Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Don't Build a Database of Ruin

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the or-we'll-say-don't-again dept.

Privacy 209

Hugh Pickens writes "Paul Ohm writes in Harvard Business Review that businesses today are building perfect digital dossiers of their customers, massive data stores containing thousands of facts about every member of our society. He says these databases will grow to connect every individual to at least one closely guarded secret. 'This might be a secret about a medical condition, family history, or personal preference. It is a secret that, if revealed, would cause more than embarrassment or shame; it would lead to serious, concrete, devastating harm,' writes Ohm. 'And these companies are combining their data stores, which will give rise to a single, massive database. I call this the Database of Ruin. Once we have created this database, it is unlikely we will ever be able to tear it apart.' Consider the most famous recent example of big data's utility in invading personal privacy: Target's analytics team can determine which shoppers are pregnant, and even predict their delivery dates, by detecting subtle shifts in purchasing habits. 'In the absence of intervention, soon companies will know things about us that we do not even know about ourselves. This is the exciting possibility of Big Data, but for privacy, it is a recipe for disaster.' According to Ohm, if we stick to our current path, the Database of Ruin will become an inevitable fixture of our future landscape, one that will be littered with lives ruined by the exploitation of data assembled for profit. The only way we avoid this is if companies learn to say, 'no' to some of the privacy-invading innovations they're pursuing. 'The lesson is plain: compete vigorously and beat your competitors in every legitimate way, except when it comes to privacy invasion. Too many companies have learned this lesson the hard way, launching invasive new services that have triggered class action lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media firestorms.'"

cancel ×

209 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Resistance is the answer (2, Interesting)

ozmanjusri (601766) | about 2 years ago | (#41162451)

According to Ohm, if we stick to our current path, the Database of Ruin will become an inevitable fixture of our future landscape, one that will be littered with lives ruined by the exploitation of data assembled for profit.

No doubt, but what we need is a path forward that avoids the pitfalls of ubiquitous databases while retaining the benefits.

Re:Resistance is the answer (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162491)

Did Ohm meet Resistance?

(-;

Re:Resistance is the answer (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#41163663)

I have some potential differences with his current opinions.

Re:Resistance is the answer (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162515)

Why hide? If you have something to hide then you shouldn't have done it in the first place.
A.C.

Re:Resistance is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162533)

the anonymous coward function can be used for class A - sarcasm, thank you :)

Re:Resistance is the answer (5, Funny)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#41162545)

hide. If you have something to hide then you should have done it on your neighbors wifi it in the first place.

Fixed that for you

Re:Resistance is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163519)

Like getting cancer or to be born as gypsy?

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#41162517)

No doubt, but what we need is a path forward that avoids the pitfalls of ubiquitous databases while retaining the benefits.

Do you have an idea for how to attain this?

Re:Resistance is the answer (4, Insightful)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 2 years ago | (#41162597)

spill everyones secrets at once so we all look dirty and would be hypocrites for judging anyone else. then any demagogue can have all of his problems pointed out by the opposition so he has no power either. When everyone knows your dirty secret it has lost its power because you also know theirs.

Re:Resistance is the answer (2)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#41162629)

Inevitably some people would look dirtier than others. And as soon as that happens, we can find ways to discriminate against those who are worse than us.

My own personal solution is to not give a shit. You know that I have baboons living in my kitchen? So what.

Re:Resistance is the answer (2)

omfgnosis (963606) | about 2 years ago | (#41162747)

It's not so much that you have baboons in your kitchen, or even that you fondle them. But with fetuses scavenged from civil war victims? You disgust me.

Stupid jokes aside, not giving a shit is compelling, but it's a tall order, and one we have to do all at once for it to be effective. At least the idea of airing all of our dirty laundry at once gets us on that path (though I'd much favor putting the genie back in its bottle).

I think the lesson is that we're going to be hard pressed to find answers without costs. We're going to have to work hard and fast, and be honest and forthcoming about these costs.

Re:Resistance is the answer (3, Funny)

phantomfive (622387) | about 2 years ago | (#41162907)

Stupid jokes aside, not giving a shit is compelling, but it's a tall order, and one we have to do all at once for it to be effective

Nah, it's definitely something that makes you feel better as soon as you do it. Try it. You'll feel better.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

omglolbah (731566) | about 2 years ago | (#41163407)

The hard part is getting the emotional part of your brain to join the rational brain.

