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Does Anyone Care About Target’s Data Breach?

December 19, 2013

While Target’s loss of 40 million customer records containing credit and debit card information made the headlines of most news organizations today, while deeply embarrassing for Target, I wonder if anyone really cares?

The fact is that for the past 5 years, data breeches have been occurring with increasing frequency and it therefore doesn’t seem especially surprising when we hear that someone else’s data has been stolen. In a year, when much has been made of the NSA snooping on American citizens, this whole privacy issue seems to be one that was supposed to be big, but just hasn’t turned out that way.

If you extrapolated what analysts were saying a few years back, we should be assuming that Target’s Q4 2013 would be a disaster, with customers boycotting the store and making their vital holiday season a financial misery. This isn’t going to happen because people don’t seem to care about their financial data being freely exposed to the world, because they’ve calculated that the chances of their personal data being used are minimal and if something was to happen, it’s easily solved.

It therefore appears that companies might have some wiggle room when it comes to how they use the mountains of data they are now collecting on everyone and everything. It seems that consumers are very much benefit focused and would rather seize the immediate advantage of a new app, rather than read the small print of the legal statement that might basically say that the company behind the app is taking every piece of data it can from you.

For companies in the data business and those using the data, there’s obviously a fine balance to achieve. As long as people don’t feel their data is being abused and misused and the promise that greater intelligence will provide greater personalization is delivered, all will be good.

However, when someone crosses the line and pushes things to far, there’s a possibility that attitudes could change.

A recent article in Popular Science highlights the news that one of the foremost experts in Artificial Intelligence, Yann LeCun has just been lured away from NYU to Facebook. LeCun’s specialty is using intelligence from images to help a drone fly itself. Popular Science speculates that LeCun might be applying this technology a little differently at Facebook.

“It’s not hard to imagine similar algorithms used to “read” the videos that you upload to Facebook, by examining who and what is present in the scene. Instead of targeting ads to users based on keywords written in Facebook posts, the algorithms would analyze a video of say, you at the beach with some friends. The algorithm might then learn what beer you’re drinking lately, what brand of sunscreen you use, who you’re hanging out with, and guess whether you might be on vacation.”

Maybe I am wrong, but I am not sure everyone who uploads photos to Facebook is expecting them to be hyper-analyzed; useful data extracted and predictive analysis performed and sold to advertisers. If they knew what was going to be done, would they still upload?

While Target’s data breech might make the headlines today, but not cause widespread panic and condemnation from consumers, it’s seems likely that it won’t be long before someone pushes the privacy balance a little too far and gets to experience serious whiplash from the consumer reaction.

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