Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

IGF-USA 2012 Workshop: Next Challenge – How to Handle Big Data in the Cloud

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Brief session description:

Thursday, July 26, 2012 - The dramatic reduction in the cost of computing and storage made possible by cloud computing services, the spread of easy-to-use, open-source analytic tools, and the growing availability of massive data services from governments and the private sector (e.g. Google Maps) have enabled thousands of start-ups, hackers and others to create exciting new tools for business, entertainment, government and other sectors. Government policies can help or hinder development of new databases and Big Data apps. Issues covered in this session included: 1) open government data policy; 2) Intellectual Property Rights protection; 3) IT research; 4) technology test beds; 5) education; 6) law enforcement access; and 7) privacy regulations.

Details of the session:

The moderator for the session was Mike Nelson, a professor at Georgetown University and research associate at CSC Leading Edge Forum. Panelists included:

  • Jeff Brueggeman, vice president of public policy for AT&T
  • Paul Mitchell, senior director and general manager, Microsoft TV Division
  • Lillie Coney, associate director, Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Jules Polonetsky, director and co-chair, Future of Privacy Forum
  • John Morris, director of Internet policy, NTIA/US Department of Commerce
  • Katherine Race Brin, attorney, bureau of consumer protection, Federal Trade Commission

Mike Nelson, an Internet policy expert from Georgetown University, shared some reassuring remarks as he introduced a panel session that concentrated upon the complexities of managing what has become known as “Big Data.”

“These issues are not new,” he said. “We’ve been dealing with them for 20 or 30 years, but they are a lot more important now.”

Nelson explained in a workshop at IGF-USA Thursday at Georgetown Law Center that it’s not just about data that are big. It’s about data that are changing so quickly and need innovative tools of management.

He introduced the following questions:

Polonetsky and Brueggeman exchange stories a workshop about the Clould at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

  • How will privacy concerns impact the development of large databases (or will they have any significant impact)?
  • What are the liability issues of Big Data in the cloud?
  • How do we deal with the shortage of data experts?
  • How do we handle issues concerning control and access to data?

Jeff Brueggeman, a global public policy executive with AT&T and a longtime participant in Internet governance discussion in many fora, began the conversation by addressing a few of these issues.

First, he noted the importance of working with businesses as well as policymakers to come up with tools to manage the data. He also addressed the significance of maintaining security in cloud data.

“The more data that’s being collected and retained, the more that data could be used as a target,” Brueggeman said.

Brueggeman introduced some issues for the other panelists to contest, inquiring about best practices for dealing with data sets, types of controls over what users should expect, what uses of data are legitimate without that control and international components.

Jules Polonetsky of the Future of Privacy Forum followed with a look at the long-term perspective, offering some insight about the impacts of cloud technology.

“I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around clouds,” Polonetsky said. “But the best we can do is make sure we’re a bit of a gatekeeper.”

He argued that a formalized procedure should be established for the release of private information to law enforcement officials and others seeking information. But he also elaborated on the risks of such technology, which he illustrated by telling a story about his friend, a rabbi, who watched a racy video, unaware that Facebook would automatically share the link on his Facebook page, proving how easy it is to inadvertently share online activity with the greater digital community.

Polonetsky champions the benefits of data use, but he also urges people to consider the implications of such sharing and storing of data. He said he believes there should be a debate in which people weigh the risks and benefits.

Katherine Race Brin speaks about the Clould at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Katherine Race Brin continued the conversation, citing some of her experiences dealing with these issues in her job with the Federal Trade Commission.

She said the FTC has studied the implications of cloud computing for a number of years and has also considered how, or if, a cloud is different than any other uses of data transfer in regard to privacy.

She said her work at the FTC has led her to believe that the companies that are storing data in the cloud are often in the best position to assess the risks of that data sharing.

“We’ve always said, in relation to personal data, the businesses remain accountable for the personal data of their customers,” Brin said.

She said that while the FTC holds businesses responsible, it also provides a framework to ensure consumer privacy.

Brin explained the three key aspects of this framework:

  • Privacy by design – Companies should build in privacy protection at every stage from the product development to the product implementation phases. This includes reasonable security for consumer data, limited collection and retention of such data and resonable procedures to promote data accuracy.
  • Simplified consumer choice – Companies should give consumers the option to decide what information is shared about them and with whom. This should include a “do-not-track” mechanism that would provide a simple, easy way for consumers to control the tracking of their online activities.
  • Transparency – Companies should disclose details about their collection and use of consumers’ information and provide consumers with access to the data collected about them.

Lille Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, offered her insights as an expert on big data. (To see a video posted by The Economist about Big Data that is based on EPIC-supplied information, click here.)

“Governance is not easy,” Coney said. “But we do learn mechanisms for creating accountability, transparency and oversight.”

She noted that the difficulty lies in creating guidelines that have currency and legitimacy. In regard to cloud computing, Coney suggests that people are not only consumers; they themselves – or at least the sets of the private information they share – are actually products.

“Our online activity alone generates revenue, and many consumers don’t understand that,” Coney said.

She said she strongly believes in the importance of the public’s engagement in the conversation. With all these privacy concerns, Coney said the consumer cannot afford to leave it up to businesses or government.

Lille Coney speaks about the Clould at IGF-USA in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2012.

Microsoft executive Paul Mitchell, added some perspective to the conversation in terms of how to go about tackling the issue of how to manage Big Data. “I think the big challenge here is figuring out whats’ first when we’re talking about big data,” Mitchell said, noting the overwhelming amount of data being created and databased. “What we have here is not a new problem. What we have here is a problem of scale.”

Mitchell said we can look at the separate desires of people, businesses and society, and consider a philosophy based on each group’s needs. He explained that the people-first philosophy would ensure that data that could be harmful isn’t allowed to be. The business-first philosophy would be about maximizing the potential economic return for the use of data. The society-first philosophy would optimize the value for society as a whole based on what can be done with the data.

“From an operating perspective, the challenges we face involve how to govern against these three axises,” said Mitchell. “The policymakers’ choice is how to balance the three appropriately.”

Nelson then asked a question directed at the panelists about the future of the cloud and whether there would be one cloud in an interconnected world or a world of separate clouds run by different companies.

Session moderator Nelson then asked the panelists about the future of the cloud -whether there will be one cloud in an interconnectedworld or a world of separate clouds run by different companies.

Mitchell argued that there are circumstances that will require a private set of services.

Coney expressed concern over that model. “Consumer’s control over their data in a cloud-driven environment will require the ability to move their data from Cloud A to Cloud B. Making that a reality in this environment is going to be the challenge,” she said.

Polonetsky had a slightly different viewpoint. He considered the business-platforms perspective, questioning how easy it should be to move consumers’ data.

“Yes, it is your data, but did the platform add some value to it by organizing it in a certain way?” he asked, adding that the platforms may make a legitimate contribution by organizing consumers’ data. For example, your Facebook friends belong to you, but Facebook created a platform in which you interact with and share information, photographs and other things with them.

To conclude, Nelson took a few questions from the audience and asked each panelist for a recommendation regarding the future management of Big Data. Brueggeman suggested there should be a set of commonly accepted practices for managing Big Data. Polonetsky added there should be more navigable digital data. Brin supported the strong need for transparency. Coney proposed that cloud providers and Big Data companies must show their respect for a diverse group of stakeholders. Mitchell recommended that we should all work toward greater harmony between business, personal and societal values.

– Audrey Horwitz

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