Much easier said than done *sigh*

Re:Resistance is the answer (2)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#41162797)

Heck with the kitchen, I know a city chock full of baboons, its a little district near Maryland.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#41162987)

Heck with the kitchen, I know a city chock full of baboons, its a little district near Maryland.

A little district, but you will enjoy its presumption and its powerful bouquet.

--

Never look a baboon in the face; they take it as aggression.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Sulphur (1548251) | about 2 years ago | (#41163227)

Heck with the kitchen, I know a city chock full of baboons, its a little district near Maryland.

They painted their faces with woad, and you fell for it.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about 2 years ago | (#41163695)

It's blue face, red arse, isn't it?

I'm always getting that wrong. Anyone got one of them there mnemnomnics?

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Fjandr (66656) | about 2 years ago | (#41163785)

Well, when face and ass are so similar, does it matter which one is red and which one is blue?

Re:Resistance is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163429)

"You know that I have baboons living in my kitchen? So what."

Yes, we met your wife.

Re:Resistance is the answer (5, Insightful)

demonlapin (527802) | about 2 years ago | (#41164095)

The problem is that certain jobs - hell some entire fields, like health care - do care about what you've done in the past, and will actively discriminate against you. That's not a problem if you're, say, fifteen, because you don't have a real job yet, and you can steer yourself toward other things. Not so great if you're in your forties or fifties and trying to save for some hint of retirement. Plus, every life insurance, etc., form I've ever seen has a box that says "have you ever used an illegal drug?" Canceling seventy percent of America's cheap term life policies could be a problem...

Re:Resistance is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162655)

We could genetically modify the human race for Betazoid telepathy. No secrets could be kept. Or we just built a device that scans and twitters our thoughts.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 2 years ago | (#41162723)

It might be easier just to make everyone wear transparent clothing and live in glass houses.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Pieroxy (222434) | about 2 years ago | (#41162753)

It might be easier just to make everyone wear transparent clothing and live in glass houses.

Why bother with the clothing at all? The global warming is at our doorstep and will remove the need for this useless artifact.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

Zontar The Mindless (9002) | about 2 years ago | (#41162939)

Just riding the skeuomorphic wave [slashdot.org] , baby.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 2 years ago | (#41163479)

It might be easier just to make everyone wear transparent clothing and live in glass houses.

Why bother with the clothing at all? The global warming is at our doorstep and will remove the need for this useless artifact.

Sounds attractive, and I'd vote for it, but only in some parts of the world. Consider a place like Finland, instead.

In summer, there are mosquitoes [wikipedia.org] , midges [wikipedia.org] , blackfly [wikipedia.org] , horse fly [wikipedia.org] , deer ked [wikipedia.org] , and other blood-sucking and/or biting horrors. The insect-repellent sprays, lotions, and suchlike which allegedly deter those buggers don't work very well (and might be unpleasant on one's delicate bits). I'll take the transparent clothing for summer.

In winter, there are just about no insects to be found (at least, not outside). However, when it's around -40C, the transparent clothing would need a good insulation value, and would likely be layered and thick so its transparency would be somewhat debatable. And have you seen the boots we have to wear outside in winter?

Re:Resistance is the answer (2)

Pieroxy (222434) | about 2 years ago | (#41163559)

If you keep on being let down by details like those, how do you want to embrace progress? I mean, really?

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

sFurbo (1361249) | about 2 years ago | (#41163913)

In winter, there are just about no insects to be found (at least, not outside). However, when it's around -40C, the transparent clothing would need a good insulation value, and would likely be layered and thick so its transparency would be somewhat debatable.

Aerogel [wikipedia.org] is a good thermal insulator, and can be transparent. Now we just need to make the flexible types transparent, or make the transparant types flexible.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

cryptolemur (1247988) | about 2 years ago | (#41162877)

Prove beyond any doubt that targeted advertisement is annoying, creepy and extremely counterproductive??

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#41163915)

Sure because untargeted advertising is vastly preferable.

I don't have any dirty little secrets waiting to be aired - or at least, none worse than would appear for most other people if such a database got into public hands.

Re:Resistance is the answer (1)

bcg (322392) | about 2 years ago | (#41162567)

According to Ohm, current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the potential difference across the two points.

