Anonymization: The UK Response to Big Data

by Pillsbury Global Sourcing Practice

[author: Tim Wright]

"Everywhere you look, the quantity of information in the world is soaring."

ICD has predicted that, by 2012, mankind will have created 2.7 zettabytes of data! The numbers are mind boggling - a zettabyte is a 1 billion terabytes. With all of that data comes the Next Big Thing - namely, Big Data.

What is Big Data?

Big Data refers to the commercial "aggregation, mining, and analysis" of very large, complex and unstructured datasets such as images, videos, MP3 files, and files based on social media and web-enabled workloads. This data is rich in (often personal) information but until recently has been difficult to understand and analyse - that is, without a supercomputer or two at your disposal! New data and analytics technologies, coupled with scalable, distributed data processing models (i.e. cloud computing), are enabling commercial and research organisations to take advantage of Big Data processing techniques with a relatively low investment in technology.

Why does it matter?

Simple really, it's a huge market opportunity. According to a research report from the McKinsey Global Institute, Big Data is the next frontier for innovation, competitive advantage and productivity, although, as McKinsey notes, it is not without its challenges "including a shortage of skilled analysts and managers." IT analyst, Gartner, suggests worldwide IT spending on Big Data in 2013 will be $34 billion. Big Data is Big Business.

As businesses move online the number one issue is customer engagement. Data (demographic, behavioural and real-time) is the key to connecting businesses with customers. Early movers such as Amazon use collaborative filtering technology to develop automatic recommendations for customers based on their purchase history. Global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (Sensodyne, Lucozade and lots of other brands) uses data analytics tools to track consumers online and repurpose the data to benefit particular brands. GSK aims to build direct relationships with one million consumers using social media . Somewhat more controversially, US discount retailer Target's use of Big Data analytics, first reported by the New York Times then picked up in more sensationalist form by, used Big Data analysis "to figure out whether you have a baby on the way long before you need to start buying diapers". With all this analysis being applied to commercial ends, privacy advocates are concerned that individuals may be harmed, or at least annoyed, by the use of "their" data in ways they had not expected.

Is anonymity an answer?

When thinking about the legal issues, data protection laws seem to throw up more roadblocks than solutions. Just take, as an example, EU Data Protection Principles which mandate things such as user notice and choice, purpose limitation, data minimisation, data retention and data export. These principles are shortly to be bolstered by the new General Data Protection Regulation which will propose a new "right to be forgotten". Whilst data rendered anonymous falls outside the scope of EU data protection laws, there have long been concerns that anonymised data can be re-identified with a particular individual through matching with other data, leading to official EU guidance that, for data to be considered as anonymised, re-identification must no longer be possible.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) just came out on the side of business with pragmatic guidance on the use of anonymisation. In an approach modelled on UK case law, the ICO stated that a business which wants to anonymise data need only prove that it has assessed the risk of re-identification, and having done so, can reasonably conclude that there is only a remote risk of re-identification. The ICO code of practice "Anonymisation: managing data protection risk" is essential reading for UK-based data controllers looking at developing and implementing compliant Big Data strategies. The ICO has also established the Anonymisation Network (not to be confused with Anonymous, the notorious hacker network). This is a consortium led by the University of Manchester, with the University of Southampton, Office for National Statistics and the UK government's new Open Data Institute (ODI), in order to provide greater access to more detailed expertise and advice.

It remains to be seen if other EU countries will adopt the business-friendly approach of the ICO.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Pillsbury Global Sourcing Practice | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Pillsbury Global Sourcing Practice

Pillsbury Global Sourcing Practice on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.