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Big Data – privacy principles under pressure

Big Data is a concept that refers to the enormous increase in access to and automated use of information. It refers to the gigantic amounts of digital data controlled by companies, authorities and other large organisations, which are subjected to extensive analysis based on the use of algorithms. 

The use of Big Data challenges key privacy principles. 

Some individuals therefore claim that the current privacy legislation must be adapted to a new reality. The Data Protection Authority does not share this opinion. At a time when ever-increasing amounts of information are collected about us, it is more important than ever to safeguard fundamental principles of privacy. The principles constitute our guarantee that we will not be subject to extensive profiling in an ever-increasing array of new contexts.

Big Data can be used for many good and socially beneficial purposes. Analytic techniques are used to analyse anonymised data in order to identify and predict trends and correlations. The use of anonymised data does not in principle challenge privacy protection. However, Big Data can also be used such that it affects individuals directly. In this report, we highlight ten key privacy challenges related to Big Data.

Even though Big Data raises a number of privacy challenges, it is possible to make use of this type of analysis and respect the privacy of individuals at the same time. In this report, we will be making the following recommendations, among others:

  • As a rule, the processing of personal data should be based on consent. If it is not possible or desirable to use consent, the information should be anonymised.
  • Good routines for the anonymisation and de-identification of information are of major importance. This will contribute to reducing the risk of re-identification.
  • Big Data should be used in accordance with the principles of data protection by design.
  • Enterprises that use Big Data must be open about how they process the personal data they collect. This means giving the individual access to the decision-making criteria (algorithms) used as the basis for developing profiles, and to the sources from which the information is retrieved, among other things.
  • Individuals should be given an opportunity to have all the data about them that the enterprise possesses disclosed to them in a user-friendly format. Data portability will prevent customers from becoming locked into services that have unacceptable terms and conditions.