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Leveraging Information and Intelligence

David Linthicum

The Truth about BI and Privacy Issues

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Who would have thought that BI would have a downside? However, like any powerful tool you can do good with it, or bad. While the idea behind business intelligence is to cull the right information from billions of individual data records, typically around business things such as the best time of year to introduce a product or the relationship with weather and sales patterns, there are some concerns that I'm hearing around the use of BI systems as related to privacy.

The amount of data that systems are collecting on you right now is amazing. Google knows your Web habits, Facebook knows your friends, education level, and relationship status, Twitter knows when you had breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and Amazon knows who you purchased gifts for in 2009. As separate piles of data they are really not providing much information unto themselves, but when brought together can form clear patterns around who you are and what you do.

Up until recently this data had little value. However, those who make money selling this data, typically all of the major social networking sites have learned to keep track of you. After all, they have to get paid somehow, and their data is their asset. They, of course, have privacy policies, and most won't give up your individual information without a court order. However, this is not about that. It's about leveraging very sophisticated BI systems to put together all of the bits and pieces of data about you, and a surprising very clear picture of you. This would include preferences, buying habits, eating habits, vices, your relationships, income, taxes paid, ..., in essence things you may not have known about yourself, but others do.

What's interesting about this is that the information until itself existing out there does not cause privacy problems; it's the analysis of the information holistically by a BI system. Thus, while BI systems are the single best opportunity for understanding your market, they are also the single largest threat when considering privacy issues. I guess you have to take the good with the bad.

1 Comment


As an entrepreneur of a start up, HIPAA BOX, and a veteran IT person from banking, online services, and health care, I am 100% with you, up until now, it has been hard for the enterprise to understand the data of its own customers, never mind sell that data or abuse it.

With the contemporary BI tools, and the advent of cloud platforms, where processing and storage prices are shrinking fast, it is possible to quickly understand the user community's habits and leverage that information for the consumer's interests, or against their interests.

For example, our company, is likely to understand the totality of a firm's change management history from a bottom's up perspective but aggregating to whatever useful levels of intelligence our customer's needs might be.

To your point about the business arrangements we make, being aware of the usefulness of this data for our own business intelligence, while we are promising never to disclose any facts to outsiders about a customer's change management practices, we do reserve the right to maintain the meta data about these practices in or own data warehouse, even after we have taken this data out of our operational spheres.

Industry expert Dave Linthicum tells you what you need to know about building efficiency into the information management infrastructure

David Linthicum

David Linthicum is the CTO of Blue Mountain Labs, and an internationally known distributed computing and application integration expert. View more


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