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Privacy concerns still abound in use of analytics

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As analytics becomes more advanced and more widely used by businesses, privacy issues are a growing concern, and some experts say the laws haven’t yet caught up to the technology.

“We have to date, knock on wood, not had any privacy issues,” said Mike Lazarus, chief analytics officer for the Web company Real Age.

Real Age helps people with health issues, and starts off with a 30-minute survey of health-related questions that determines a person's “real age” in regards to their health, as opposed to their chronological age.

“I think as we get further and further into (organizing a) community we run the risk of exposing data if we’re not extremely careful,” he continued. “We will take small steps and poll our customers and ask them when they want to share their data.”

Analytics is the science of taking large quantities of information, tracking it and breaking it down to reveal trends.

Analytical software uses complex algorithms to break down enormous amounts of data, which companies can use to direct advertising and products to consumers.

Ted Dunning, chief scientist of local online video company Veoh explained that his company uses analytics to track which videos people are watching and then recommend other videos they might enjoy based on their apparent taste.

“It’s practically being a mirror,” Dunning said. “We’re just showing people -- learning from the behavior of millions of people -- and showing back to people what people have been telling us.”

Dunning said this is more accurate than surveys or tracking what people type into search engines because often what people say they want is not actually what they’re after.

But while the ability to profile a person by compiling their personal information is great for pushing products, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands.

What kind of shows someone watches on Veoh may not seem to matter, but health issues they discuss on Real Age are fairly personal.

Lazarus said Real Age aims to bring people together so they can discuss certain health issues, giving anecdotal advice on treatments or working through a problem together so, in a sense, people are willingly putting their information out there.

Still, the company has a responsibility to make sure that information doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

“It is scary when you think of the magnitude of data we have,” he said. “We don’t share our data outside the company. We’re interacting directly with our members.”

Lazarus, Dunning and other analytics specialists were speaking at a forum presented by the San Diego Software Industry Council on Tuesday.

Also on the panel was William Proffer, chief systems engineer for local defense contractor SAIC (NYSE: SAI).

Proffer acknowledged that companies have a responsibility to handle their customer’s information correctly and privately, but he said people should also realize the very public nature of the Internet.

“On the Internet there is no privacy,” he said. “You really have to take control of your own information and make sure that you’re watching your own information. There’s no … technology to allow you to control your identity or your own private information right now.”


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