Re:Resistance is the answer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162795)

The benefit is intentional. Everyone is guilty of something. The same way there are so many laws out there that you are guilty of breaking at least one and probably several. Facilitates you being a legitimate target for anything at whim.

Poison the well (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162481)

I, Anomalous Coward, I am involved in a sexual relationship with a goldfish.

Basically, if I can make up enough too-crazy-to-be-true BS and post it all over the internet, nobody will know how much I am attracted to giraffes.

DAMMIT.

Re:Poison the well (1)

omfgnosis (963606) | about 2 years ago | (#41162759)

Are you the person with the baboons?

Re:Poison the well (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163515)

In the future, the tabloids publish facts about celebrities they didn't know themselves before. Oh, wait..

Exploitation? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162499)

Yes of course, how could you ever live with ad agencies being able to provide a higher net gain per ad by targeting them. Woe to you they will get a higher return and are thus able to reduce the sheer QUANTITY of ads.

You people are so melodramatic, you are not being exploited when someone notices you don't have something (or are searching for something) and asks if you want to buy one/it.

Re:Exploitation? (4, Insightful)

epyT-R (613989) | about 2 years ago | (#41162659)

yeah because you know, when cable tv showed up, it claimed zero ads on its premium non-movie channels.. now look at it.. tons of money and it's loaded with them.. You are purposely misconstruing the actions of advertisers.. if all they were doing was throwing up billboards, that's one thing.. active electronic surveillance of buying habits is COMPLETELY different.

Re:Exploitation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162767)

What stops you from not having a membership card, and paying in cache ?

Sure, it's more convenient to let them spy on you, but if it bothers you - you don't have to let them.

They are not using biometrics to recognize customers yet... I think.

Re:Exploitation? (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 2 years ago | (#41162845)

It's near impossible to buy something through a site with anything but a credit card.

Re:Exploitation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163017)

There are several systems with disposable single-use credit card numbers.

And please do tell me, how a shopping site can get sensitive personal information about you ? People normally buy some books, some gadgets, maybe some clothing online - not their main food, medicine, personal hygine, etc purchases which I imagine they make at the supermarket reasonably near their home.

Re:Exploitation? (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 2 years ago | (#41163639)

Which are already disappearing. Really? I have to explain the relevance of what I said to the topic? It concerns mass db merges over time to the point where it's basically one giant record of all purchases/recorded behaviors and the output of the heuristics that data was used with.

Re:Exploitation? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163837)

not their main food, medicine, personal hygine, etc purchases which I imagine they make at the supermarket reasonably near their home.

Err... you may have missed the move to online grocery shopping [tesco.com] .

In the UK, over one-third of purchases from the big supermarkets are made online and delivered to the door. Actually, delivered into the kitchen.

Re:Exploitation? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162701)

I think of it more like this... a handful of organizations are aggregating everything there is to know about me. Between the sites I visit, the contents of my email and chats, my searches, my friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintences, what I buy or want to buy, things I read or watch, etc., maybe three companies have it all. Data storage is virtually free. Data collection mechanisms are simple and effective. Mountains of other data can be extrapolated from what they have, and these few companies are everywhere. And don't kid yourself that a browser plugin is hiding you effectively.

Now imagine those two or three datasources are compromised at some point, either by hack or by purchase. There's something in there that would make it impossible for a person like you or me to, say, be elected to a public office. I'm not even be sure what mine is, but there's something in there. Maybe it's me talking to someone on a dating site, or something I said via IM, or adding a certain book to a wishlist and forgetting about it, or watching some YouTube video.

Things are going to change at some point. We're either going to get a lot more liberal about what defines a person's character, or we're going to have to deal with data collection and security in a very different way. I don't know which, but either way it'll probably be a painful transition.

Correction (5, Insightful)

MacroRodent (1478749) | about 2 years ago | (#41162503)

>Too many companies have learned this lesson the hard way, launching invasive new services that have triggered class action lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media firestorms.

Shouldn't that read "Too few companies have learned ..."? Otherwise the problem would not exist.

Anyway, I think this can only be fixed by legislation. Companies have too much monetary incentive for privacy violation to do anything else than token improvements. "Industry self-regulation" is nothing but newspeak for "foxes guarding the henhouse".

