Carpe Datum! Who knows who you are?


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This article written Diarmaid Byrne, Editor, STQ, was published in issue 08 of the Social Technology Quarterly.
Summary: In the face of rising demand for data, privacy and ownership become a critical concern as vast amounts of data are accessed and bartered without the knowledge of people. In such scenarios, it is crucial to determine practices towards maintaining privacy.

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Carpe Datum! Who knows who you are?

  1. 1. 6 Campaigns CarpeDatum! WhoKNowsWho Youare?Inthe face of rising demand for data, privacyand ownership becomeacritical concernasvast amounts of dataareaccessedand bartered withoutthe knowledge of people. In such scenarios, it is crucialto determine practices towards maintaining privacy. byDiarmaid Byrne
  2. 2. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 08 7
  3. 3. IBM estimates that every day the world produces 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data. That is a billion, billion. While it is incredibly frustrating for businesses to wade through, manage and make sense of this ocean of ever-expanding data, there is also a tremendous opportunity for individuals and companies. A 2011 report by the McKinsey Global Institute projected that the United States requires 140,000 to 190,000 more workers with deep analytical expertise and 1.5 million more data-literate managers to work in fields such as politics, sports, advertising, healthcare and science as businesses move towards data-driven discovery and decision making. There are several examples of companies making decisions based on sophisticated data analyses. A retailer such as Wal-Mart analyzes sales, pricing, economic, demographic and weather data to determine the range of products that should be availalbe at a particular store and when to offer discounts. In the case of public safety, police departments use various data points on weather, payday, sporting events and arrest patterns to predict crime hot spots and deploy police in advance. In healthcare, increases in Google search requests for ‘flu symptoms’ and ‘flu treatments’ indicate an increase in flu patients that will visit hospitals. In economics, house-related searches on Google are a more accurate predictor of house sales for the upcoming quarter than forecasts of real estate economists. There is, however, a troubling aspect to all this: who owns my data? What rights do I have over it? Can I determine how it is used? Do I have a right to earn money from my data if other companies can earn money from it? People have very little information on how their information is shared. Of course there are user agreements, but how opaque or transparent are these? Also, how many people read each line and understand the consequences of what they agree to? Privacy policies and fairer information practices are inadequate because these assume that users understand all the details and implications. Public reactions to changes in Facebook’s privacy policies are a realization of what we as users have signed away. But how many other social networks and websites receive full rights and access to use their users’ data? Facebook is merely the most common one that gets the most coverage. The biggest concern, from my perspective, is the lack of contextual integrity, an argument postulated by Helen Nissenbaum. She argues that online services share information in ways that violate social norms. In the case of Facebook, I cannot control where the information I share with a friend or a specific group ends up. In the case of Google searches, I do not know whom that information is sold to or how they choose to utilize it, except when I have furniture advertisements following me for weeks after
  4. 4. Kuliza Social Technology Quarterly Issue 08 ThereIsaLackofcontexual intEGRITYINHOWSOCIAL networksutilizethedatawe givethem I google ‘furniture’. One area recently where this has been a cause of concern is the discussions within the US Democrat party about whether to sell voters’ political opinions. Obama’s two presidential election victories have partly been due to a deep understanding of voter information and the utilization of various media. His election team relied not just on publicly available voter data – name, address, party affiliation – but party volunteers also collected information on their views and preferences. This enabled the Democrat party to estimate how likely a voter is to vote Democrat, support Obama, or what opinions they have on gun control or tax rates. It is possible for the Democrat party to contemplate this because individual states have different laws about how voter data is used; some mandate that it can only be used for political purposes and others ban using it for commercial purposes. However, information that is freely provided by the voter is not subject to any mandate,
  5. 5. of data flows and bartering practices by companies they share their information with, opt-ins as part of privacy agreements, or the ability for users to sell their data to advertisers. There are a number of companies offering this service already, such as Eliken, BlueKai and eXelate. The evolution of such services may be the most likely method of solving privacy concerns while maintaining contextual integrity of a user’s data. References Beckett,Lois.“Will Democrats SellYour Political Opinions to Credit Card Companies?” Salon,06 Feb 2013. “Big data:The Next Frontier for Competition.” McKinsey & Company. Bruder,Jessica.“What ifWeb Users Could Sell Their Own Data?”The New York Times,02 Oct 2012. Lohr,Steve.“The Age of Big Data.”The NewYork Times Sunday Review.The NewYork Times,11 Feb 2012. Milian,Mark.“Data Bartering Is Everywhere.” Bloomberg Businessweek Bloomberg,15 Nov 2012. McKee,Steve.“Big Data Can Make a Big Difference in Marketing.” Bloomberg Businessweek.Bloomberg,14 Sep 2012. Nissenbaum,Helen.“A Contextual Approach to Privacy Online.” Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.(2011): 32-48. suggesting that the Democrat party can sell it to retailers, marketing agencies and credit card companies. This shows how little information people have about how their data is used. It is an issue of contextual integrity. I share my political opinions as a means of supporting a political party. I do not expect that six months later I will receive marketing material and offers for a specific retailer based on the type of political views I hold. Irrespective of legal impediments, there is a breach of trust that has deeper implications for collecting such politically crucial information in the future. The flow of data from one organization to another makes it incredibly difficult to determine, restrict or limit where it will end up. A new trend called data bartering will make this even more troublesome. Companies exchange their databases, often at no cost. Businessweek discussed the case of Waze, a community- based traffic and navigation app in which drivers share real- time traffic and road information. In order to break quickly into the Brazilian market, they traded traffic, roadwork and collision data they would collect via their app for geographical mapping information from Multispectral. A similar case is that of Factual, a company that maintains a database of restaurants and retailers in the US. Businessweek notes that Facebook, Groupon and Yelp provide user-contributed information on retailers to Factual’s database. Any company that wants to access this information typically has to pay, but they can receive discounts by trading relevant information with Factual. For larger companies access to the database can even be free. Another major trend emerging is wearable technology that measures different aspects of a user’s health and fitness. The Basis watch measures sleep patterns, heart rate, distance walked and calories burned, amongst other things. For exercise enthusiasts these figures are very informative, but once the watch or wristband, in the case of Amiigo, is connected to a computer and the data is transferred to your account for you to view a record of your exercise, health and sleep, who owns that data? Who else would be interested in that data? What can a company similar to Basis do with the information? With whom can it be bartered? As someone who is very physically active, were they to trade or sell my data there would be many interested sports manufacturers and insurance companies to buy it. While this may benefit me, it breaches my trust with the provider as there is no contextual integrity about where my data flows. If data bartering is restricted to location data, there may be little harm. However, if it includes bartering thousands of users’ personal data, opinions and medical information it becomes problematic. There is no way of ensuring the contextual integrity of a person’s data. One’s perspective may change if users have control over how their data is used. This could be partly through greater clarity