Privacy could 'crash' big data if not done right

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Privacy has the potential to crash big data before there's a chance to get it right, and finding the right balance is key to future success, experts argued at a Princeton University event earlier this month.

The event, titled "Big Data and Health: Implications for New Jersey's Health Care System" featured four panels exploring health, privacy, cost and transparency in regard to how big data can improve care and patient outcomes, according to an article on the university's website.

"Privacy will crash big data if we don't get it right," Joel Reidenberg, visiting professor of computer science at Princeton and a professor at Fordham University's School of Law, said at the event.

During a panel, Reidenberg cited the example of inBloom--a $100 million big data program designed to help make better decisions about education policy--which eventually lost all nine of its state partners because of "privacy concerns over student data."

Julie Brill, commissioner of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and a 1981 Princeton alumna, said during a panel that she sees potential for big data projects, but added that privacy must be "paramount" in the discussion.

"Privacy is an ethical discussion, it's a structural discussion and it's a legal discussion," she said. "Rather than have this big notion that big data is going to benefit mankind, we have to be specific about the benefits of any specific project and balance that with the potential harms."

While big data increasingly is being used as a tool to directly bolster patient care and could help to cut as much as $450 billion in costs from the U.S. healthcare system, some experts have tempered their expectations of its effectiveness in healthcare and beyond, citing privacy concerns.

Machine-to-machine (M2M) and mHealth will be among the technologies fueling the drive to incorporate big data in healthcare, but few organizations are fully prepared to handle the influx of data, according to a survey published last month from MeriTalk. The report is based an online survey from January of 150 federal executives focused on healthcare and healthcare research. They said big data's potential to improve healthcare will be its ability to help track and manage population health more efficiently (63 percent), improve patient care within military health and VA systems (62 percent), and enhance the ability to deliver preventive care (60 percent).

To learn more:
- read the article from Princeton University

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