Yup, it exists (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162525)

That's why everyone I know that's a diabetic gets a ton of calls from India call center scammers...

Privacy? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 2 years ago | (#41162543)

All the time here people are drivelling on about the "privacy violations" of shopping in a big chain store and paying for it with their credit card which lets the stores build up a picture of their buying habits.

I suppose these are also the same people I see wandering around the streets in stained clothing screaming "STOP LOOKING AT ME! STOP LOOKING AT ME!" to nobody that the rest of us can see.

Re:Privacy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162617)

+1 for being funny
-1 for lack of consitency

A paranoid person thinks people are watching when they are not. Here we know that companies are scouting for our digital footprints. How is it that these companies are "nobody that the rest of us can see" if you yourself are saysing that these "stores build up a picture of their buying habits".

Orwell was wrong. (4, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#41162555)

He missed a vital element when writing 1984. Looking at the oppressive governments of the time and the rise of extensive government monitoring, it was easy to imagine governments of the future would be able to take it to an extreme. He completly failed to see the rising power and influence of commercial interests, motivated not by power but by money.

Re:Orwell was wrong. (5, Insightful)

epyT-R (613989) | about 2 years ago | (#41162677)

no he wasn't. In his future, the difference between the state and the corporation was zero. We're damned close to that now where one passes the puck to the other to get over some legal or functional limitation the other isn't limited by. When it's done, the puck gets passed back.

"The puck stops here." (2)

zooblethorpe (686757) | about 2 years ago | (#41162763)

no he wasn't. In his future, the difference between the state and the corporation was zero. We're damned close to that now where one passes the puck to the other to get over some legal or functional limitation the other isn't limited by. When it's done, the puck gets passed back.

I dunno, but that sounds kinda Canadian, eh?

Re:Orwell was wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162861)

no he wasn't. In his future, the difference between the state and the corporation was zero. We're damned close to that now where one passes the puck to the other to get over some legal or functional limitation the other isn't limited by. When it's done, the puck gets passed back.

this is correct :motorcycle:
Or am on the wrong board.

Transferring the numbers from one volume to another.
All the while in great detail telling us it matters. But we
know it doesn't. Or does it?

But Huxley was right, in the New Brave World. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162729)

People don't even care. And sadly actively participate in their own destruction.

Re:Orwell was wrong. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163265)

commercial interests, motivated not by power but by money.

Not motivated by power? They fight competitors for market share instead of territory. Invading another company is called a hostile takeover. Their customers are their subjects. Ok, it's easier to be curtomer of more than one company than it is to have more than one nationality, but we've all heard the stories about Microsoft putting pressure on OEMs not to sell pc's without Windows. It's all about power for the big players. Money is power.

Re:Orwell was wrong. (3, Interesting)

Johann Lau (1040920) | about 2 years ago | (#41163791)

Holy fuck how did this get modded up? As someone else said already, money IS (one form of) power.

To me, Nineteen-Eightyfour is first and foremost about language that deceives and cripples critical thought, not about televisors and war with Eurasia. Those things have been made possible by the actual subject matter of the book, namely the obstruction of the ability to say 2 and 2 make 4. But don't feel bad, most people seem to miss that.

Re:Orwell was wrong. (1)

AssholeMcGee (2521806) | about 2 years ago | (#41163861)

I was thinking the same with movies like 1984. I like how Ohm's mentions "Congressional inquiries" and there probably getting lobby money so this is allowed to continue, the things congress should be making the public aware of, or preventing, they say/do nothing until a company gets caught, and there's public outcry over it. Is it possible one man or a group of men/women to take and use this data in an attempt to take over a country in a cult like fashion, knowing peoples weaknesses, and how to "correct" minds they know will not conform? Look at the state of political split in the US and nobody seem to think for themselves, they almost never take a step back and see that they are all evil, not matter which party you believe has the best intentions, it is the same with religion, there is a religious cult like following behind all of it.

Re:Orwell was wrong. (1)

tommeke100 (755660) | about 2 years ago | (#41164203)

The government just lets the private companies do the hard work. When they need some info on someone, they just sub-poena google or facebook and they know all about you, what you like, your habits, etc...

Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (5, Insightful)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#41162583)

. . . than how come I am not interested in any of those products that Amazon tells me should interest me?

Maybe there is something wrong with me?

