I read a piece last night called 5 Ways Big Data Will Change Lives In 2013. I really wasn’t expecting much from it, just scrolling through accumulated articles on Zite. However, as with so many things, there were some gems to be had. I learned of Aadhar.
Aadhar is an ambitious government Big Data project aimed at becoming the world’s largest biometric database by 2014, with a goal of capturing about 600 million Indian identities...[which] could help India’s government and businesses deliver more efficient public services and facilitate direct cash transfers to some of the world’s poorest people — while saving billions of dollars each year.
The part that made me sit up and take notice was this line, “India’s Aadhar collects sensitive information, such as fingerprints and retinal scans. Yet people volunteer because the potential incentives can make the data privacy and security pitfalls look miniscule — especially if you’re impoverished.”
I have been reading and hearing about concerns of data privacy for quite awhile, yet nobody that I have been reading (or listening to) has once suggested what the circumstances are that would have citizens forego all sense of privacy. Poverty, especially extreme poverty, is one of those circumstances. As a humanist, I am all for facilitating resources in the most efficient ways possible, which inevitably involve technology. But, as a Citizen Statistician, I am all too aware of how a huge database of biometric data could be used (or mis-used as it were). It especially concerns me that our impoverished citizens, who are more likely to be in the database, will be more at risk for being taken advantage of.
A second headline that caught my eye was France Looks At Possibility Of Taxing Internet Companies For Data Mining. France is pointing out that companies such as Google and Facebook are making enormous sums of money dollars by mining and using citizens' personal information, so why shouldn’t that be seen as a taxable asset? While this is a reasonable question, the article also points out that one potential consequence of such taxation is that the “free” model (at least monetarily) that these companies currently use might cease to exist.
Related to both of these articles, I also read a blog post about a seminar being offered in the Computer Science department at the University of Utah entitled Accountability in Data Mining. The professor of the course wrote in the post,
I'm a little nervous about it, because the topic is vast and unstructured, and almost anything I see nowadays on data mining appears to be "in scope". I encourage you to check out the outline, and comment on topics you think might be missing, or on other things worth covering. Given that it's a 1-credit seminar that meets once a week, I obviously can't cover everything I'd like, but I'd like to flesh out the readings with related work that people can peruse later.
It is about time some university offered such a course. I think this will be ultimately useful (and probably should be required) content to include in every statistics course taught. In making decisions using data, who is accountable for those decisions, and the consequences thereof?
Lastly, I would be remiss to not include a link to what might be the article I resonated to most: It’s not 1989. The author points out that the excuse “I’m not good with computers” is not acceptable any longer, especially for educators. He makes a case for a minimum level of technological competency that teachers should have in today’s day and age. I especially agree with the last point,
Every teachers must have a willingness to continue to learn! Technology is ever evolving, and excellent teachers must be life-long learners. (Particularly in the realm of technology!)
The lack of ability with computers that I see on a day-to-day basis in several students and faculty (even the base-level literacy that the author wants) is frightening and saddening at the same time. I would love to see colleges and universities give all incoming students a computer literacy test at the same time as they take their math placement test. If you can’t copy-and-paste you should be sent to a remedial course to obtain the skills you need to acquire before taking any courses at the institution.