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Dataland: the Emerging Dystopia 81

Posted by timothy
from the but-e-medical-records dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Winston Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's novel 1984, resorted to hiding the bushes with his lover in a failed attempt to escape the government's ubiquitous surveillance. Orwell was concerned with totalitarianism and explicit thought control enforced by police action. While that is still very much an issue for many of the world's residents, here in the West there is an unsettling feeling about a more subtle form of thought manipulation, as more and more of our activities are watched, cataloged, and analyzed by more and more institutions — governments, businesses, non-profits, political parties, mostly for predictive purposes. At least we have a name for it now: 'Dataland', a term suggested by Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research, who studies the sociological effects of networking technologies. Crawford has been written up in Slashdot before. She's criticized the indiscriminate adoption of Big Data analytics on several grounds, including the loss of anonymity, erroneous conclusions from skewed datasets, and the prospect of secret discrimination."
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Dataland: the Emerging Dystopia

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  • I, for instance, follow the advice of gman003, me too I am an ordained minister in Norse Paganism (Reformed), a registered card-carrying Communist, a decorated veteran of the Third Punic War, the second in line to the throne of Emperor Norton I, and the true assassin of Archduke Ferdinand. Big data gets pretty useless once it's full of nonsense.
    • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:22PM (#45109941) Homepage Journal

      Sadly not; at best you can only exclude yourself from certain demographics. That does you no good if they're looking for those demographics. The genie isn't back in the bottle.

      At worst, the category "random/unclassifiable" gets flagged as suspicious in itself. (And no points for being an avowed Communist, even if you are reverent towards the Protector of Mexico.)

      • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @05:52PM (#45110899)

        Sadly not; at best you can only exclude yourself from certain demographics.

        I've come to the conclusion that the best way (as an individual) to handle this sort of thing is to create personas for different contexts. You'll need fake ids, but you won't be using them for anything technically illegal (no fraud, no underage drinking). You just show them to people/systems that want the info to track you - like loyalty cards (that you then only use with cash).

        That way you end up with a handful of distinct personas that all have data trails but only have data trails in specific contexts so that cross-referencing is impossible.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Are you sure that cross checking is impossible?

          https://panopticlick.eff.org/ [eff.org]

          And that's just one example. Truly big data will be essentially impossible to hide from completely. It doesn't need to reach a 100% positive result before people start treating it like it is, and that's only one possible problem that we should fully expect to arise from this.

          Here's another that could make your idea less effective as well:

          http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/15/business/attention-shopper-stores-are-tracking-your-cell.html? [nytimes.com]

          • Are you sure that cross checking is impossible?

            Make that "out of the ordinary" - if cross-referencing for different personas is not the normal use of these databases, then the decision to try to cross-reference is going to be an extra-ordinary situation which will require an extra-ordinary amount of effort.

            Of course, the more people who do adopt personas, the more likely it is that Big Data will come up with standard tools to accomplish that cross-referencing.

            On the other hand, if it gets to the point where so many people are doing that sort of thing, t

        • Sadly not; at best you can only exclude yourself from certain demographics.

          I've come to the conclusion that the best way (as an individual) to handle this sort of thing is to create personas for different contexts. You'll need fake ids, but you won't be using them for anything technically illegal (no fraud, no underage drinking). You just show them to people/systems that want the info to track you - like loyalty cards (that you then only use with cash).

          That way you end up with a handful of distinct personas that all have data trails but only have data trails in specific contexts so that cross-referencing is impossible.

          I agree somewhat however you might want to check on the legality of this in some jurisdictions.

    • ...in fact, on that point, you may've gotten yourself flagged as an anarchist already. Smooth.
    • Unfortunately, due to the fact that you are speaking in English in 2013 on the internet, the possible chances of that are 0.

      And yes, I can write a program that could work that out for everyone's statements so I'm sure as hell that the NSA could, especially with all the rest of the accounts you have attached to your email address and social networks to correlate with..

    • by HiThere (15173)

      What are the tenets of Reformed Norse Paganism? Are they related to Reformed Druidism?

    • by citizenr (871508)

      No. Actually you are an outlier, your record sends all kinds of red flags.

  • "Winston Smith . . . . . resorted to hiding the bushes with his lover "

    I don't remember any bushes in that story.

  • Predictive purposes? (Score:5, Informative)

    by m00sh (2538182) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:16PM (#45109913)

    Reminds me of Google's data collection on its hard disk failures and hiring good programmers.

    They couldn't find any sort of predictive factor. GPA, brain teasers etc had zero correlation. There was no hiring person that had statistically better performance at hiring good programmers.

    There are some things that are just random.

    Perhaps being able to predict accurately is the flying car of our generation. Or, perhaps some will say the answer is more data.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rudy_wayne (414635)

      Reminds me of Google's data collection on its hard disk failures and hiring good programmers.

      They couldn't find any sort of predictive factor. GPA, brain teasers etc had zero correlation. There was no hiring person that had statistically better performance at hiring good programmers.