Maybe not conforming to their purchase expectations is a sign of criminal activity . . . ?

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (1)

slackware 3.6 (2524328) | about 2 years ago | (#41162653)

More realistically my entire familly uses the computer in the living room, that is two children and two adults, baby can't use the computer yet. So no I'm not interested in Dora the explorer or Fireman Sam.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163183)

Fireman Sam was awesome. Why aren't you interested in that?

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162693)

Another thing, Amazon keeps trying to sell me things I just bought. Ok, so I just bought a couple of Uncle Mike's swivels...obviously I must want to buy a bunch more. I just bought 16 GB of RAM, I must need another 16 for the machine I'm about to build to replace this obsolete one.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (2)

engun (1234934) | about 2 years ago | (#41162841)

Amazon only has access to a certain restricted aspect of your social life - your purchase preferences for certain internet goods. But if Amazon's info could be combined with facebook's database, your location information from google maps, your browsing history from your ISP, your supermarket profile, your movie preferences, your medical history etc. etc. (basically, the Database of Ruin the author is talking about) and I'd wager those Amazon recommendations are going to be a whole lot more accurate.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162917)

Perhaps someone could explain to me why exactly this information would cause a person to come to ruin? Unless he's been buying components for making weapons of mass destruction from different online retailers.

The only other thing I can think of is if his wife finds out about his affair with another man, but that sort of thing has been happening since time immemorial. Really, what's the danger in this other than more targeted advertising?

Perhaps just a note to clarify: I'm not trying to make flamebait, I really don't know what the problem is here.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (1)

engun (1234934) | about 2 years ago | (#41163047)

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (1)

engun (1234934) | about 2 years ago | (#41163083)

To clarify further, it's not just targeted advertising that will be possible with this data. It is very likely that one's political affiliations, sexual orientation, religious beliefs and other hidden thoughts and opinions etc. can be predicted with this data. In the hands of some ideally benevolent government, all data may be benign. In the hands of a despotic one, it can be used to detect and eliminate any and all opposition - a witch hunt to end all witch hunts.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (3, Insightful)

Fjandr (66656) | about 2 years ago | (#41163845)

The more you know about someone the easier it becomes to ruin them. Imagine a world where any sufficiently motivated extortionist could have their pick of targets. Eventually those extortionists would infiltrate whatever system was overseeing the information aggregation and, if it were not also the system controlling society, they would soon merge the two and run both.

The scum who fit the mold for the flaws in a system always end up running said system, if there is any benefit to them to do so. The system in question just so happens to be one favoring extortionists. They are one of the worst types of scum to give a foothold to, and by virtue of human nature one of the hardest to get rid of, which is why the entire idea presented is so thoroughly disturbing.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (3, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | about 2 years ago | (#41163783)

That is a really important element here, I think you have nailed. Its not a big deal that Amazon or Target can guess you are pregnant from the products you buy.

So could they guy running the general store in your small 18th and early 19th century town. It was the only place you had to go for goods and his list of customers was short enough he could pay attention to everyone's specific needs, which he did so he knew what products to order / stock. He also knew allot about you regardless of how much or little your spoke to each other because of what you bought and how often. It was only a brief period human history late 19th thru 20th century that our economic options for providers grew faster than our ability to collect and correlate information about individuals.

The issue do we need to address / control what information entities are allowed to exchange with each other. Target knows my buying habits, I shop there. That is sorta implicit in the activity. Should there be rules about them selling / giving / exchanging information with other entities be they corporate, government, individuals? Knowing my buying habits at Target and having access to the other sources you mention paints a much more compete picture of my life and destroys my ability to protect my privacy. Where if there was some product I needed that I was really really embarrassed about before for example I had the option of driving across town and making a single purchase at some other vendor.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162889)

Amazon does not know you better than yourself. Many of these claims are exaggerated for media appeal - Target can not 'determine' you are pregnant, but they can say you are statistically a lot more likely than before because it is a life event that entails a dramatic change in buying habits. Almost no prediction attempts are gifted with such obvious patterns, which is what made that example so newsworthy.

The problem is that while these databases are collecting a lot of information we don't really know what to do with it all yet. The predictive power of the brain is still vastly more accurate than our current best algorithms in machine learning and artificial intelligence. Until algorithms get close we are going to continue to see a lot of 'that makes no sense' predictions like you see on Amazon. In the mean time at least the meek predictions are better than a random guess.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163077)

Perhaps you are not the average Joe this system was designed for.

