Information Technology and Ethics/Privacy and Data Big Data

Big Data and Privacy




The rapid advancement of technology has led to the collection and use of big data , which have revolutionized various industries by enabling data-driven decision-making and innovation. However, the collection and use of big data have also raised significant ethical and privacy concerns. This section explores the key privacy issues surrounding data collection, aggregation, and the use of Large Language Models, highlighting the need for robust privacy protections.

Data Collection


Data collection is a crucial step in the creation of Big Data models, as large quantities of high-quality data are required to produce accurate results. Data collectors, such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook, are uniquely positioned to collect user data due to the prominence of their platforms. The desire to outcompete rivals drives organizations to collect more data, often at the cost of user privacy.

To address privacy concerns, data collectors implement sanitization processes to remove Personally Identifiable Information (PII). However, not all instances of data collection can afford to have the data sanitized, particularly in industries like finance, where personal information is essential for operations. Privacy concerns surrounding data collection have grown as social media has become more prominent, calling into question the responsibility of data collectors in shaping how humans interact, socialize, and hold others accountable[1].

Governments have also become involved in big data, with authoritarian regimes collecting increased amounts of data for surveillance purposes, while liberal democracies have created legislation to guide private enterprises in being less invasive with data collection, often with mixed results. Several notable scandals have revealed that many liberal democracies engage in mass surveillance.

Data Aggregation


Data aggregation is fundamental in industries such as finance, healthcare, and cybersecurity, where it enhances decision-making and operational efficiencies by synthesizing data from multiple sources. However, the benefits of data aggregation come with significant ethical concerns regarding privacy and data security. The integration of data from diverse sources can inadvertently expose PII, even when individual datasets are anonymized, highlighting weaknesses in current privacy protection methods[2].

Ethical challenges in data aggregation extend to issues of consent and the potential for reinforcing biases. The opaque nature of data collection practices complicates individuals' ability to provide informed consent, and aggregated data can unintentionally perpetuate existing biases, leading to discriminatory outcomes in services or decision-making processes[3].

To address these ethical challenges, there is a pressing need for enhanced transparency and accountability in how aggregated data is handled. Organizations must ensure that individuals understand how their data is being used and have mechanisms in place for data subjects to control their information [4]. Developing robust privacy protections and ethical guidelines for data use is crucial to safeguard individual rights and maintain public trust.

Large Language Models LLMs


LLMs have raised significant privacy concerns due to their ability to memorize and potentially leak sensitive information from their training data. LLMs like GPT-3.5-turbo can inadvertently expose non-public details about their training data, such as passwords, during interactions with users. This data leakage vulnerability stems from the vast amounts of web-scraped data used to train these models, which may include private information[5].

Researchers evaluating LLMs often feed them test set data in ways that allow the model providers to use that data for further training, potentially exposing millions of samples and providing a wealth of "gold standard" data that could give these models an unfair advantage[6]. The privacy risks of LLMs extend beyond training data exposure to the potential compromise of user data entered into LLM-powered applications, as demonstrated by end-to-end attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in output generation and interactions with system components like plugins and user interfaces [7]. The scale and complexity of the data used to train and interact with these models have opened up new ways of breaching privacy.

Case Study


The Equifax data breach serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the risks that arise as new technologies are introduced and the rate at which technology grows outpaces the law. Equifax, one of the three main US credit reporting agencies, failed to implement sufficient cybersecurity policies, leaving behind unresolved security issues. Attackers were able to exploit vulnerabilities to gain access to Equifax's network and steal sensitive consumer data, including names, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, and credit card numbers [8].

Equifax had an ethical obligation to honor promises made to customers to protect their data, but their inability to implement cybersecurity policies and patch vulnerabilities in a timely manner led to the preventable breach. The company also failed in its obligation to be transparent, waiting six weeks after the discovery of the breach to alert their customers.

Equifax's position as a major credit reporting company leaves consumers with little choice but to use their services, and the company's failure to protect PII resulted in harm to their customers. The FTC-mandated cash payout for the event was insufficient to reverse the inflicted harm, emphasizing the need for companies to act ethically and protect user privacy as technology continues to advance[8].



The evolution of big data models and the proliferation of large language models have introduced significant ethical and privacy concerns. Data collection, aggregation, and utilization, while essential for decision-making and innovation across various industries, have raised questions about individual privacy, consent, and the potential for reinforcing biases.

Data collectors must prioritize user privacy while gathering the necessary data to develop reliable big data models. Governments must strike a balance between innovation and privacy protection through effective legislation. Strong safeguards for privacy, increased accountability, and transparency are desperately needed to address the ethical issues surrounding data aggregation.


  1. Flyverbom, M., Deibert, R., & Matten, D. (2019). The Governance of Digital Technology, Big Data, and the Internet: New Roles and Responsibilities for Business. Business & Society, 58(1),3–19.
  2. Chaffey, D. (2019). Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. Harlow, England: Pearson Education
  3. Raghupathi, W., & Raghupathi, V. (2014). Big data analytics in healthcare: promise and potential. Health Information Science and Systems, 2(3).
  4. O’Neil, C. (2016). Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. Crown
  5. Carlini, N., Paleka, D., Dvijotham, K. D., Steinke, T., Hayase, J., Cooper, A. F., Lee, K., Jagielski, M., Nasr, M., Conmy, A., Wallace, E., Rolnick, D., & Tramèr, F. (2024). Stealing part of a production language model.
  6. Balloccu, S., Schmidtová, P., Lango, M., & Dušek, O. (2024). Leak, cheat, repeat: Data contamination and evaluation malpractices in closed-source LLMs.
  7. Wu, F., Zhang, N., Jha, S., McDaniel, P., & Xiao, C. (2024). A New Era in LLM security: Exploring security concerns in real-world LLM-based systems.
  8. a b Miyashiro, I. K. (2021, April 30). Case Study: Equifax Data Breach. Seven Pillars Institute. Retrieved April 12, 2024, from