Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

Data once was a signature, a number on a driver’s license or even a newspaper subscription. Now it is much more but less of what you are used to accounting for. Digital information is today recorded by all manner of sensors you are not aware of and don’t see the consequences of. The new reality is data ‘Reality Mining’.

From phones, GPS units, RFID tags in office ID badges, texting, scans of your car through toll booths, credit card activity at ATMs, stores, gas stations, phone call tower identity, sensors are capturing your behavior in a digital form. Coupled with arguably suspect ‘secure’ anything digital including health information, income statements and Web surfing time, place and duration, the data organization and mining has birthed the emerging field of “collective intelligence”. Welcome.

All that digital information is going to servers and reformatted in data bases are as viral as anything you and a person with a lot of letters after their name can even imagine. And we are adolescents in this development.

A thick web refers to what our ubiquitous use of the web has brought us worldwide; data, tetra-terabytes of it daily. Collective intelligence practitioners acknowledge that their tools will create a sci-fi future on a level Big Brother on cocaine could not have dreamed of. In fact that is, the ‘thing’ about what is going on; we have no idea how we, our families, company, city, nation are going to be impacted as this approach to information finds every nook and cranny of everyone’s life. Stopping it is not an option.

Collective intelligence will make it possible, not probable, for insurance companies, employers, pharmaceutical companies to use data to covertly identify people with an identified gene, profile, affliction, etc., and deny them insurance coverage, employment or bank loans. They can also use it to snuff out an epidemic just as covertly. I wonder where the value of this will be positioned? The government through their budgeting selections can assist law enforcement agencies to identify opposition member’s behavior by tracking scanning, tracing public and private social networks (our old friend the Patriot Act has morphed while we worried about our 401K and “the wars”).

“Pernicious” means exceedingly harmful. Pernicious implies irreparable harm done through evil or insidious corrupting or undermining <the claim is that pornography has a pernicious effect on society>

Now, today, we have and are using the capability to assess a person’s behavior with reality mining of data and then interpret that profile without monitoring him or her directly, talking to him or her, or “knowing’ them. Does Kroger care if you are in a bad mood when you scan your value card? Is the East TX toll reader interested in your reasons for being there mid afternoon? Does Macy’s want you to buy only brand X and not brand Y at the same price? They all care about your behavior, not your feelings and emotions, and intentions and, and, and…

It is a mashup! People and organizations interacting with one another through multimedia digital means will never be less than it is today; it will always be more. Those interactions dynamically leave traces of that ‘behavior’. This allows scientists, the Mafia or over zealous investigative reporters, for example, and anyone with the technology access to the databases to study and learn about the behavior of those traced without the knowledge or consent of the people and groups being scanned. Techniques like that are thought to infringe on the individuals and groups being traced for commercial benefit of those that have that technology over the individuals, groups of individuals and commercial entities that don’t have that technology.

What’s more, if you or your group doesn’t want to be scanned, traced or digitally followed, you have little to say in the matter. Take the instance of “opting out” that’s put forth as a counter measure today for not being a target for spyware, spam and behavioral marketing… “Opting out” is another way some companies validate a cautious web user. For some it means that a different level of secrecy is needed for those that understand counter-control methods. If you want to be removed from lists you have the following troubles (WHICH ARE ALSO TRUE OF REALITY MINING AND COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE EFFORTS);

  1. You don’t know where your data is; multiple servers, entities, in the “cloud”
  2. Once in the web, your data is not a ‘thing’ it is a “byt-pat”, a partial byte sequence and a partial pattern
  3. You don’t know who owns it legally
  4. You can’t catch up to it and kill it
  5. Your intimidation by technology is being used against you
  6. You have no counter-control outside the boarders of your country
  7. Your hope is that it isn’t true of you and your data
  8. Arguments favoring scanning and autonomous tracing are wrapped in virtuous rationales

a. fighting disease: SARS, flu, etc

b. fighting terrorists: real and imagined

c. helping the sick and elderly

d. child safety: fear reduction

The reality of reality mining is that your data collected by all of these methods are like a thought you had last night when watching TV: you can’t get at it now, you can’t know exactly where it is located in your head, and once you get it back after going through some mental gymnastics it is not the same as it was when you first had it.