Re:Amazon knows me better than myself . . . ? (1)

DaWhilly (2555136) | about 2 years ago | (#41164157)

Maybe the database was built by the lowest bidder and consists of a single table (which is self referential in a logical way but not physical) of two columns: Name,Value. According to some people I know, it's the most efficient way to store data because you don't have to worry about remembering all them pesky things like.. columns... indexes... foreign keys... actually getting results out..

Muddled Fears (0)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41162589)

So am I supposed to be afraid of a database linking facts known about me that reveals one fact that before was not tied to me?

Or am I supposed to fear a company guessing some fact about me and taking action on that guess?

It seems like from the pregnancy example that it's really the latter he is worried about. But I can't see what the solution to that fear really is, to not let companies guess something about you based on other data?

The best thing we could probably ever hope for is a centralized database of all information about us, that we could control what parts other companies can see... but in real life I do not think that workable, for one thing people would have no idea what was safe to release or not.

But also there are many of "us" as individuals. There is the "us" that comes from our IP addresses. There is the "us" that comes from our browsers. There is the "us" that comes from logins sharing the same email... so you'd almost have to have separate data identities to manage and monitor. Realistically no-one will do that.

In the end I just don't know how afraid I really am at big systems making algorithmic guesses about me that no human will see or know about outside of the resulting effects of that guess (like getting a Target ad with coupons for pregnancy items). Why?

If you look at the article that "guess" actually hurt Target more than the girl! Companies making guesses that can lead to kind of negative lasting impact this guy is talking about, are also in danger of really pissing off a lot of people (like Progressives automatic calculations of cost savings leading them to support defense of someone who killed a client). These guesses can lead to bad PR, so in the end companies will tend to throttle back the possible impact of any guesses derived from Big Data, out of simple self-interest (with the occasional hilarious counter-example bubbling up once in a while).

Re:Muddled Fears (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 2 years ago | (#41162727)

A society with 'perfect history' at the individual level would have zero growth because individual risk would be too great to justify taking any chances whatsoever.

Re:Muddled Fears (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162769)

you're missing the non corporate/governative uses.

craiglist is already used for datamining user habits to burglarize home when they are likely empty.

Re:Muddled Fears (1)

SuperKendall (25149) | about 2 years ago | (#41162921)

craiglist is already used for datamining user habits to burglarize home when they are likely empty.

Sure, but that's correlating data you choose to make public to the whole world. The bigger fear from the article is the stuff in databases that you think is private being combined in ways you do not expect.

Look at the bright side (0)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#41162595)

The intelligence services will be able to use this to screen for terrorists. If someone has different food-buying habits in Ramadan then buys suspicious chemicals or components then they should be checked. No more surprises when some "ordinary white guy" turns out to be a muzzie terrorist [forbes.com] .

Re:Look at the bright side (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about 2 years ago | (#41162717)

diminished return safety paranoia does not really make anyone safer.. I'd rather have my freedom and my rights back, thanks. Without that, what are we really defending? If it's our lives, well lets just declare war on muslim countries and send them back to that stone age utopia they want to drag the world back to. I wonder if you'd have this same attitude if those three letter agencies decided based on the same bad heuristics and ever increasing amounts of out-of-context data that you were a 'threat to national security'..

Step 1: Fuck Failbook (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162603)

It's one of the biggest players building the Database of Ruin. Heck, it even might be it!

Pay Cash (2)

geekd (14774) | about 2 years ago | (#41162619)

Pay in Cash, don't use store discount cards. Don't let "them" tie the purchase to you. Problem solved.

Or, take the discount, pay with your convenient credit card, and don't give a crap what they think they know about you.

Your choice.

Re:Pay Cash (1)

infolation (840436) | about 2 years ago | (#41163431)

There's a subtle but definite trend by governments to paint cash as the currency of criminals.

Like the 'war on terror', the 'war on cash' always cites some form of morality as its justification. In the UK we recently had a political storm [guardian.co.uk] about cash payments to tradespeople being 'morally wrong'.

It's clear to my mind that this position goes beyond tax-collection benefits, and moves into the realm of ensuring all financial transactions fall into the uniquely-identifiable big-data indexable kind for just-in-case future use by law-enforecement. (Along with telecoms data, and all the other interesting information governments like to collect.)

