A recent blog published in the Yale Journal of Law & Technology highlights rising concerns that use of anonymized “big data” can cause just as many societal problems as use of non-anonymized consumer data.
According to the blog, a consumer’s name, address and social security number can become irrelevant when organizations can otherwise draw “highly sensitive conclusions” about individuals. Instead of a consumer’s name, companies would rather know the person’s age, gender, income and interests—“anonymous” information that can still easily be monetized.
That this highly personal (yet still anonymized) information is grouped and un-grouped, sold and shared “inflicts no less of a dignitary harm than identifying individuals by name,” the blog asserts.
The generalizations gleaned from large groups of anonymized individuals can also be used to disadvantage specific consumers. For instance, if creditors find that many 25-year-old women who live in a specific zip code have a poor history of repaying their debts, this information may be used to disadvantage all such women—regardless of each one’s individual attributes and creditworthiness. Experts call this “statistical discrimination.”