection Principles

In the context of data protection, various government bodies, including the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party set up under the Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as experts and academics in the field, have called out at least ten different data protection principles and concepts that Big Data impacts:

  1. Collection Limitation: As a result of the generation of Big Data as enabled by networked devices, increased capabilities to analyze Big Data, and the prevalent use of networked systems - the principle of collection limitation is changing.[10]
  2. Consent: As a result of the use of data from a wide variety of sources and the re-use of data which is inherent in Big Data practices - notions of informed consent (initial and secondary) are changing.[11]
  3. Data Minimization: As a result of Big Data practices inherently utilizing all data possible - the principle of data minimization is changing/obsolete.[12]
  4. Notice: As a result of Big Data practices relying on vast amounts of data from numerous sources and the re-use of that data - the principle of notice is changing.[13]
  5. Purpose Limitation: As a result of Big Data practices re-using data for multiple purposes - the principle of purpose limitation is changing/obsolete.[14]
  6. Necessity: As a result of Big Data practices re-using data, the new use or re-analysis of data may not be pertinent to the purpose that was initially specified- thus the principle of necessity is changing.[15]
  7. Access and Correction: As a result of Big Data being generated (and sometimes published) at scale and in real time - the principle of user access and correction is changing.[16]
  8. Opt In and Opt Out Choices: Particularly in the context of smart cities and IoT which collect data on a real time basis, often without the knowledge of the individual, and for the provision of a service - it may not be easy or possible for individuals to opt in or out of the collection of their data.[17]
  9. PI: As a result of Big Data analytics using and analyzing a wide variety of data, new or unexpected forms of personal data may be generated - thus challenging and evolving beyond traditional or specified definitions of personal information.[18]
  10. Data Controller: In the context of IoT, given the multitude of actors that can collect, use and process data generated by networked devices, the traditional understanding of what and who is a data controller is changing.[19]

Possible Technical and Policy Solutions

In a Report titled "Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World" by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States it was noted that though IoT changes the application and understanding of certain privacy principles, it does not necessarily make them obsolete.[20] Indeed many possible solutions that have been suggested to address the challenges posed by IoT and Big Data are technical interventions at the device level rather than fundamental policy changes. For example it has been proposed that IoT devices can be programmed to:

  • Automatically delete data after a specified period of time [21] (addressing concerns of data retention)
  • Ensure that personal data is not fed into centralized databases on an automatic basis [22] (addressing concerns of transfer and sharing without consent, function creep, and data breach)
  • Offer consumers combined choices for consent rather than requiring a one time blanket consent at the time of initiating a service or taking fresh consent for every change that takes place while a consumer is using a service. [23] (addressing concerns of informed and meaningful consent)
  • Categorize and tag data with accepted uses and programme automated processes to flag when data is misused. [24] (addressing concerns of misuse of data)
  • Apply 'sticky policies' - policies that are attached to data and define appropriate uses of the data as it 'changes hands' [25] (addressing concerns of user control of data)
  • Allow for features to only be turned on with consent from the user [26] (addressing concerns of informed consent and collection without the consent or knowledge of the user)
  • Automatically convert raw personal data to aggregated data [27] (addressing concerns of misuse of personal data and function creep)
  • Offer users the option to delete or turn off sensors [28] (addressing concerns of user choice, control, and consent)

Such solutions place the designers and manufacturers of IoT devices in a critical role. Yet some, such as Kate Crawford and Jason Shultz are not entirely optimistic about the possibility of effective technological solutions - noting in the context of automated decision making that it is difficult to build in privacy protections as it is unclear when an algorithm will predict personal information about an individual.[29]

Experts have also suggested that more emphasis should be placed on the principles and practices of:

  • Transparency,
  • Access and correction,
  • Use/misuse
  • Breach notification
  • Remedy
  • Ability to withdraw consent

Others have recommended that certain privacy principles need to be adapted to the Big Data/IoT context. For example, the Article 29 Working Party has clarified that in the context of IoT, consent mechanisms need to include the types of data collected, the frequency of data collection, as well as conditions for data collection.[30] While the Federal Trade Commission has warned that adopting a pure "use" based model has its limitations as it requires a clear (and potentially changing) definition of what use is acceptable and what use is not acceptable, and it does not address concerns around the collection of sensitive personal information.[31] In addition to the above, the European Commission has stressed that the right of deletion, the right to be forgotten, and data portability also need to be foundations of IoT systems and devices.[32]