      People still cling to the idea of using the past to predict the future.

      Years ago I knew a guy who played the lottery a lot. He kept a list of all the previous winning numbers and spent countless hours studying the numbers looking for patterns that would allow him to predict future winning numbers. It never worked.

      All of this data collection is essentially the same thing.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        > He kept a list of all the previous winning numbers and spent countless hours studying the numbers looking for patterns that would allow him to predict future >winning numbers. It never worked.

        Amazing.....that is the exact job description of a stock analyst.

      • by Mirey (1324435) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:40PM (#45110037)
        It's not really the same. Human behaviour is not inherently random. The lottery is. If I've bought a coffee every day for the last year, it's quite likely I'll buy one tomorrow. I thought everyone knew about Bayes?
        • by m00sh (2538182) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @06:07PM (#45110963)

          It's not really the same. Human behaviour is not inherently random. The lottery is. If I've bought a coffee every day for the last year, it's quite likely I'll buy one tomorrow. I thought everyone knew about Bayes?

          It is not fully predictive though.

          One day, for whatever reason, you will stop buying coffee. That approximate day that will happen is not predictable because it is random.

          So, you buying coffee tomorrow is quite predictable. You buying coffee 5 years from now is not.

      • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:41PM (#45110041) Homepage Journal

        Well, no; lottery numbers are known to be random. With human behaviour you at least have the underlying assumption that there are habits being picked up on. If all big data studies were as fruitless as your friend, the investments into the necessary infrastructure and algorithms wouldn't have made it nearly as far as they have. They do, however, find a lot of stupid correlations.

        But much more importantly, the desire to find these correlations is potentially profound in its ability to damage society. The whole scheme is an effort to cheat the normal boundary of personal space in order to optimize business and surveillance efficiency. If this erosion spreads into everyday interactions between people, it'll be the end of trust. To fix it, we'd need who-knows-how-many Hollywood blockbusters about noble savages re-teaching the West how to act like decent human beings.

        Perhaps if these businesses and government agencies were more willing to act like your friend and actually accept that life involves risk, we wouldn't be heading down this slippery slope so quickly.

        • by m00sh (2538182)

          Well, no; lottery numbers are known to be random. With human behaviour you at least have the underlying assumption that there are habits being picked up on. If all big data studies were as fruitless as your friend, the investments into the necessary infrastructure and algorithms wouldn't have made it nearly as far as they have. They do, however, find a lot of stupid correlations.

          But much more importantly, the desire to find these correlations is potentially profound in its ability to damage society. The whole scheme is an effort to cheat the normal boundary of personal space in order to optimize business and surveillance efficiency. If this erosion spreads into everyday interactions between people, it'll be the end of trust. To fix it, we'd need who-knows-how-many Hollywood blockbusters about noble savages re-teaching the West how to act like decent human beings.

          Perhaps if these businesses and government agencies were more willing to act like your friend and actually accept that life involves risk, we wouldn't be heading down this slippery slope so quickly.

          This is the problem. People think there is a pattern in everything when there are things that are random. Finding surprising correlations here and there is completely different from being all-predictive.

          • by sjames (1099)

            The problem is when the associated policies make it predictive after the fact. Some random correlation becomes the bank's new high risk loan flag so they up the interest rates and clamp down on any amount of grace. So people matching become more likely to be foreclosed on, so the flag is predictive.

        • by Dr Max (1696200)
          I don't play the lottery, but you can win. Trick is to pick all the unlucky numbers (you don't predict the result but you can predict the human side of the equation) this way you don't have to split any winnings, because nobody else uses those numbers. A guy proved it works using past lottery results, and pretending to buy the unlucky numbers in bulk, after 15 years of past results he came out on top by around $100 000 i think.
      • by amaurea (2900163) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @03:00PM (#45110137) Homepage

        "Using the past to predict the future" is what we usually call "learning". Even goldfish and flies to it, and it has brought us all our science and technology. Why do people exit the door at the ground floor rather than windows 5 stories up? Because past experiences has taught us that things fall down, and that falling far is harmful. Why do you type words rather than random chains of letters? Because you predict from past data that people in the future will be able to read and understand them. Even the fact that lottery numbers are impossible to predict is a prediction about the future we make based on physical understanding (which we have learnt from data from the past) coupled with data about how the lottery process works.

        You probably didn't mean to make as strong a statement as what you did but you basically said the single most anti-intellectual thing is is possible to say.

      • http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/ [forbes.com] ...says no. When people got creeped out by the pregnancy targeted ads, they mixed them with random coupons and people used the pregnancy coupons.

      • by HiThere (15173)

        It does (used to) work in Roulette. But not well enough to beat the house. (It had to do with uneven wear on the support of the wheel. And it was specific to each individual wheel. I think they eliminated that possibility by occasionally polishing the bearings, or perhaps it was the axel.)

      • "People still cling to the idea of using the past to predict the future."

        Do you think the sun will rise in the east tomorrow?