Re:Pay Cash (1)

BlueStrat (756137) | about 2 years ago | (#41163779)

There's a subtle but definite trend by governments to paint cash as the currency of criminals.

It may be a lot of things, but subtle it ain't. At least in the US.

In some areas of the US if you are pulled over for a routine traffic stop and they find cash over anywhere from $100 on up (there are typically no specific amounts specified), you may well end up having your cash confiscated and perhaps also your vehicle, and possibly be arrested as well.

Many times in these situations, even if you've broken no laws you may end up losing your cash/property thanks to US laws and policies regarding criminal forfeiture.

You'll also have no recourse if they decide to keep your cash and/or property, as the beauty of the forfeiture system (for them, not you) is that they charge the cash/property with a crime (as illogical as it is that inanimate and legal property/money is capable of committing a crime by themselves by simply existing), not you, so you have zero standing to challenge whatever they decide in court because you're not charged with anything.

Land of the free, my ass!

Strat

Re:Pay Cash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163541)

"Or, take the discount, pay with your convenient credit card, and don't give a crap what they think they know about you."

I'm retired and I do all the shopping for my family members, they must think I'm a heavy drinker who wears women's underwear.

Re:Pay Cash (3, Funny)

girlintraining (1395911) | about 2 years ago | (#41163551)

Did you drive a car to the store?
ANPR cameras now have your plate number.
Buy cigarettes, liquor... or ever been sick (cold medication is now a restricted substance)?
A little mag strip on the back contains everything listed on your driver's license.
Ever want to make a purchase over about $500?
You'll need to pay with something other than cash... and all those other somethings have your name on it.
Ever order anything through the mail?
Post office now keeps permanent records of the to/from addresses, package size, and description.
Did you ever live anywhere other than a cardboard box or your parent's?
You had to submit to a credit and background check.
Ever owned a cell phone, signed up for internet access, or needed, say, electricity?
Yeah. more information on your credit report. Bonus: Your internet habits, electricity usage, and where you live can tell me loads about you. I can buy a report on all of those for less than $5.

The list goes on. And on. And on. You can't simply unplug and walk away. Sooner or later, someone's gonna have something you want -- and chances are good they'll record that transaction in a computer. Which goes to a database. Which becomes part of other databases. It's like rain -- eventually, all the water runs to the river, and the river to the ocean. The problem is not that the information is being collected... it's how it is being used. And let's be honest: The only way you're going to get your personal data back under your control is over their dead body.

On an unrelated note; Aren't we a bit overdue for storming the castle and killing rich people? You know, for oppressing us? Whelp, better go find a ringtone to match my unique and dynamic personality for only $0.99!

Good luck with that (2)

enoz (1181117) | about 2 years ago | (#41162635)

Calling for commercial organisations to stop profiling their customers is about as worthwhile as asking a four year old not to eat that marshmallow you just placed in front of them.

The problem is Joe Average is just too willing to give up their information for the smallest of perks, be it filling out a personal survey to win an iProduct, or swiping their supermarket member card at every transaction to save a few percent.

Re:Good luck with that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162761)

there is a tighter argument

it continues to be in someone's interest to do so. and once someone does these things acrete.

so really its already happened

Slashdot's contribution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162643)

They keep a database of people who actually read the OP.
zero rows so far.

Electronic stalking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162657)

A few successful big dollar lawsuits against these companies for stalking would be awesome.

Better still would officers of these companies going to jail for same.

Melodrama (1)

robot5x (1035276) | about 2 years ago | (#41162713)

'Database of RUIN'?? Sounds like Paul Ohm is desperate to call first dibs on buzzwording the 'big data' phenomenon.
In any case, the potential nefarious uses of 'big data' are pretty clear. Since this is one of the greatest profit-making devices large corporations have discovered in recent years, it's hugely unlikely that ordinary people can 'stop' it via normal means.

Seems to me like personal cash purchases are the way to go wherever possible. But also (and I know, wrong place to say this) - is there not an argument to increase awareness amongst IT professionals about the impact of their undoubtedly excellent technical work in making all this happen?

