Issues Magazine

Articles about big data

“Big Data” Is Creating a Surveillance Economy

By Martin Hirst

Co-convenor of the Governance, Media & Democracy research group, Centre for Citizenship & Globalization, Deakin University

“Big Data” has become a popular term in information technology and business circles, but what is it and what should we think about it?

“Big Data” is often talked about reverently and passionately by its exponents and its supporters. According to them, “big data” can solve a myriad of economic and social problems; it will mean a faster and more efficient digital economy that is responsive to the needs of both consumers and producers.

Welcome to the Sensor Society

By Mark Burdon

Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland

The explosion of sensors in smartphones and wearable devices and the growing embrace of “big data” are creating a “sensor society”, raising issues not only about surveillance but also power and control in a world of ever-watching, ever-sensing, always-on interactive devices.

We are living in a time of unprecedented technological change. In the past decade alone we have seen the advent of the smartphone, of vast social networks such as Facebook, and the continuing realisation of “big data”.


By Guy Nolch

Editor and Publisher

An overview of what's in this edition of Issues.

When I first read Big Brother in the 1980s it seemed impossible that surveillance could ever be as pervasive as George Orwell’s novel about government surveillance in 1984. Now we see CCTV in shops and around ATMs, and most people have a smartphone capable of taking sharp photos and even videos that can be uploaded and viewed online almost anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile our purchasing decisions and even our online “window shopping” can be tracked and collated so that targeted advertising can be directed at us.

Sweeping Security Law Would Have Computer Users Surrender Privacy

By Keiran Hardy

PhD candidate, Faculty of Law, University of NSW

New powers being considered by Federal Parliament will dramatically expand the ability of intelligence agencies to invade the privacy of Australian citizens.

Parliament is considering a range of changes to Australia’s security laws introduced by the Abbott government during its last sitting. The most controversial measures in the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Cth) include stronger anti-whistleblower provisions and a “special intelligence operations” regime that would grant ASIO officers immunity from civil and criminal liability.

What Is It about Hackers and Sexy Selfies?

By Martin Hirst

Co-convenor of the Governance, Media & Democracy research group, Centre for Citizenship & Globalization, Deakin University

The widespread release of nude photographs across the internet is not confined to celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence – sexy “selfies” are going “viral” among teenagers too.

The widespread release of nude photographs across the internet is not confined to celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence – sexy “selfies” are going “viral” among teenagers too.

In just a couple months between August and October 2014, thousands of hacked digital photographs – many of them of naked or semi-dressed young people and celebrities – found their way into the public domain.

Surveillance by Metadata

By Philip Branch

Senior Lecturer, School of Software and Electrical Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology

The Australian government has introduced legislation that would compel internet and telecommunications companies to store “metadata” generated by their customers. Why have they done this, what exactly are they storing, and what effects will this have on our privacy?

State surveillance via wiretaps has come in for some quite unusual scrutiny lately, largely driven by a very public debate about the collection of metadata. In some extraordinary interviews, politicians have attempted to explain concepts of which they clearly did not have a good grasp. “Metadata” related to wiretapping has suddenly entered the public’s consciousness.

But in order to understand what the debate is about, and why it has caused such concern, it is necessary to understand some of the basics of “wiretapping”.

Big Data and Personalised Pricing: Consider Yourself Gamed

By Benjamin Shiller

Assistant Professor of Economics, Brandeis University

With every purchase we make now trackable, businesses will be able to determine how much each of us is prepared to pay for a particular item. Will this new era of “personalised pricing” make the concept of a bargain a historical curiosity?

Imagine yourself the CEO of a company that mainly sells one product. One of your goals is to maximise profits. You know you can charge a flat price, or modestly raise profits by using quantity discounts or by group pricing, for example with seniors discounts.

But you feel frustrated. If you could somehow adjust prices to match your customers’ valuations, you could raise profits further. You suspect some consumers would be willing to pay much more for your product. Wouldn’t it be great if you could identify them and charge just those consumers a higher price?

Redefining Surveillance: Implications for Privacy, Security, Trust and the Law

By Katina Michael

Associate Professor, School of Information Systems and Technology, University of Wollongong

Surveillance cameras bolted to buildings have proliferated in recent decades, but the adoption of wearable devices like Google Glass heralds an age of uberveillance.

