Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Terms of Service

A very good comic about privacy, depicting a lot of things I’ve been saying for some time.

I especially like the part about controlling the narrative used to explain the data you generate.  We’re used to the idea that what we say we are is what the world sees, but it ia becoming ever easier for other people (and companies and government) to mine data about us and infer from it a different narrative to the one we we wish to present. It could be an incorrect narrative and yet affect us adversely.

The comic uses Foursquare as an example.  A man likes to check in at unusual locations to increase the chance of him becoming a mayor of that place.  However, this leads to his profile showing that most of the places he checks in at are restaurants and delis and doctor’s surgeries.  Someone – such as an insurance company – analysing this data might conclude that there could be a link between those two things. The comic makes the additional point that he’s checked in at the doctor’s.  If someone were to look at that doctor’s website and discover that she’s a paediatrician, they’ll know that not only does that person have a child, but who and where it’s doctor is.  That could be dangerous.

The problem gets worse as we generate more pools of data with more services.  With the Foursquare example, we’re at least in control of the data we generate, even though it might be used in ways we don’t expect.  But we’re generating data all over the place and this can be aggregated in unexpected ways with possibly detrimental effects.  It’s almost impossible to predict how isolated data pools might be combined and what that might reveal about us. 

The problem isn’t just that a profiler might get the wrong idea about us.  They might get the right idea about something we wish to protect.  Privacy is the selective revelation of information about ourselves and we just lost the ability to control it.

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