007 Fights Big Data


Before reading further on this post, you should know that I am far from an expert on 1) big data or 2) James Bond, and this is purely an opinion piece (with some data points included).

This past week I finally got around to watching the most recent 007 movie.  I typically really do like the movies because they’re exciting, action-packed, and just a bit ridiculous.  Spectre did, however, seem a bit different from the prior films, as a major component of the plot was Bond’s battle with an extremely futuristic ‘sinister organization’ known as Spectre.  

Maybe it was being in Elaine Young’s capstone class with numerous conversations about big data, the eventual reveal that the evil organization Spectre was planning on being linked with the National Security Agency, or the frighteningly ‘futuristic’ feeling of the Spectre organization, its buildings and the questioningly robotic people working for the organization; whatever it was, I couldn’t help but feel like the film had an overt metaphorical reference to what our society might be in the midst of because of big data, and the intensifying battle for privacy and personal security in today’s increasingly complex, data-driven marketplace.

There has long been a debate about whether consumers value privacy or security more.  As mass data collection becomes more commonplace and the nature of the data being collected is more ‘invasive,’ this debate consequently becomes more complicated and interesting.  The issue has flip-flopped with consumers being in favor of either privacy or security throughout the years.  Nonetheless, consumer sentiment surrounding the issue is commonly influenced by major news or cultural events.  For example:

  • In 2013, the Edward Snowden leaks prompted more concerns about civil liberties than for national security.  
  • On the contrary, after the San Bernardino and Paris attacks in late 2015, 56% of Americans felt that counterterrorism efforts hadn’t gone far enough to protect the country, and only 28% thought efforts have gone too far in restricting civil liberties.

Most recently, the Apple vs. the Feds privacy controversy manifests more of the same wavering, but nonetheless important, consumer sentiment about privacy and security. To be specific:

  • In early February when Apple first announced that they weren’t going to cooperate with the US Government in unlocking the encrypted phone, 51% of polled people felt that Apple should cooperate due to national safety concerns.  
  • But, earlier this month, a survey conducted by WSJ/NBC showed 47% of registered voters felt that Apple should not, in fact, cooperate with the U.S. government.  
  • More confusing still, from that same poll, when asked what’s more worrisome, “that the US will not go far enough in monitoring the activities of potential terrorists, or that the US will go too far and violate privacy rights of average citizens,” 47% said the government wouldn’t go far enough in monitoring terroristic activities.  

What do all of these seemingly contradictory stats mean? Simply and generally put, Americans: 1)  are becoming more aware of big data, 2) feel frightened about its impact on their personal liberties 3) but, feel paralyzed in their lack of ability to affect any significant change against it.  

Further, while there’s been debate about whether privacy or security are more important in the to consumers, does one really have to outweigh the other in importance? Maybe at certain times cultural events bend perceptions, but the idea that consumers have to make a sacrifice of one ‘personal liberty’ to achieve the other could be a largest cause of widespread public distrust.  Proving this, 74% of people said they should not give up privacy and freedom for the sake of safety, and a meager 9% of polled people say that they have a lot of control over how much information is collected about them.  

While I very well could be drawing a connection that maybe wasn’t intended, I think the movie subtly references a lot of what American citizens are feeling today.  As the usage and collection of scary “big data” (personified by Spectre and its leader Oberhauser) becomes more universal and prevalent (signified by the literal ticking time bomb that is the enormously eerie new NSA building), many American people would likely love to have a ‘champion’ like 007 to combat this issue that they generally feel powerless against.  


What do you think? Is privacy or security more important in the digital age, or should we not have to sacrifice either?


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