Opening Statements

Law Firm Creates Think Tank to Study Analytics

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Analytics is the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data. With digital technology, more data is discoverable on every individual, and those who use it have methods of application, computer programming and research to produce what Martin Abrams calls “big data.”

Abrams is the president of the Centre for Information Policy Leadership, a think tank that operates in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Hunton & Williams.

“Big data makes it possible to use technology to bring data from multiple touch points together to spot trends,” Abrams says. “The trends can be used to produce algorithms to predict future trends.”

However, the collection and application of big data poses privacy risks, according to Abrams, and can lead to “discriminatory decisions.”

Credit scoring is an example of analytics. It seeks to predict not what you will do, but what people with the same characteristics as you will do. “If you say of 100 people who look like you, 80 will go bad, it poses a potential risk—not only to embarrass you, but to impact your reputation,” he says. “The risk is in the application of analytics.”

With the use of analytics spreading to other disciplines, it’s easy to see how predictive analytics could be used by any number of industries—health care and insurance might be two examples, along with government, which is involved in those industries—to determine policies that affect individuals.

The think tank is part of an international effort to bring into balance information-gathering and privacy concerns through “accountability-based governance.” This project includes governments, regulators, and business and consumer organizations from Europe, North America and Asia.

“We are trying to create guidance for regulators in protecting the rights of the individual so individuals can define themselves,” Abrams says, “rather than the digital tracks they leave behind.”

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