Big Data = Big Problems.

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I never know how much stock to put into the whole “Big Brother is Watching You” thing. I mean, that’s the way the internet works.  Facebook and Twitter and Google and… almost every site is tracking my clicks, gathering data for future use.

I consider myself web savvy; I know what sites and emails are safe to visit, and I am even happy to ‘opt in’ to cookies as I prefer targeted advertising over random. I use Facebook and Google extensively, and I know that they need to pay their staff somehow. Besides, it’s not about me – I’m just a statistic, right? A trend line on a graph somewhere.

Maybe not.

According to this recent article on Vice, all of that data that I’ve thoughtfully and thoughtlessly offered up to the world has painted a clear personality profile… not of someone like me, but of ME, myself and I.

This article reads like a left-wing conspiracy theory, but it’s based on facts. To sum it up, a company called Cambridge Analytica  created an algorithm that pulls from a bunch of different sources of online data to build personality profiles of people, and then took the next step:  they associated that personality with the person’s name and address. This information was sold to political parties (ie Donald Trump’s campaign) allowing them to direct targeted advertising, both online and in person.  The data gathered by the algorithms allowed the campaign to determine what each individual wanted to hear on each issue, and delivered that promise. According to the Vice article, this is why so many of Trump’s messages seemed to contradict themselves: because they were specifically targeted to different audiences, each hearing the version that spoke to them.

Now targeted political messaging isn’t new – Justin Trudeau came to BC to speak about tourism, forestry and the Pacific Ocean, he spoke to Energy and job creation in Alberta, and to the Auto manufacturers in Ontario. But this is data-driven personalised marketing so much more elegant – targeted and effective. It doesn’t help that cultivated and curated social media feeds affirming our established beliefs just feed into our narrow world-view bubbles.

So that’s what has been keeping me up at night lately.  What do you think about this use of data collection? Is it an invasion of privacy, or the price we pay for the convenience of our social media feeds?

Twitter: Big Data = Big Problems. The true costs of “free websites”. #socialmedia #privacy http://bit.ly/2liNYoJ

Facebook:  Big Data = Big Problems.  We’re not just a number anymore.  http://bit.ly/2liNYoJ

 

Com0011-521 Blog Post #4 – Big Data Used Against Us

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Ever since Google burst on to the market, the way companies have interacted with us has changed.  For the most part it’s been beneficial to us.  Companies are now sending messages that seemed geared specifically to each of us as individuals.  It’s when these companies use these new tools against us that a problem surfaces.

That’s the gist of a talk by Kate Crawford a principal at Microsoft Research.  She details ways in which large companies can use big data to discriminate against people.  From the article at Ars Technica,

“In the old days, if both of those customers saw the six percent offer on a billboard and walked in the bank to apply, the bank couldn’t legally offer the customer from the bad neighborhood the higher interest rate based on where they live. But with online targeting, the bank can make sure the bad-neighborhood customer never sees the offer, period, avoiding the perceived “risk” altogether.”

At the moment, there’s not much in the way to stop a company from misusing that data.  A consequence of using the technology that Google and others provide is that you give up information about yourself. That data is even more precise with each new social media tool we use.

There is always the possibility of Canada’s privacy czar stepping in and intervening.  However, that may require someone to fall victim to this misuse of their information in the first place.  Not exactly convenient for that person.

Perhaps another solution would be to petition Google, Facebook and others to be more judicious on who they give our data to.  They have been receptive before to public outcries over privacy issues before.

I’m honestly curious.  Is it possible to stop companies from using your data against you while still giving them the freedom to understand you?  Thoughts?

Raffaele Furgiuele