The Terrorist Threat of Dark Data
Media have largely ignored an incredibly important issue – dark data.
Dark data is not, by its nature, as ominous as the title implies. “Dark” or “dusty” data is simply a byproduct of the mass quantities companies collect from users over the web.
Whether you realize it or not, with each click to your favorite department store’s online shop, every time you order takeout from that app on your cellphone, every time you search, every time you text, or add ebooks to the library on your tablet, someone is collecting digital bytes on your habits, your thoughts, your maladies, and more. This information, known as “big data” is rounded up in bulk and processed by companies like Trendsource, Siwell, and Rackspace. That is only to name a few. What they do is perfectly legal, and not necessarily disconcerting.
Interestingly, companies are collecting so much information that they often forget about much of it. Sometimes over half of their curated data. On average, 52% of the data collected by companies is unprocessed and untagged.
Dark data can be a goldmine of statistics useful to better inform companies on consumer habits. Accessing it may enable them to better serve their customers. The data also holds intrinsic value. This information can be sold to other organizations looking for inside perspective on certain groups or demographics. Dark data can also be the key to influencing unconscious behaviors. Much like big data already has, for example, in our last election. But it might also be completely useless. One never knows until it is processed – that generally only happens when that processing can be monetized by the databank owner.
Since companies and consumers are often unaware of this accumulated data held outside their immediate control, they might not notice it was stolen or repurposed dishonestly.
It is indisputable that a real goldmine in dark data is found by hackers. Groups looking to advance an agenda sneak in through blind spots in data management and find what triggers certain users to action. So-called “bots” already have slipped through social media algorithms to share false news articles.
Could these instances become more frequent, and more subtle, if the hackers behind them can micro-target users with dark data? We know that non-human traffic in the form of bots mine the Internet and siphon off billions in dollars spent by advertisers. Some say part of that money goes to terrorists. Terrorists who may be motivating impressionable misfits to engage in unthinkable acts.
Remember that next time you choose to share your life on the Internet.