Industry and government say "Collect Everything".
November 9, 2014 3:54 PM   Subscribe

A quick warning: I was hit by a malvertisement after clicking on the above link, prompting me to update my Flash software. I'm sure it was random and many others won't see the same (I can't replicate it on another computer), but if you do see this, please don't fall for it. Don't install software you weren't expecting to install, especially if it claims to be a browser update or a Flash update.
posted by jasonhong at 4:06 PM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

But, see, jason, if industry and government had all the data they wanted about you, they'd know you'd never fall for it and wouldn't have hit YOU with the prompt...
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:12 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Adblock + Privacy Badger here, so it didn't come through. Sounds like a hacked ad server - thanks for the warning.
posted by anemone of the state at 4:54 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

While learning about the new computerized grading systems for all American school children, I realized data mining had arrived to start their lifetime dossiers. Privacy (now a laughable concept) no longer exists. Subjective data entered in any school dstrict willl determine the employability of your kindergartner.
posted by Oyéah at 5:44 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oyeah: Data collection of people from birth to death is getting increasingly terrifying... But... As someone that's been involved in hiring processes in the past, I generally don't care what grades someone got in University, let alone High School, let alone before then.

Other indicators matter a bunch more to me; even if I had access to such data, I personally wouldn't want it (not because I'm not evil, just because I don't think it'd be useful).
posted by el io at 6:07 PM on November 9, 2014

If people are hiring, but looking to discriminate, data will deliver the rationale.
posted by Oyéah at 6:39 PM on November 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

Remember our parents' threats about stuff going on our Permanent Record? No so empty now.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:38 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

You try to read about "aboveboard" spying and then you get hit by unsanctioned spyware. Wow.
posted by Small Dollar at 7:56 PM on November 9, 2014

I think the typical situation where you wished privacy existed isn't so much in being hired as it is when someone wants to get you fired. Or you become the point person on an important issue and the opposite side would like a distraction. Or you're suddenly the focus of an investigation...everyone has committed some sort of crime.
posted by maxwelton at 8:08 PM on November 9, 2014

Time for a constitutional amendment
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:38 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, I got that "update flash" message too and clicked past it too - Slate ought to be careful. :-(
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:50 PM on November 9, 2014

I've been thinking for a while that big data applied to people (as opposed to, say, scientific analysis) is just going to lead to automated discrimination. This hypothetical scenario early in the article is the sort of thing I'm worried about:
Algorithms have learned that workers with longer commutes quit their jobs sooner. Is it fair to turn away job applicants with long commutes if that disproportionately hurts blacks and Latinos?
Now say you've got a big pile of applicants, and you don't have time to review them all, so you use The Algorithm* to rank them by "suitability" or whatever. Magically, all the black and Hispanic people end up at the bottom of the list! You're not racist. You've even tried hard to understand and counteract your unconscious racial biases. It doesn't matter. The algorithm is going to be racist for you, unless you now also work hard to counteract its learned racial prejudices. And why would you do that? You can't second-guess the algorithm: it knows a lot more data than you, that's why you're using it in the first place.

That's the scary thing about it. Discriminatory stuff is going to happen and it's no one's fault. So yeah, as Oyéah said, if you're looking to discriminate, the data will give you the rationale. But equally worrying to me is that it'll tell you to discriminate even if you're not.

Have you ever tried explaining prejudice to someone who is extremely smart and rationalist, yet extremely privileged? Discrimination is perfectly rational if all you care about is maximizing self-interest. I don't know what to do about it.

*In case my usage gives the wrong impression, I don't actually think algorithms are inscrutable magic genies, but for the purposes of this comment it's useful to treat the big-data inference system, insofar as it is seen by end users, as a black box that sucks up data and spits out answers and you don't know how or why.
posted by narain at 10:50 PM on November 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

well, el io, that's a good approach for you. how many organizations are going to use automated filtering before the 'permanent record' even gets to someone like you? it's bad enough already with resume bingo (guessing the right tech acronyms to keep yourself in the pool).
posted by j_curiouser at 11:02 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

iirc, employment practices with discriminatory effects are illegal, even if they are not motivated by a desire to exclude. But would that help a person who's not hired because of their long commute, but has no idea that this is why they were passed over? It would have to come to light that this was going on, and someone would have to make a case, which probably takes years.
posted by thelonius at 3:54 AM on November 10, 2014

Have you ever tried explaining prejudice to someone who is extremely smart and rationalist, yet extremely privileged? Discrimination is perfectly rational if all you care about is maximizing self-interest. I don't know what to do about it.

Often, the privilege itself is an "unknown unknown" - it's so foundational to their world view, and so unchallenged, that they don't even perceive it.

That's part of the reason that big data hype makes me think of the overweening systems theory cant that brought us Mutually Assured Destruction, the 'scientific' bombing of Vietnam, and other ghastly shit.

At least for now, someone has to tell these systems what to solve for, and they always solve for the biased, sometimes venal, often insane goals of human brains. My guess is that their purely algorithmically-driven descendants will have a hard time shaking this off, or that we'll struggle to prevent them from doing that.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:05 AM on November 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

When you add in the GPS, web cams, phone cams, surveillance in every public domain, hotel hallway, and parking lot, social media, what individuals check out of libraries, buy in every type of business, restaurant, grocery store, random web search, oh yeah and internet quizzes where you volunteer to be a linguistic guinea pig, then coming into clear focus is the fact we are indisputably defined by these measures and voyeuristic violations. This all points to some terrifying cowardice on the part of some power that is, a cowardice and need for the illusion of control, and just step out of their hologram of you, walk into the day or comforting night, and remember your birthright a place on this beautiful whirling, ever-changing, uncontrollable world.
posted by Oyéah at 4:22 PM on November 10, 2014

As someone who falls into the group of well-meaning advocates of data collection, as mentioned in the article, I fully agree that there will a lot of consequences to the wide-scale collection of data, not counting the ones already occurring. Unfortunately, legislation sorely needed to regulate these practices is lacking and will be resisted until systemic abuses finally lead to public outcry demanding change.

Also, as it goes with most major sweeping changes in society, the growth of automation and data collection will mostly benefit only those at the top of the economic chain while the bottom will see very little improvements in their life whatsoever.
posted by Schwartz_User at 10:58 AM on November 11, 2014

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