The issue of everything one does in their life being open to known and anonymous countless others is a real day-to-day threat.
People are being monitored and data collected on them — the exact location where they are, what websites they visit, what they are searching for, who their contacts are, and even what the passwords are for secure financial sites.
It's an invasion of privacy on a scale that has never happened before. New laws expanding surveillance of seemingly everyone and everything were authorized following the terrorist attack on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001.
The saying is, "Buyer beware." Well today it is "All users of cell phones, computers, laptops, tablets and other mobile devices, beware." What an incredible tool for staying in touch, doing research, finding a bed and breakfast on vacation, paying a bill, checking your bank account or reading a favorite author or the New York Times, all with a mobile device that fits in the palm of your hand, makes phone calls, and takes pictures and HD video . . . Wow! What an asset.
But there is also a negative side. People are watching you, tracking you. People you will never meet, companies you have never heard of, are culling information about you — what you like, what you don't like, where you like to go, what you like to read or view, how you handle your finances. Whatever you do on the worldwide web is knowable worldwide.
It reminds me of the prophet Ezekiel who saw a vision of four cherubim. With them were wheels with massive rims covered in eyes. They could see everything. Whatever spiritual meaning can be attributed to that vision, it is a good illustration of what is happening to each of us "who are connected." Many eyes are watching us.
Scientific America has published two articles on the benefits and perils of all this data collection and our privacy.
In October, Alex "Sandy" Pentland wrote about "The Data-Driven Society."
For its November issue, Jaron Lanier asked in his article, "How Should We Think About Privacy?"
"The digital traces we leave behind each day reveal more about us than we know. This could become a privacy nightmare — or it could be the foundation of a healthier, more prosperous world," writes Pentland. He notes that while people post comments on social media based on what they choose to let others know, it's all those other "digital bread crumbs" that are the accurate record of someone's behavior "as it actually happened."
Researchers believe they can accurately predict the likelihood of a person getting Type 2 diabetes from the restaurants they frequent and by the people they associate with. It's called data analytics and it could be used to predict where a flu epidemic will occur within a city.
Pentland has a research laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology called a "Human Dynamics Laboratory."
He writes this observation, "Among the most surprising findings that my students and I have discovered is that patterns of idea flow (measured by purchasing behavior, physical mobility or communications) are directly related to productivity growth and creative output. Individuals, organizations, cities and even entire societies that engage with one another and explore outside their social group have higher productivity, greater creative output and even longer, healthier lives."
But a data-driven society as Pentland envisions it has "to treat personal data as an asset; individuals would have ownership rights in data that are about them."
He then lists three requirements in owning your data. "You have the right to possess data about you . . the right to full control over the use of your data . . . the right to dispose of or distribute your data."
Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist with a number of honorary PhDs, states that it's wrong to think of privacy "in terms of trade-offs," for example, we have to give up privacy to have more security.
"Privacy is the arbiter of who gets to be more in control," Lanier writes. "Privacy is at the heart of the balance of power between the individual and the state and between business or political interests.
"This state of affairs means that unless individuals can protect their own privacy, they lose power."
With massive personal information collected on someone, it is hypothesized that the person could be manipulated in actions and thoughts.
But Lanier proposes that just because technology has the ability to eliminate personal privacy, it is also engineered — meaning there is still time to protect our privacy. He reminds us that computers are programmable.
He believes there are problems with privacy regulations. "Big data statistics become an addiction, and privacy regulations are like drug or alcohol prohibitions."
Lanier concludes, "Big data can make our world healthier, more efficient and sustainable. We must not stop. But at the same time we must know that we do not know enough to get it right the first time."
To read more from Pentland and Lanier go online to ScientificAmerica.com.blog comments powered by Disqus