Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

We Give Up Our Data Too Cheaply

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Interesting post by Bruce Schneier, a cybersecurity expert who has recently published a book (Data and Goliath), from which the post is excerpted:

Our data has [sic] enormous value when we put it all together. Our movement records help with urban planning. Our financial records enable the police to detect and prevent money laundering. Our posts and tweets help researchers understand how we tick as a society. There are all sorts of creative and interesting uses for personal data, uses that give birth to new knowledge and make all of our lives better.

Our data is also valuable to each of us individually, to keep private or disclose as we want. And there’s the rub. Using data pits group interest against self-interest, the core tension humanity has been struggling with since we came into existence.

The government offers us this deal: if you let us have all of your data, we can protect you from crime and terrorism. It’s a rip-off. It doesn’t work. And it overemphasizes group security at the expense of individual security.

The bargain Google offers us is similar, and it’s similarly out of balance: if you let us have all of your data and give up your privacy, we will show you advertisements you want to see—and we’ll throw in free web search, e-mail, and all sorts of other services. Companies like Google and Facebook can only make that bargain when enough of us give up our privacy. The group can only benefit if enough individuals acquiesce.

Not all bargains pitting group interest against individual interest are such raw deals. The medical community is about to make a similar bargain with us: let us have all your health data, and we will use it to revolutionize healthcare and improve the lives of everyone. In this case, I think they have it right. I don’t think anyone can comprehend how much humanity will benefit from putting all of our health data in a single database and letting researchers access it. Certainly this data is incredibly personal, and is bound to find its way into unintended hands and be used for unintended purposes. But in this particular example, it seems obvious to me that the communal use of the data should take precedence. Others disagree.

Here’s another case that got the balance between group and individual interests right. Social-media researcher Reynol Junco analyzes the study habits of his students. Many textbooks are online, and the textbook websites collect an enormous amount of data about how—and how often—students interact with the course material. Junco augments that information with surveillance of what else his students do on their computers. This is incredibly invasive research, but its duration is limited and he is gaining new understanding about how both good and bad students study—and has developed interventions aimed at improving how students learn. Did the group benefit of this study outweigh the individual privacy interest of the subjects who took part in the study?

Junco’s subjects consented to being monitored, and his research was approved by a university ethics board—but what about experiments that corporations do on us? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2015 at 9:39 am

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