When LinkedIn fell victim to hackers earlier this month, it wasn’t just the social networking site’s reputation that was at risk, but also the data and privacy of more than 6 million of its users. Nicole Perlroth’s New York Times article goes straight to the heart of the issue: “LinkedIn is a data company that did not protect its data.”
Such hacking attacks are nothing new—Perloth points out that Last.fm and eHarmony have also been hit this month—but LinkedIn’s attack has greater significance. On top of storing sensitive professional information and being the preferred social network among government agencies, LinkedIn is a key player in “Big Data,” a field that is rapidly growing in size, complexity, and economic importance. In March The Motley Fool ranked it at #3 on its “Top Ten Big Data Stocks” and last year LinkedIn received an EMC-sponsored Data Hero Award for being “in a prime position to access user data and leverage its insights.” In fact a Forbes article called it “the Lone Pro in the Amateur-Hour Industry of Social Media” just a day before the hacking news emerged. The company’s security failure was more than a bit like a successful break-in at the most trusted and liquid bank in town.
Trust & Reputation Key
The potential benefits of Big Data are exciting, but the LinkedIn attack shows how trust and reputation are key to realizing them. In order to collect sensitive date, companies like LinkedIn must not only assure that it will be secure, but also that they will use it responsibly. “Big data represents massive opportunities to benefit business, education, healthcare, government, manufacturing, and many other fields,” Kord Davis, co-author of the forthcoming book Ethics of Big Data, said in a recent Q&A. “The risks, however, to personal privacy, the ability to manage our individual reputations and online identities, and what it might mean to lose—or gain—ownership over our personal data are just now becoming topics of discussion.”
LinkedIn is far from alone in its security issues. In a new survey by business technology provider Avanade, 85% of those polled acknowledged “obstacles in managing and analyzing data,” including “data security.” LinkedIn’s stock hasn’t suffered since news of the attack emerged, but a Reuters article suggests that its image is still at risk. “Companies like this survive because of their reputation,” Hemanshu Nigam, an executive of security firm SSP Blue, told Reuters. “People need to make a decision: ‘Can I trust them with my data or not?’”
Big Data grows bigger each day. Facebook, in an effort to prevent breaches like LinkedIn’s, just started asking users for even more personal data: their mobile phone numbers. As more consumers become aware of how much of their lives can be found online, they are becoming more concerned with the security standards of the sites they use. And as brand loyalty expert Michael Hinshaw recently stated on his Huffington Post blog: “If we can’t trust you to manage our data—we’ll find someone who can.”