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Don't Build a Database of Ruin 209

Hugh Pickens writes "Paul Ohm writes in Harvard Business Review that businesses today are building perfect digital dossiers of their customers, massive data stores containing thousands of facts about every member of our society. He says these databases will grow to connect every individual to at least one closely guarded secret. 'This might be a secret about a medical condition, family history, or personal preference. It is a secret that, if revealed, would cause more than embarrassment or shame; it would lead to serious, concrete, devastating harm,' writes Ohm. 'And these companies are combining their data stores, which will give rise to a single, massive database. I call this the Database of Ruin. Once we have created this database, it is unlikely we will ever be able to tear it apart.' Consider the most famous recent example of big data's utility in invading personal privacy: Target's analytics team can determine which shoppers are pregnant, and even predict their delivery dates, by detecting subtle shifts in purchasing habits. 'In the absence of intervention, soon companies will know things about us that we do not even know about ourselves. This is the exciting possibility of Big Data, but for privacy, it is a recipe for disaster.' According to Ohm, if we stick to our current path, the Database of Ruin will become an inevitable fixture of our future landscape, one that will be littered with lives ruined by the exploitation of data assembled for profit. The only way we avoid this is if companies learn to say, 'no' to some of the privacy-invading innovations they're pursuing. 'The lesson is plain: compete vigorously and beat your competitors in every legitimate way, except when it comes to privacy invasion. Too many companies have learned this lesson the hard way, launching invasive new services that have triggered class action lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media firestorms.'"
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Don't Build a Database of Ruin

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @02:16AM (#41162481)

    I, Anomalous Coward, I am involved in a sexual relationship with a goldfish.

    Basically, if I can make up enough too-crazy-to-be-true BS and post it all over the internet, nobody will know how much I am attracted to giraffes.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @02:17AM (#41162491)

    Did Ohm meet Resistance?


  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @02:21AM (#41162515)

    Why hide? If you have something to hide then you shouldn't have done it in the first place.

  • by lister king of smeg ( 2481612 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @02:26AM (#41162545)

    hide. If you have something to hide then you should have done it on your neighbors wifi it in the first place.

    Fixed that for you

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @03:22AM (#41162907) Journal

    Stupid jokes aside, not giving a shit is compelling, but it's a tall order, and one we have to do all at once for it to be effective

    Nah, it's definitely something that makes you feel better as soon as you do it. Try it. You'll feel better.

  • by bigmammoth ( 526309 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @04:58AM (#41163441) Homepage
    I think we already seeing the initial phases of this. Non-totalitarian societies will adjust and normalize to be more accepting of digressions, and otherwise damaging historic and contemporaneous behavior which will be more transparent for more and more people. What seems like absurd levels of privacy violation today / yesterday, will be taken for granted in the future / present.

    To the extent of increased personal hardship from these databases; in non-totalitarian societies its unlikely to result in significant transition towards worse ( or better ) treatment of people outside social and political norms. People outside social norms have been "abused" in small circles for ages; in a larger more "anonymous" society the abuse is built into other layers of the social fabric ( id cards; state oppression etc ); Not to say all circles are created equal; but techno-deterministic dystopianism is a false premise. Technological social changes are bound to the societies in which they take place.

    Within "our" global "democratic" "free market" capitalism context the macro implications of concentrated power being able to better micro manage public opinion with powerful tools for life pattern recognition models; may be more problematic then direct loss of privacy abuses that the article outlines. That is to say; all our search for "personal" connections with others may be easier to be mediated. i.e an online video chat "hang out" support group which is moderated by an inquisitive supportive digital agent. That in addition to connecting us to exactly who we needed to talk to and giving us heart felt sense of well being in the short term; is simultaneously creating voids in meaningful existence by commoditizing your values towards particular life style choices, entertaining distractions, and consumption habits that don't enable a sustainable social structure.

    Where by every piece of information we look for and every social connection we make is mediated towards these "a-political" life style choices bounding political discourse and participation making it impossible to regulate such abuses enabling increasing concentration of power etc.; there-by creating a vicious cycle in which our autonomy is transformed even more dramatically then in the previous century of mass media consumption.

    ... But this is far from pre-determined, and these crude statistical models geared toward increased consumption of tomorrow; may in the near future give way to more holistic pictures of who we are with the disposal of much more computational resources and vastly more connected data about our increasing transparent existence. Independently of a slide towards totalitarianism; these databases and cognitive pattern recognition systems; could just as well support connections and social bridging of a cornucopia of personal identities; histories with digressions; and everything in between. If we expand access to build these system with human values we wish to amplify; it could just as well increase "freedom" "autonomy" and sustainable"well being" among the techo-societies participants.
  • Re:Pay Cash (Score:4, Funny)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @05:23AM (#41163551)

    Did you drive a car to the store?
    ANPR cameras now have your plate number.
    Buy cigarettes, liquor... or ever been sick (cold medication is now a restricted substance)?
    A little mag strip on the back contains everything listed on your driver's license.
    Ever want to make a purchase over about $500?
    You'll need to pay with something other than cash... and all those other somethings have your name on it.
    Ever order anything through the mail?
    Post office now keeps permanent records of the to/from addresses, package size, and description.
    Did you ever live anywhere other than a cardboard box or your parent's?
    You had to submit to a credit and background check.
    Ever owned a cell phone, signed up for internet access, or needed, say, electricity?
    Yeah. more information on your credit report. Bonus: Your internet habits, electricity usage, and where you live can tell me loads about you. I can buy a report on all of those for less than $5.

    The list goes on. And on. And on. You can't simply unplug and walk away. Sooner or later, someone's gonna have something you want -- and chances are good they'll record that transaction in a computer. Which goes to a database. Which becomes part of other databases. It's like rain -- eventually, all the water runs to the river, and the river to the ocean. The problem is not that the information is being collected... it's how it is being used. And let's be honest: The only way you're going to get your personal data back under your control is over their dead body.

    On an unrelated note; Aren't we a bit overdue for storming the castle and killing rich people? You know, for oppressing us? Whelp, better go find a ringtone to match my unique and dynamic personality for only $0.99!

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @05:43AM (#41163663) Homepage Journal

    I have some potential differences with his current opinions.

  • by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @07:41AM (#41164317)

    Even worse is when this "database of ruin" makes FALSE categorizations/predictions about an individual and then treats them as such. It already happens.

    Welcome to the future- guilty without proof, guilty until proven innocent, guilty without due process, guilty by association, guilty without even knowing it.

  • by number11 ( 129686 ) on Wednesday August 29, 2012 @10:58AM (#41167029)

    What stops you from not having a membership card, and paying in cache ?

    I tried that once, I dug a hole behind the tree at the intersection, put my money in, and left a square rock on top to identify the place. But the seller claimed they never got it.

Evolution is a million line computer program falling into place by accident.