This is the beginning of the next Big Data revolution. However it remained confidential.
A bill was passed in France mid-January that will force the fiscal authorities to reveal the variables in algorithms used to take individual decisions (article in French). In other words, if you are picked up to get your tax declarations scrutinized, the fiscal authorities will have to reveal how you were picked up.
Big Data: when ethics comes into play
Until now Big Data has been mainly used to make profits and enhance customers’ purchases. In the banking, retail, insurance sectors data scientists have been asked to make people buy more. There is however an ethical problem. When a famous coffee brand asks its data scientists to make people buy more of its capsules, is it for the good of the consumers or for the good of the company? Is it healthy (and ethical) to make people consumer more coffee? In general, do you think banks and insurances have customers’ best interests in mind when they try to sell their products?
Big Data: consumers need to be reassured
As a consequence consumers have developed a fear of Big Data which, in their mind, is used against their interests. While this is true for some sectors, it’s false for others. Algorithms are also used in the public sector to make people’s life better. Look for instance at France Televisions Pluzz application that helps users get more of their preferred content while still letting them discover new stuff.
Like with many emergent technologies our Society still need to find a point of equilibrium. This balance can only be found if the consumer is reassured. This is exactly what France Televisions tries to do when it explains in simple words what it intends to do with data, how it is processed and for which purpose (link in French).
Transparent algorithms: will the private sector also follow
For the moment the private sector considers algorithms as IP (intellectual property). How long will it last however until one company decides to gain the trust of its customers back and explain clearly what it does with data and for which purpose?
Like often practices may change dramatically if a first mover takes the lead. The revolution may well come from the public sector. How will the consumer react when the “rules of the game” will increasingly become known. Will the consumer ask the same from the private sector. One thing is sure : the private sector is unlikely to take the initiative and to reveal the secrets of algorithms. It will only oblige if customers demand it.