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The abundance of data generated by consumers using social media and mobile devices has driven advancements in data analytics that enable organizations to search, aggregate, and cross-reference much larger data sets than we’ve ever seen. Combine this proliferation of data with the processing power of the cloud, and data analytics is now even more essential for businesses to use this data instrumentally to gain insight into their customers. However, recent controversies over data usage remind us of the potential ethical and security problems that accompany big data.

Canaries were once used in coal mines as an early warning that there was a problem in the mine. In the last few months, certain companies have served as early warning cases for the public in another type of mine: the data mine used for data analytics. Facebook recently found itself in front of Congress over the millions of users whose data has been collected by third-party apps and games on the platform. Starbucks, at the same time, decided to revamp its log-in procedure for the free WiFi service that it offers in stores to start collecting more information about those using its “free” services. The increasing amount of data mining required to yield useful data analytics for companies has brought with it an abundance of privacy concerns. When the canaries start dropping, data teams at large organizations really begin to take notice of the heightened security stakes.

As companies begin to modernize their IT infrastructures to more efficiently analyze the data they are collecting, they run the risk of becoming one of the canaries with significant privacy breaches. These breaches may be as small as an embarrassment to the company or as large as legal action being taken against the organization.

At the same time, consumers affected by the privacy concerns need to be more aware of data they’re providing to companies. Users populate these data mines with their activity, creating incredible value for the organizations collecting it who hope to cater to the user’s every need – often a need determined (and inspired in the user) by an algorithm.


Dave Flanagan is a technical instructor, bringing with him 17 years of training and courseware development expertise. Mr. Flanagan remains active in the classroom while providing valuable assistance to students during the hand-on portions of the courses. He provides training in the areas of web design, development, and programming. His programming expertise includes courses in Hadoop, Java Programming, Python, Ruby and related technologies.

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