Andrew Feenberg has taken issue with the “neo-liberal agenda” that is currently guiding how far too many universities both conceptualize and use “educational technology.” In this article, I expand the scope of his critical discussion to include analysis of contemporary higher education initiatives that capitalize on big data.
This week, the President is expected to release a report on big data, the result of a 90-day studythat brought together experts and the public to weigh in on the opportunities and pitfalls of the collection and use of personal information in government, academia and industry. Many people say that the solution to this discomfiting level of personal-data collection is simple: if you don’t like it, just opt out. But as my experience shows, it’s not as simple as that. And it may leave you feeling like a criminal.
It all started with a personal experiment to see if I could keep a secret from the bots, trackers, cookies and other data sniffers online that feed the databases that companies use for targeted advertising. As a sociologist of technology, I was launching a study of how people keep their personal information on the Internet, which led me to wonder: Could I go the entire nine months of my pregnancy without letting these companies know that I was expecting?
Another giant of tech hardware aims to make money by selling insights.
Cisco Systems announced Thursday what it calls “connected analytics,” a mix of hardware, software and services based on sensor data. The idea is to offer rapid analysis of fast-changing information, like the people moving through a store, or beer sold in a stadium, so that companies can respond in time.
The strategy may also be a way for Cisco, which celebrated its 30th anniversary Thursday, to extract more money from the data transmission networks it has installed for customers.
Connected analytics involves a significant amount of computer processing of data near the action, on machines tied to the Cisco network. Cisco argues that this is faster and more efficient than sending everything to a central processing computer.
“Analytics is still highly centralized, but data is decentralized,” said Michael Flannagan, general manager of Cisco’s data analytics business. “There will be more and more use cases where analytics at the edge will be important.”
He cited a large retailer that tracked movements of people through its stores. When many people shopped in the frozen food section, it indicated that they were about to check out. (You wouldn’t want that stuff melting in your basket while you buy crackers.) That was a sign to increase the number of available cashiers. In the case of a soccer stadium, Wi-Fi information from cellphones could tell about people’s movements and consumption.
The Samaritans, a well-known suicide-prevention group in Britain, recently introduced a free web app that would alert users whenever someone they followed on Twitter posted worrisome phrases like “tired of being alone” or “hate myself.”
A week after the app was introduced on its website, more than 4,000 people had activated it, the Samaritans said, and those users were following nearly 1.9 million Twitter accounts, with no notification to those being monitored. But just about as quickly, the group faced an outcry from people who said the app, called Samaritans Radar, could identify and prey on the emotionally vulnerable — the very people the app was created to protect.
“A tool that ‘lets you know when your friends need support’ also lets you know when your stalking victim is vulnerable #SamaritansRadar,” a Briton named Sarah Brown posted on Twitter. A week and a half after the app’s introduction, the Samaritans announced it was reconsidering the outreach program and disabled the app.
Information we have happily shared in public is increasingly being used in ways that make us queasy, because our intuitions about security and privacy have failed to keep up with technology. Nuggets of personal information that seem trivial, individually, can now be aggregated, indexed and processed. When this happens, simple pieces of computer code can produce insights and intrusions that creep us out, or even do us harm. But most of us haven’t noticed yet: for a lack of nerd skills, we are exposing ourselves.
There are 15 sensors in different businesses along Queen Street West that scan for signals emitted by such wireless devices, said Rob Sysak, executive director of the West Queen West Business Improvement Association.
These sensors, in this case made by Toronto-based Turnstyle Solutions, can follow a smartphone, tablet or laptop’s signal to track that consumer’s exact path. Whether they linger by the shoe rack or make their way to the register in the Fresh Collective clothing store, decide to head to Dark Horse Espresso Bar next, or return to the area in the future, these smartphone-sized devices are tracking it all.
Data now stream from daily life: from phones and credit cards and televisions and computers; from the infrastructure of cities; from sensor-equipped buildings, trains, buses, planes, bridges, and factories. The data flow so fast that the total accumulation of the past two years—a zettabyte—dwarfs the prior record of human civilization. “There is a big data revolution,” says Weatherhead University Professor Gary King. But it is not the quantity of data that is revolutionary. “The big data revolution is that now we can do something with the data.”
Post for Umbel, a marketing and data analytics technology.
In all, we’ve reached a tipping point where big data seems safer than cash — and while that sounds frightening, it doesn’t have to be. The Internet has evolved and transparency and security are quickly becoming it’s cornerstones. Not unlike the honesty and integrity we attempt to achieve in the offline world, transparency and security won’t always be easy coming, but they will be necessary. Laws will one day protect these digital valuables, and in the mean time, data rights management platforms will fill the void, and will even help direct those future laws.
Is it possible to stay anonymous on the web? Sure — if you put in the work. The better question is this: is it possible to maintain data rights in accordance with what is moral, what is transparent and what is secure? Absolutely — and that’s where Umbel comes in to help.