Possible Regulatory Frameworks

To the question - are current regulatory frameworks adequate and is additional legislation needed, the FTC has recommended that though a specific IoT legislation may not be necessary, a horizontal privacy legislation would be useful as sectoral legislation does not always account for the use, sharing, and reuse of data across sectors. The FTC also highlighted the usefulness of privacy impact assessments and self regulatory steps to ensure privacy.[33] The European Commission on the other hand has concluded that to ensure enforcement of any standard or protocol - hard legal instruments are necessary.[34] As mentioned earlier, Kate Crawford and Jason Shultz have argued that privacy regulation needs to move away from principles on collection, specific use, disclosure, notice etc. and focus on elements of due process around the use of Big Data - as they say "procedural data due process". Such due process should be based on values instead of defined procedures and should include at the minimum notice, hearing before an independent arbitrator, and the right to review. Crawford and Shultz more broadly note that there are conceptual differences between privacy law and big data that pose as serious challenges i.e privacy law is based on causality while big data is a tool of correlation. This difference raises questions about how effective regulation that identifies certain types of information and then seeks to control the use, collection, and disclosure of such information will be in the context of Big Data – something that is varied and dynamic. According to Crawford and Shultz many regulatory frameworks will struggle with this difference – including the FTC's Fair Information Privacy Principles and the EU regulation including the EU's right to be forgotten.[35] The European Data Protection Supervisor on the other hand looks at Big Data as spanning the policy areas of data protection, competition, and consumer protection – particularly in the context of 'free' services. The Supervisor argues that these three areas need to come together to develop ways in which the challenges of Big Data can be addressed. For example, remedy could take the form of data portability – ensuring users the ability to move their data to other service providers empowering individuals and promoting competitive market structures or adopting a 'compare and forget' approach to data retention of customer data. The Supervisor also stresses the need to promote and treat privacy as a competitive advantage, thus placing importance on consumer choice, consent, and transparency.[36] The European Data Protection reform has been under discussion and it is predicted to be enacted by the end of 2015. The reform will apply across European States and all companies operating in Europe. The reform proposes heavier penalties for data breaches, seeks to provide users with more control of their data.[37] Additionally, Europe is considering bringing digital platforms under the Network and Information Security Directive – thus treating companies like Google and Facebook as well as cloud providers and service providers as a critical sector. Such a move would require companies to adopt stronger security practices and report breaches to authorities.[38]

Conclusion

A review of the different opinions and reactions from experts and policy makers demonstrates the ways in which Big Data and IoT are changing traditional forms of protection that governments and societies have developed to protect personal data as it increases in value and importance. While some policy makers believe that big data needs strong legislative regulation and others believe that softer forms of regulation such as self or co-regulation are more appropriate, what is clear is that Big Data is either creating a regulatory dilemma– with policy makers searching for ways to control the unpredictable nature of big data through policy and technology through the merging of policy areas, the honing of existing policy mechanisms, or the broadening of existing policy mechanisms - while others are ignoring the change that Big Data brings with it and are forging ahead with its use.

Answering the 'how do we regulate Big Data” question requires re-conceptualization of data ownership and realities. Governments need to first recognize the criticality of their data and the data of their citizens/residents, as well as the contribution to a country's economy and security that this data plays. With the technologies available now, and in the pipeline, data can be used or misused in ways that will have vast repercussions for individuals, society, and a nation. All data, but especially data directly or indirectly related to citizens and residents of a country, needs to be looked upon as owned by the citizens and the nation. In this way, data should be seen as a part of critical national infrastructure of a nation, and accorded the security, protections, and legal backing thereof to prevent the misuse of the resource by the private or public sectors, local or foreign governments. This could allow for local data warehousing and bring physical and access security of data warehouses on par with other critical national infrastructure. Recognizing data as a critical resource answers in part the concern that experts have raised – that Big Data practices make it impossible for data to be categorized as personal and thus afforded specified forms of protection due to the unpredictable nature of big data. Instead – all data is now recognized as critical.

In addition to being able to generate personal data from anonymized or non-identifiable data, big data also challenges traditional divisions of public vs. private data. Indeed Big Data analytics can take many public data points and derive a private conclusion. The use of Big Data analytics on public data also raises questions of consent. For example, though a license plate is public information – should a company be allowed to harvest license plate numbers, combine this with location, and sell this information to different interested actors? This is currently happening in the United States.[39] Lastly, Big Data raises questions of ownership. A solution to the uncertainty of public vs. private data and associated consent and ownership could be the creation a National Data Archive with such data. The archive could function with representation from the government, public and private companies, and civil society on the board. In such a framework, for example, companies like Airtel would provide mobile services, but the CDRs and customer data collected by the company would belong to the National Data Archive and be available to Airtel and all other companies within a certain scope for use. This 'open data' approach could enable innovation through the use of data but within the ambit of national security and concerns of citizens – a framework that could instill trust in consumers and citizens. Only when backed with strong security requirements, enforcement mechanisms and a proactive, responsive and responsible framework can governments begin to think about ways in which Big Data can be harnessed.


