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Snowden espouses about data ethics and privacy

Kacy Zurkus | Oct. 23, 2015
As devices become more interconnected and big data reveals more about private lives and daily habits, many wonder what the future holds for privacy.

Whether walking on a public street, using a work issued device, or shopping at the mall, people are being tracked, especially through mobile devices.  

Soltani said, “When you walk around major malls or coffee chains, they employ a technology called mobile retail tracking that monitors cell phones. There are records of your visits to stores just by virtue of your phone being on.”

As a result, data exists all over the place, which makes that information more vulnerable to risks. Yes, there are privacy enhancing technologies available to users, but developers have found savvy workarounds that make accessing information on certain sites impossible for users trying to protect their privacy.

Soltani said, “Even if I value my privacy enough to install a $10 app to block tracking, corporations will always have much more incentives.”

By default, corporations have more money, said Soltani, “So, you install an ad blocker. What happens when a site says, ‘we won’t show you the content because you have an ad blocker.’  That’s the next level. It’s a constant test to see how much we value our privacy.”

As technology collects more information, said Kate Crawford, principal researcher, Microsoft Research New York City, there needs to be more discussion about data ethics.

In reference to the new Hello Barbie, the first interactive doll who is able to talk to and with children, and Jibo, the first social robot for the home, Crawford said, “What is different about this, is these are for a mass market.  More than this, it is their ability to aggregate, analyze, and search this data over time.”

Though a Hollywood film, the movie Her personifies the fear of human beings developing intensely intimate relationships with technology. “The issue of trust gets complicated,” Crawford said. “We begin to connect with them and trust them, and they harvest our most intimate information,” she continued.

As technology explodes in the form of wearables and interconnected devices, so too are there a growing number of smart cities being established around the world.  “What sense of ethics or democracy should accompany this?” Crawford asked.

In the same way that changes in society gave birth to ethics in journalism and other fields, so too will the advent of technology and its impact on society forge a path for data ethics.

Crawford argued, “If knowledge and power are always defined as having more data, then we have effectively agreed to a big data phenomenon, and this exceeds privacy rights.”

We need a far broader shift that changes the conversations about privacy to conversations about ethics, said Crawford who also advocates for data ethics courses as part of computer science or engineering degree program.  

 

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