Surveillance has traditionally been used by law enforcement organisations to keep a close observation on one or more people. Covert recording devices, for instance, are routinely used by police to monitor a person or group of people who are under suspicion for the purposes of gathering intelligence or evidence toward conviction.

Internet Security Flaws in the Age of Big Data

By Robert Merkel

Lecturer in Software Engineering, Monash University

The past year has seen some spectacular internet security breaches due to poor oversight of programming code, raising valid questions about the security of our online identities and transactions.

In 2014 we’ve learned one important thing about IT security. If you want to get a security issue into the mainstream media, give the issue a catchy name. “CVE-2014-0160” and “CVE-2014-6271” might have gone unknown outside the world of exasperated IT system administrators, but as “Heartbleed” and “Shellshock” they received worldwide attention, some of it more than a little sensationalist.

Five Eyes of Surveillance

By Tom Chothia

Senior Lecturer in Computer Security, University of Birmingham

If you have sent an e-mail, made a telephone call or looked at a website based abroad in the past few days, chances are that it has been recorded in a database run by the “five eyes” of international intelligence services.

During the Cold War, one of the primary tasks of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) was to track Russian troop movements. To achieve this they built up a massive global monitoring network.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the agencies were given a very large budget and the almost impossible task of finding and tracking terrorists. Much of what they do is important work that keeps us safe.

Living in Orwell’s World: How to Disappear Completely Online

By Samuel Lymn

PhD candidate, University of Adelaide

A number of online tools are available to limit the amount of information that internet giants like Google, Facebook and government organisations can gather from your online behaviour.

Your friend Kate answers the phone. You remind her you’re meeting at 10am tomorrow for breakfast. You tell her your fractured wrist is healing but the doctor said there’s still some way to go. Your mum’s illness … well, that’s a different matter.

You’re hang-gliding, of course, is on hold, but you want to get back to it soon. And, sure, politics, and, sure, dating …

The information you’ve conveyed to Kate ranges from the medically-sensitive to the simply private, the important to the trivial – which is fine, because you’re friends.

Turnbull Outlines the Plans for New Laws on Metadata Retention

By Philip Branch

Senior Lecturer, School of Software and Electrical Engineering, Swinburne University of Technology

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has finally presented proposed legislation to the Australian Parliament regarding the Abbott Government’s plans for the retention of metadata.

The proposed legislation, as he detailed in the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014, specifies six categories of metadata to be retained. They are:

  • account or subscriber details;
  • source of communication
  • destination of communication
  • date and time of communication
  • type of communication
  • location of the device.
    • Unfortunately, the actual detail of what is to be retained is not spelt out. That is to be left to regulation which is still to be decided upon.

The Digital You and Privacy

By Bruce Arnold

Assistant Professor, School of Law, University of Canberra

As more of our lives move online, our every click and “like” builds a data profile about us. This requires vigilance to ensure that laws adequately ensure that businesses and law enforcement agencies use and protect information about us.

Who are you? As far as your friends, parents and children are concerned you are a person. You are someone who is flesh and blood. Someone who snores, who sleeps in or turns up to work on time, has a great smile, has a scar from falling off the skateboard, brings a smile to gran’s face every time she sees you, who votes and is otherwise an individual worthy of respect.

The Legal and Privacy Implications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft

By Rick Sarre

Professor of Law, University of South Australia

Remotely piloted aircraft are becoming more common in our skies as decreasing costs put them in the hands of ordinary citizens, yet legal protection against privacy invasions by airborne cameras is inconsistent between the states.

Get Off My Cloud: When Privacy Laws Meet Cloud Computing

By Jake Goldenfein

PhD candidate, Centre for Media and Communications Law, University of Melbourne

Recent amendments to Australia’s Privacy Act have imposed new obligations on companies that collect data about us, but will they effectively regulate the offshore data centres that keep our data in “the cloud”?

The growth of cloud computing has revolutionised the way that information is produced, stored, processed and consumed, with privacy laws sometimes failing to keep up. Since March 12, 2014, changes to Australia’s Privacy Act have imposed new obligations on companies that collect and process personal information, including those that operate in the cloud.

Cloud computing involves using technical infrastructure, controlled by another party, to store information or data.