The Providence (R.I.) Journal, July 18, 2014
If you care about online privacy, you are forgiven for your despair.
More data than ever is being uploaded and it's getting easier to access and cheaper to store. At the same time, cyberintruders pose a threat at every turn.
We know these things instinctively, but sometimes it takes a skillful presentation to make them real. Thanks to Mary Meeker, they're real now.
Each year, venture capitalist Meeker presents a dense, high-level view of her analysis into the most important Internet usage trends. At this year's Code Conference, she did it again. It's worth your time to dive into her 162-slide deck at: http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends .
Among her most important observations:
Internet users are freely uploading volumes of shareable data, which marketers happily mine for insights. More than 1.8 billion photos are uploaded each day. More photos have been uploaded already in 2014 than were uploaded all of last year.
This is enabled by the growing distribution of sensors -- cameras, headsets, gaming devices -- that puts more people within reach of an online audience.
As Moore's Law has posited, the costs of computing, bandwidth and digital storage continue to decline. Smartphones are getting cheaper. The use of cloud computing is growing. And the "Internet of Things" -- connected devices -- is contributing to the flow of digital information.
Meanwhile, data-mining techniques and tools are improving. That means they're becoming more useful to marketers -- and more threatening to privacy advocates.
Consider a common app: Netflix. The streaming movie service now has 44 million subscribers and is growing at a 25 percent annual rate. That means that Netflix's algorithms can now analyze terabytes of customer-provided data to serve you movie recommendations. It also has a growing understanding of your interests and the ways you spend your time.
On the upside, the growing usefulness and accessibility of big data means it can be used to "solve big problems," such as improving speech recognition, improving our understanding of government and making health care more efficient.
On the downside, you'll find it harder to live a private life, unless you disconnect entirely.
Privacy isn't an entitlement -- it's a skill. And if it's important to you, you'll find it harder than ever to practice.