      • It's not really about prediction though. It's about manipulation. You can much more easily manipulate the future than predict it with a hands-off approach to its creation.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        People still cling to the idea of using the past to predict the future.

        Years ago I knew a guy who played the lottery a lot. He kept a list of all the previous winning numbers and spent countless hours studying the numbers looking for patterns that would allow him to predict future winning numbers. It never worked.

        All of this data collection is essentially the same thing.

        For things that are not entirely random, the past is a great predictor of the future. Things like trends and other factors do regularly sho

  • A data score? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Currently banks and lenders can ask a clearing house about our finacial activities and get a standardized credit score that can then be used to assess the risk of making a loan.

    With ubiqitous data collection, we are already seeing the sale of lists of users who might be interested in a given marketing campaign, i.e. Target sending pregnacy sales/coupons to teens whose parents didn't even know yet.

    It seems that at some point, organizations will want to know "How good is the available data on a given individu

    • Re:A data score? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:41PM (#45110043) Journal
      The nice thing about inaccuracy is that (as long as you are tactful in your exploitation of the data) the user will never know if you fuck up; and if it becomes 'common knowledge' that people shrouded in mystery are usually passed over in favor of transparent choices, we'll probably start seeing advice on 'building persona', just as we currently have people interacting with financial institutions purely for the purpose of 'building a credit score'.
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:39PM (#45110031) Homepage Journal
    must come big responsibility. Internet empowered all of us, we should be thankful for that. But having that power implies new rules of convivence. And abusing of that power just because you can always have undesirable consequences in the future.
  • by fustakrakich (1673220) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @02:49PM (#45110077) Journal

    The absence of data is even more suspicious. No facebook, gmail or Linkedin account? Not carrying your cell phone or laptop when entering the country? What are you trying to hide? I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think you can put enough chaff into the system to make a difference. The botnets can sort it out pretty quickly.

  • They are the perpetrators of 'Dataland', and in bed with the NSA.
    Avoid them -- they are worse than a cancer.

  • PROTIPS (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 12, 2013 @03:53PM (#45110373)

    +Turn On Mobile Phone only a few times a day to check for new calls.
    + Use Cash as far as possible
    + TOR

    • Sometimes when people suggest behaviour, I think of: "what happens when everyone does that?"
      Just like if everyone ran ad-block, whole cool parts of the internet would soon go dark; if everyone only turned on their phone 3 times a day, we'ld never really be able to call anyone in the way some of us have come to appreciate / expect today.

  • Even more than true data getting out of some database, I fear false data getting in and accumulating. Someday, I will not be able to prove who I am because I won't be able to verify all of the false facts that have been stored about me.

  • Don't participate.

  • by jimbrooking (1909170) on Saturday October 12, 2013 @08:38PM (#45111639)
    We wring our hands at the accursed sellers and buyers of our browsing habits. We glibly ignore what happens when we sit for a few hours in front of a television screen. Knowing our browsing habits gets us targeted ads. Getting our minds in a receptive mood by showing the trash that passes for content on commercial TV, then cramming crafty advertising into those receptive minds impels us to do things we wouldn't be predicted to do, which is manipulation.

    Why do Americans lust after 2-ton gas-guzzlers to taxi the kids to school and fetch a couple of bags of groceries from the supermarket? Why does PHaRMA spend untold billions advertising expensive drugs that, in many cases, are no more effective than over-the-counter remedies? Why do so many of our people live in McMansions so expensive they are a paycheck away from foreclosure? Because advertising to minds pried open by "must-see" TV works.

    The TV tells them what they want and how to get it - no money down, pennies per week. And this relentless barrage of hard, soft, and subliminal sales messages passes into the TV-watcher's mind with nothing getting in the way like critical thinking, priorities, or social or environmental concerns.

    We ought to be more worried about what 10-20 hours watching TV every week is doing to us and our society than whether Google is showing us an ad for suntan lotion after we've booked a trip to the Caribbean.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This stuff you're talking about is all behavior driven by the need to keep up appearances. Guys in the US have to drive trucks or they're not going to get laid. You need to own a large mcmansion or there is obviously something wrong with your finances. Even the pharma stuff is like that. You should hear my relatives bragging about how many prescription pills they need to stay alive.
      Pop culture is the driver. You need to be conversant on americal idol or the latest failures of your football team at the water

  • If we all just turned off cookies.

  • Are you kidding me? We have two political parties in the USA with very powerful propaganda arms designed to tell people exactly what to think. They use half-truths, flawed statistics, and exaggerations. These lies are not difficult to refute, yet people willingly accept the lies just because they're so willing to gravitate to the political echo chambers that are Fox News and MSNBC, among others. In a republic, if a representative is able to control what his/her constituents think, he has essentially become
  • It's double plus good that Kate Crawford should report for re-education. Inventing a word that did not come from the Ministry of Truth is rebellion. She is obviously a friend of Emmanuel Goldstein. Hail Big Brother.

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