Every day privacy becomes more of a myth than it was even last weekend during the USC game when the water company could tell – they have the data – when the half time occurred due to a drop in the water levels in an eight minute period. We expect that the water will be there and it was. We expect that no one was watching but what “watching” means is changing. It is changing really fast and in ways no one at MIT, Bureau of the Budget and Management or the Justice Department can predict or control. The steaks for success are high. Kroger is working on it.

Are you ready for a wild ride on a roller coaster in the dark without handrails? That is what’s coming here.

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Others are following up on similar points I made.

Follow the discussion at slashdot

No such thing as privacy in such a connected world.

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Look, folks, there’s no such thing as privacy. Not on the internet, not in your home, not at work.

As long as you are connected, in any way, to others, you are tracked and counted and watched. It’s not always big brother. it’s not always a mean corporation. Sometimes it’s your friends, your family or your happy coworker. Our technology and lifestyle makes it so.


  • Your IM lets people know when you are at your desk
  • Caller ID tells people when you called and how frequently
  • Your credit card statement shows your buying behavior
  • Your TIVO reports back your viewing habits
  • XBOX live reports your playing time and online and what you are doing to your friends
  • Your WII sends MIIs out without your help
  • Your gas meters show when you get cold
  • GPS and Imagery satellites are mapping your house right now
  • You didn’t respond to that State Farm mailer, they just added you to the send again with different message list
  • You didn’t show up to the hair salon, so their appointment system just sent a reminder
  • and so on.

Our environment is one giant data collecting and processing monster. There’s no avoiding leaving your data around.

Perhaps one can make the case that by “privacy” we’re usually referring to the motivation behind what we do. Our intentions, our goals. Let me explain. There’s really nothing interesting about the facts above until you consider their context. Perhaps mapping your house with image satilites is bad for you because you run a meth lab that is obvious from above shots. Perhaps the amount you log on to XBOX is bad because you should be at school. When you missed your hair appointment you were out with someone who was not your spouse.

I think that’s the concern for most of us in regards to privacy. We don’t want to be tracked and put within context. We don’t want others to see what, when and why we behave.

This is my first topic on this blog because of some of the press Ask.com got yesterday. This really is not an important development for the world or for their business. It seems like a solid attack on Google’s dominance, but it’s really not.

First – there’s no such thing as privacy. Even if Ask erases the search history, their ad server, their tracking tags, Quantcast, Alexa, Yahoo Toolbar, Google Toolbar, MS Vista, etc. is still watching those urls, those queries.

Second – most people get over the tracking thing if the utility of the service is great. Examples abound. Few mind, to the point of revolt or service cancellation, that blackberry scans all your email, or gmail matches ads to the content of your message, your IMs are tracked 3 or 4 times, you call logs are mined… and we’re not even going to get into social networking, resume sites and all the more obviously NOT PRIVATE AT ALL services. Ask.com is attacking Google on a non issue for most users. Google search works better than Ask. Its spiders are better, its results are better, its cooler and your friends use it.

Third – Ask.com will shoot itself in the foot on this. Now that they claim to erase data if someone finds some they are busted. Worse, all these non-annoying ads are based on the fact that they are matched to you. I know, I know we all hate ads, but really hate them less if they are somewhat relevant in content and presentation to our own lives. Think about the commercials you love or hate – chances are the ones you love have some natural tie to you.

Let me bring this around full circle. If you want privacy, ask for less of it. Make sure everyone – every company, every politician, every doctor, every teacher, every net user has their data out there for everyone to see. If all activities are transparent there can be little abuse of data, for it would be easy to see who is abusing. This is the most basic of reinforcers. if everyone knows they are being watched, they will tend to follow the groups behavior. If everyone is answerable to everyone else, we get some bit of equilibrium. Watch the watchers.

I have no illusions about whether this is possible. However, we are more likely to get more transparency than we are to get more privacy. We’re never going to have less data collection. We’re never going to have fewer connected devices. We’re never going to have fewer advertising impressions.

We may not like the idea, but a lot of sure do like connectedness and personalization. Usually when we cry foul on privacy, it’s due to something else not working how we like.

~ Russ

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