If you go to a library or a café these days, you might spy some open laptops with a Post-it note or a piece of tape covering the built-in webcam. While many may think this is overly cautious and paranoid, the camera-covering minority likely harbors a “maybe I’m next” mentality toward potential privacy breaches. Since the Industrial Age, technology has helped us simplify our lives, from the mechanization of production, to the Internet of Things. However, while convenient and perhaps even gimmicky, technology’s recent advancements may not always be the best for humanity, especially when it's about your organization's dark data horizon.
Black Mirror, a top hit on Netflix, satirizes how advanced technology can drive humanity into darkness and paranoia. While the plots are fictional, they’re nonetheless chilling in that the writers may not be entirely wrong. Storylines focusing on hacked webcams, characters being driven to madness by virtual reality, and a societal dependence on social media to rank a person’s public credibility are all bordering—if not already reflecting—reality in our own technologically driven world. At the end of the day, people can all agree that the more information we pump into cyberspace, the less privacy we give ourselves. And ultimately, this means we may lose control of our own data, and be incapable of preventing it from falling into the wrong hands.
Outside of smart households and proliferating personal devices, technology is deeply seeded in the operational workflow of business organizations. Every day in the workplace, massive amounts of data are transferred through email servers, shared folders, and other business sanctioned communication devices. The paradox of boundless data generation is that while people are seriously concerned about potential data breaches, they won’t preventatively delete their company’s amassing data, including ROT and dark data. According to Gartner, dark data is generated through regular office operations and often goes unused, and only kept around for limited compliance purposes. What managers often overlook is that the preservation of dark data, whether intentional or not, incurs more costs and risks than advantages. And of course, information is only going to continue expanding, making personal data and communication records quickly irrelevant and vulnerable.
This growing volume of data production needs a corresponding culture shift. While people are eager to produce data, they are also fearful of breaches targeting sensitive information hiding in the data they so eagerly produce. The only way to fix this new quandary is acknowledgment and initiative. A heavy reliance on technology comes with the responsibility to govern the information that technology produces. As increasingly more companies shift from file folders to file shares and work with more data types, new methods of managing the expanding array of data sources must also be introduced to corporate culture.
While the extremes of Black Mirror likely won’t occur, we are definitely well on our way toward an ever-growing reliance on technology to serve our basic human needs, both inside and outside the office. Understandably, it is very difficult to precisely track every piece of information we release on the Internet. However, if we opt to only acknowledge cool tech advancements and ignore their byproducts, however unintentional, we face a massive amount of quickly accumulating dark data and the potential for data breaches that come with that. If we do not start cleaning up that dark data horizon, then our paranoia about growing tech will come true, and perhaps, the extreme cases portrayed in Black Mirror won’t be entirely fiction.