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2013年7月30日 (火)

ビッグデータ 宝の情報を適切に活用したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun July 30, 2013
‘Big data’ must be used carefully to protect privacy of individuals
ビッグデータ 宝の情報を適切に活用したい(7月29日付・読売社説)

Vast amounts of electronic data, or so-called big data, accumulate on the Internet and in the systems of business organizations.

If these data are utilized wisely, they can become a “mountain of treasure.” On the other hand, it is important to clarify the rules set to protect individuals’ private information and create an environment in which business firms and consumers can make use of the data free from anxiety.

Big data is a collective term for various data such as records of mail-order purchases, information contained in postings on social networking sites and smartphone location information.

Advances in information technologies have made it easy to collect and store vast amounts of such data.

Product recommendations

In the mail-order business sector, a prevailing practice is to analyze purchase records of customers and then recommend products based on their tastes and preferences.

In the pharmaceutical industry, business operators analyze postings on the Internet about the prevalence of colds, and after looking at weather forecasts, provide potential customers with estimates about the spread of colds in their areas.

NTT Docomo, Inc. estimates the population distribution by area and time based on location information of cell phones. Such data can be used for urban development and disaster-management measures.

Many firms have become more aware of the value of using big data.

This year’s white paper on information and telecommunications, released by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, estimates that big data could have an economic impact in excess of 7 trillion yen a year in the form of product development and cost reductions.

We hope big data will be more widely utilized in various fields. In this respect, the public and private sectors will have to cooperate in expanding the use of big data in those fields in which information technology is not being fully utilized.

A promising business employing big data analytics is to study the soil on productive farmland and agricultural chemicals used on crops to enhance farming productivity.

Maintaining privacy crucial

Whatever its application, big data should be used only if individuals’ private information is protected.

East Japan Railway Co. has reportedly been selling records of the use of its Suica cards, prepaid e-money cards, at railways and subways to business firms that analyze them for market research. But JR East had sold the data without notifying the cardholders, drawing complaints from some card users.

It has been assumed that such information is anonymous as the names and addresses of individuals are deleted and cannot be identified. Therefore, in principle, the data is not subject to the Personal Information Protection Law, making it unnecessary to gain prior consent of the users when providing such private information to third parties.

But due to the advancement in analytical technology in recent years, in some cases it is possible to identify users by comparing data, even “anonymous” data, with other data such as location information.

Even when information is anonymous, it is essential for business operators to thoroughly explain to those whose information is being used that their data may be provided to a third party.

JR East has decided not to sell data to third parties if card users ask it not to. Those businesses planning to utilize big data should learn a lesson from JR East.

It is also important for business firms to handle such data properly. How to monitor the proper handling of data by firms will also become a big challenge in the future.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2013)
(2013年7月29日01時16分  読売新聞)


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