Big data is getting creepier and creepier.
Article by Ben Goldacre
It’s easy to be worried about people simply spying on your confidential data. iCloud and Google+ have your intimate photos; Transport for London knows where your travelcard has been; Yahoo holds every email you’ve ever written. We trust these people to respect our privacy, and to be secure. Often they fail: celebrity photos are stolen; emails are shared with spies; the confessional app Whisper is caught tracking the location of users.
But these are straightforward failures of security. At the same time, something much more interesting has been happening. 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.
At the simplest level, even the act of putting lots of data in one place – and making it searchable – can change its accessibility. As a doctor, I have been to the house ofa newspaper hoarder; as a researcher, I have been to the British Library newspaper archive. The difference between the two is not the amount of information, but rather the index. I recently found myself in the quiet coach on a train, near a stranger shouting into her phone. Between London and York she shared her (unusual) name, her plan to move jobs, her plan to steal a client list, and her wish that she’d snogged her boss. Her entire sense of privacy was predicated on an outdated model: none of what she said had any special interest to the people in coach H. One tweet with her name in would have changed that, and been searchable for ever.
- Read more at The Guardian