Top Tech News You Need to Know: Retail Data Breaches, iOS 8, Data-Driven HR and More

Happy first Friday of fall! If you’ve been enjoying the brisker weather over keeping up with all the tech news this week – or if you happened to be at one of multiple conferences going on this week (it is conference time of year, after all!) – here are the biggest big data and tech news updates you need to know before Monday. 

43% of Companies Experienced Data Breach in Past Year, Including Jimmy Johns, Home Depot, Target

Wednesday, the Ponemon Institute, which does independent research on privacy, data protection and information security policy, released a study revealing that 43% of companies experienced a data breach in the past year – up 10% from the previous year. And worse, the breaches are getting bigger. 

American consumers are beginning to feel the effects of these breaches, especially when they hit popular retailers including Target, Home Depot and, most recently, Jimmy Johns. More than half of U.S. consumers, 68%, say that the NSA and recent retail breaches raises serious concerns for them over data security, though only 37% have chosen to use cash over credit and 41% have checked their credit scores to monitor for breach repercussions. 

Internationally, breaches are affecting populations on a scale yet to reach the U.S. In South Korea, for example, 70% of South Koreans ages 15 to 65 — a total of 27 million — had their personal data stolen and credit cards compromised in January 2014. 

As far as causes of data breaches, 80% of them stem from employee negligence, and that negligence is trickling down to a consumer level as well. For evidence, the Home Depot breach by far exceeded the severity of the Target breach, with 16 million more credit card numbers put in jeopardy, and yet consumers are less concerned about the implications. 

Both stories have been covered extensively by the media, so what is the issue here when it comes to consumer care?

“Target’s response [to the data breach] was epically bad,” says Paula Rosenblum, the managing partner at RSR Research. Or, as attorney Stephen Lesavich, author of “The Plastic Effect: How Urban Legends Influence the Use and Misuse of Credit Cards,” puts it: “The senior management of Target did not handle the breach very well and that generated a lot of bad press.”

That said, 27% of companies still do not currently have a protocol in place for handling a potential data breach, though that number is down from 39% last year. 

In all, data breaches are a part of our new, collective reality and consumers are looking toward brands to protect their data from hacks or properly alert them to breaches to help customers avoid intense breach repercussions. 

Companies, it is time to stand up and take control of your data rights. Contact us to find out how. 

Google Builds New Dutch Data Center for $770M

Google, one of the largest data brokers in the industry, is building a new data center in Eemshaven, Groningen. The center will cost about $772m over the next four years. Why The Netherlands for Google’s newest, most hyper-efficient data center? Well, for one, climate.

“[Eemshaven] pitches itself as an ideal location for such things – it has access to many kinds of renewable energy…it’s a landing station for international internet cables, and it has a mild climate that’s conducive to cheaper cooling,” says David Meyer, senior writer for Gigaom. 

This new center will be Google’s fourth hyper-efficient data center in Europe. Google’s WIlliam Echikson explained on Google’s Europe Blog:

“The new Dutch data centre will benefit from the latest designs in cooling and electrical technology. It will be free-cooled – taking advantage of natural assets like cool air and grey water. … Our data centers use 50% less energy than a typical datacenter. … This will be Google’s fourth hyper efficient facility in Europe. … It’s much more efficient to build a few large facilities than many small ones.”

The facility is also expected to help bridge unemployment in Europe as well as compete with Microsoft, which reportedly is building a 17.5 megawatt data center in Noord-Holland, just south of [the area].

Save Your Data – iOS 8’s Most User-Friendly Feature

Apple’s new iOS 8 platform was pushed out this week to iPhone users and met with backlash as the download erased thousands of photos, music files and more from users’ phones. In general, the iOS 8 platform has been viewed by the industry as “buggy” and Apple pulled the update to fix the known and widespread bugs affecting many iPhone users, releasing a new version as of Thursday

Despite the hubbub surrounding the iOS 8 platform, there is one feature for which many loyal Apple users have long been waiting: data use visibility.  

Long-available on Android phones, the Apple iOS 8 platform now allows users to see which apps are sucking their data, allowing users to make better decisions as far as which apps to open, to download and so forth. You can also check to see which apps are sucking up your battery life as well. 

In all, go ahead and wait to see if the bugs are fixed before downloading the new OS. Then, make yourself some data-driven decisions on how you use your mobile data and battery life. Data and battery life-sucking apps, beware. 

Big Data and Recruitment: An End to Hiring Discrimination?

Big data may soon help to end hiring discrimination in the workplace. And the first industry to feel the effects may very well be the industry that needs it most: tech. 

The workplace diversity at two of the largest tech companies in the country are historically and quite infamously mostly white and mostly male (looking at you Google and Facebook). Many organizations and startups have actively attempted to sway the status quo in favor of a more diverse tech atmosphere, for instance Tristan Walker’s Code 2040, which pulls in minority kids, teaches them how to code and secures them internships at prestigious startups in Silicon Valley and New York City. 

Yet, programs like Code 2040 and few and far between, and besides, even Google admits that there is an unconscious bias when it comes hiring

Many in the big data industry hope that this unconscious bias can finally be beat once and for all with data-driven HR practices. 

“Big data in the workplace poses some new risks, but it may yet turn out to be good news for traditionally disadvantaged job applicants,” said David Robinson, a principal at Robinson + Yu, a consulting group that works to connect social justice and technology.

Of course, many still have their reservations, especially considering that algorithms run off of historical data. Historically, history is the problem with the current workplace environment in tech. 

“If you’re a company that doesn’t have a history of hiring women or minorities, your model will tell you that these people are not especially well qualified. Even if you’re simply trying to minimize turnover, what you might do is systematically exclude certain groups that are poor or of a certain ethnicity,” says Solon Barocas, who is conducting postdoctoral research on the ethics of machine learning at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy and just coauthored a study on big data’s “disparate impact.”

On the other side of the coin, the FTC is cracking down on potential discrimination due to big data. 

The FTC is “committed to rigorous enforcement” of current law related to data privacy and discriminatory practices, but companies, U.S. policymakers and other groups need to have a deeper discussion about fair big data practices, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said during an agency workshop on big data and discrimination.

“I don’t think the [longtime] structures need to be reinvented or shoved aside because data sets are larger,” says Ramirez. “It’s important to keep the regulations that we have … to ensure that fair information practices are still applicable and relevant.”

Investment in Big Data Continuing to Grow

Companies continue to invest in big data and the 2014 numbers show an ever-increased look toward data-driven business practices. Gartner Inc. found that 73% of the 302 Gartner Research Circle members worldwide have invested or plan to invest in big data in the next 24 months, up from 64% in 2013.

That said, the market is showing a slowdown of new platforms and startups into the space.

“The hype surrounding big data appears to be tempering down,” Ashish Nadkarni, research director, Storage Systems and Big Data research at IDC, said in a statement. “This is a sign that the technologies are maturing and making their way into the fabric of how organizations operate and firms conduct their business.