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First POST: Big Data Analytics

BY Micah L. Sifry | Friday, May 2 2014

Big Data Analytics

  • The White House report on "Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values" is out. The report, you may recall, was a by-product of President Obama's January 17 speech on reforming the government's "signals intelligence practices," aka Big Surveillance.

  • The report sings the praises of "Big Data," describing it as a new form of managerial magic.

    • "Computational capabilities now make “finding a needle in a haystack” not only possible, but practical….[but] in order to find the needle, you have to have a haystack."
    • "The fusion of many different kinds of data, processed in real time, has the power to deliver exactly the right message, product, or service to consumers before they even ask."
  • Correctly, the report notes that "'perfect personalization' also leaves room for subtle and not-so-subtle forms of discrimination in pricing, services and opportunities." And it has comprehensive chapters on how big data may be used to improve health care and education outcomes, as well as a series of quite reasonable policy recommendations for improving consumer privacy, toughening laws aimed at preventing data breaches, and insisting on greater transparency form the data services industry.

  • But while the White House report makes much of the potential danger that "algorithmic scoring" of individuals using data not currently protected by privacy laws could lead to new kinds of civil rights violations, it has one glaring blind spot: it makes no mention of the uses of big data by political campaigns to better understand and potentially manipulate voters.

  • In the New York Times, David Sanger and Steve Lohr observe,

    "The Podesta report is partly an effort to revive administration recommendations made in early 2012. At the time, well before Mr. Snowden’s leaks showed the reach of government surveillance, Mr. Obama proposed a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights for the big data era. It called for giving consumers more control over how much and what kind of data companies could collect about them, and what businesses could do with that information….The 2012 guidelines, while general, were seen as a sensible approach to protecting Americans from the potential danger of wholesale data collection by Internet companies, advertisers, data brokers and other businesses. But the task of translating concepts like transparency and accountability into legislation seemed complex and time-consuming, and were opposed by business groups. Few members of Congress showed interest.

  • "No one should have to act like a criminal just to have some privacy from marketers and tech giants," writes technology sociologist Janet Vertesi in Time magazine. She took all kinds of extreme steps to hide her pregnancy from commercial data collection services.

  • Lawrence Lessig has started a SuperPAC "to end all super PACS" called May Day. Its goal is to raise a million dollars in small donations in the next 30 days, which will then be matched by as-yet unnamed sources. Then it will go for $5 million in the same form, which will also be matched. In its first day, May Day had raised about $200K in pledges.

  • Yahoo columnist Matt Bai addresses Sean Parker and says, if you really want to disrupt American politics, don't try to persuade more Americans to vote, force them to with compulsory voting, as in Australia.

  • VC Marc Andreesen turns to the pages of Politico to explain why he's so bullish on the future of the news business. Among the things he sees as "counterproductive": unions, pensions, "the notion that 'objectivity' is the only model worth pursuing," and the so-called Chinese wall between content and the business side.