[1] BCS - The Chartered Institute for IT. (2013). The Societal Impact of the Internet of Things. Retrieved May 17, 2015, from http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/societal-impact-report-feb13.pdf

[2] Sicular, S. (2013, March 27). Gartner’s Big Data Definition Consists of Three Parts, Not to Be Confused with Three “V”s. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/gartnergroup/2013/03/27/gartners-big-data-definition-consists-of-three-parts-not-to-be-confused-with-three-vs/

[3] Executive Office of the President. “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values”. May 2014. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/big_data_privacy_report_5.1.14_final_print.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[4] Moses, B., Lyria, & Chan, J. (2014). Using Big Data for Legal and Law Enforcement Decisions: Testing the New Tools (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2513564). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2513564

[5] Danah Boyd, Kate Crawford. CRITICAL QUESTIONS FOR BIG DATA. Information, Communication & Society Vol. 15, Iss. 5, 2012. Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2012.678878. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[6]  The Chartered Institute for IT, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. “The Societal Impact of the Internet of Things” February 2013. Available at: http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/societal-impact-report-feb13.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[7] ARTICLE 29 Data Protection Working Party. (2014). Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things. European Commission. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf

[8] Crawford, K., & Schultz, J. (2013). Big Data and Due Process: Toward a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2325784). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2325784

[9] Barocas, S., & Selbst, A. D. (2015). Big Data’s Disparate Impact (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2477899). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2477899

[10] Barocas, S., & Selbst, A. D. (2015). Big Data’s Disparate Impact (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2477899). Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. Retrieved from http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2477899

[11] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party. “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things”. September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[12] Tene, O., & Polonetsky, J. (2013). Big Data for All: Privacy and User Control in the Age of Analytics. Northwestern Journal of Technology and Intellectual Property, 11(5), 239.

[13]  Omer Tene and Jules Polonetsky, Big Data for All: Privacy and User Control in the Age of Analytics, 11 Nw. J. Tech. & Intell. Prop. 239 (2013).

[14] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party. “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things”. September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[15] Information Commissioner's Office. (2014). Big Data and Data Protection. Infomation Commissioner's Office. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisations/documents/1541/big-data-and-data-protection.pdf

[16] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party. “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things”. September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[17] The Chartered Institute for IT and Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. “The Societal Impact of the Internet of Things”. February 14th 2013. Available at: http://www.bcs.org/upload/pdf/societal-impact-report-feb13.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[18] Kate Crawford and Jason Shultz, “Big Data and Due Process: Towards a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms”. Boston College Law Review, Volume 55, Issue 1, Article 4. January 1st 2014. Available at: http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3351&context=bclr. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[19] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[20] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commision. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[21] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commision. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[22] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commision. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[23] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commision. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[24] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commision. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[25] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[26] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[27] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[28] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[29]  Kate Crawford and Jason Shultz, “Big Data and Due Process: Towards a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms”. Boston College Law Review, Volume 55, Issue 1, Article 4. January 1st 2014. Available at: http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3351&context=bclr. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[30]  Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[31] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[32] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[33] Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/reports/federal-trade-commission-staff-report-november-2013-workshop-entitled-internet-things-privacy/150127iotrpt.pdf

[34] Article 29 Data Protection Working Party “Opinion 8/2014 on the on Recent Developments on the Internet of Things” September 16th 2014. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/data-protection/article-29/documentation/opinion-recommendation/files/2014/wp223_en.pdf. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[35] Kate Crawford and Jason Shultz, “Big Data and Due Process: Towards a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms”. Boston College Law Review, Volume 55, Issue 1, Article 4. January 1st 2014. Available at: http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3351&context=bclr. Accessed: July 2nd 2015.

[36] European Data Protection Supervisor. Preliminary Opinion of the European Data Protection Supervisor, Privacy and competitiveness in the age of big data: the interplay between data protection, competition law and consumer protection in the Digital Economy. March 2014. Available at: https://secure.edps.europa.eu/EDPSWEB/webdav/site/mySite/shared/Documents/Consultation/Opinions/2014/14-03-26_competitition_law_big_data_EN.pdf

[37] SC Magazine. Harmonised EU data protection and fines by the end of the year. June 25th 2015. Available at: http://www.scmagazineuk.com/harmonised-eu-data-protection-and-fines-by-the-end-of-the-year/article/422740/. Accessed: August 8th 2015.

[38] Tom Jowitt, “Digital Platforms to be Included in EU Cybersecurity Law”. TechWeek Europe. August 7th 2015. Available at: http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/e-regulation/digital-platforms-eu-cybersecuity-law-174415

[39] Adam Tanner. Data Brokers are now Selling Your Car's Location for $10 Online. July 10th 2013. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/adamtanner/2013/07/10/data-broker-offers-new-service-showing-where-they-have-spotted-your-car/

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