One big challenge we all face is understanding what’s good and what’s bad for us. And it’s harder when published research studies conflict. And so thanks to Roger Peng for posting on his Facebook page an article that led me to this article by Emily Oster: Cellphones Do Not Give You Brain Cancer, from the good folks at the 538 blog. I think this article would make a great classroom discussion, particularly if, before showing your students the article, they themselves brainstormed several possible experimental designs and discussed strengths and weaknesses of the designs.
The L.A. Times ran an article on data privacy today, which, I think it’s fair to say, puts “Big Data” in approximately the same category as fire. In the right hands, it can do good. But… http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-white-house-big-data-privacy-report-20140501,0,5624003.story
What do we fear more? Losing data privacy to our government, or to corporate entities? On the one hand, we (still) have oversight over our government. On the other hand, the government is (still) more powerful than most corporate entities, and so perhaps better situated to frighten. In these times of Snowden and the NSA, the L.A. Times ran an interesting story about just what tracking various internet companies perform. And it’s alarming.
My colleague Mark Hansen used to assign his class to keep a data diary. I decided to try it, to see what happened. I asked my Intro Stats class (about 180 students) to choose a day in the upcoming week, and during the day, keep track of every event that left a ‘data trail.’ (We had talked a bit in class about what that meant, and about what devices were storing data.
Since posting last month about data-sharing concerns with some popular apps, I’ve since learned about Cluefulapp.com which, apparently, helps us see how are data are used by iOS apps. For instance, according to Cluefulapp, Google Maps can read my address book, uses my iPhone’s unique ID, encruypts stored data, “could” track my location, and uses an anonymous identifier. Waze is somewhat similar. It “could” track my location [quotes are because I wonder what they mean by could—does it?
The L.A. Times ran an interesting article about the new Federal Trade Commission(downloads) report, “Mobile Apps for Kids: Disclosures Still Not Making the Grade”, followed up on a February 2012 report, and concluded that “Yes, many apps included interactive features or shared kids’ information with third parties without disclosing these practices to parents.” I think this is issue is intriguing on many levels, but of central concern is the fact that as we go about our daily business (or play, as the case may be), we leave a data trail, sometimes unwittingly.
The L.A. Times today (Monday, November 19) ran an editorial about the benefits and costs of Big Data. I truly believe that statisticians should teach introductory students (and all students, really) about data privacy. But who feels they have a realistic handle on the nature of these threats and the size of the risk? I know I don’t. Does anyone teach this in their class? Let’s hear about it! In the meantime, you might enjoy reading (or re-reading) a classic on the topic by Latanya Sweeney: k-Anonymity: a model for protecting privacy.