The crash... (3, Interesting)

Genda (560240) | about 2 years ago | (#41162849)

Of human culture colliding with human technology. As long as we continue to honor our lowest primate drives, then the amplifying effect of technology will generate results with greater and greater negative impact. The good news, is that such circumstances would be unsustainable, precisely because they would be socially unacceptable. At some point human beings will communicate at the speed of thought through imbedded technology. Secrets will become passe even impossible. Humanity will have to evolve into a species that is capable with dealing in absolute truth, and it will not be a society any of us recognize today.

But who will use this database ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162869)

This takes place at a job interview.

recruiter: you download nasty porn daily

me: you downloaded full Justin B. discography last week ... interview back to normal

Re:But who will use this database ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41162937)

That scene won't happen. For the simple reason that you'll not even be invited to the job interview. Without being given the true reason. Instead something general like "there are too many people applying to the position, so unfortunately we had to make a selection."

Dumb (1)

kyrio (1091003) | about 2 years ago | (#41163033)

This is the dumbest article I've ever read.

THE BEAST (1)

cforrester (2474734) | about 2 years ago | (#41163079)

dangit dale i thought i told you to quit postin this stuff on thuh inter-net

I posted this yesterday on a different story, but, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163111)

It's now patently obvious that Ted Kaczynski was right.

cash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163165)

cuz what you buy is nobodys damn business but yours

captcha: openly

Database of valueless data (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163173)

If Facebook is anything to go by, Big Data = Big useless data.

Appealing to ethics is utterly futile here (4, Insightful)

Sarusa (104047) | about 2 years ago | (#41163199)

Realistically, you have to look at a Wal-mart or a Bank of America or a Progressive and ask 'Are they really going to hold back on egregious privacy violations just because it's icky?'

The answer, of course, is hell no. As Corporate People they're rapacious sociopaths who'd happily burn puppies or African orphans to death for a few extra cents of shareholder value. There is no possible appeal to ethics here, the best you could do is appeal to possible corporate black eye that would outweigh the profit. Which I don't see.

And then of course there's Homeland Security with their Spy on Everyone Echelon type initiatives and fat pipes right from the heart of every telecom company.

Your Database of Ruin already exists somewhere(s). You've just got to assume it does and figure out how you deal with that.

techno-deterministic dystopianism; a false premise (3, Funny)

bigmammoth (526309) | about 2 years ago | (#41163441)

I think we already seeing the initial phases of this. Non-totalitarian societies will adjust and normalize to be more accepting of digressions, and otherwise damaging historic and contemporaneous behavior which will be more transparent for more and more people. What seems like absurd levels of privacy violation today / yesterday, will be taken for granted in the future / present.

To the extent of increased personal hardship from these databases; in non-totalitarian societies its unlikely to result in significant transition towards worse ( or better ) treatment of people outside social and political norms. People outside social norms have been "abused" in small circles for ages; in a larger more "anonymous" society the abuse is built into other layers of the social fabric ( id cards; state oppression etc ); Not to say all circles are created equal; but techno-deterministic dystopianism is a false premise. Technological social changes are bound to the societies in which they take place.

Within "our" global "democratic" "free market" capitalism context the macro implications of concentrated power being able to better micro manage public opinion with powerful tools for life pattern recognition models; may be more problematic then direct loss of privacy abuses that the article outlines. That is to say; all our search for "personal" connections with others may be easier to be mediated. i.e an online video chat "hang out" support group which is moderated by an inquisitive supportive digital agent. That in addition to connecting us to exactly who we needed to talk to and giving us heart felt sense of well being in the short term; is simultaneously creating voids in meaningful existence by commoditizing your values towards particular life style choices, entertaining distractions, and consumption habits that don't enable a sustainable social structure.

Where by every piece of information we look for and every social connection we make is mediated towards these "a-political" life style choices bounding political discourse and participation making it impossible to regulate such abuses enabling increasing concentration of power etc.; there-by creating a vicious cycle in which our autonomy is transformed even more dramatically then in the previous century of mass media consumption.

... But this is far from pre-determined, and these crude statistical models geared toward increased consumption of tomorrow; may in the near future give way to more holistic pictures of who we are with the disposal of much more computational resources and vastly more connected data about our increasing transparent existence. Independently of a slide towards totalitarianism; these databases and cognitive pattern recognition systems; could just as well support connections and social bridging of a cornucopia of personal identities; histories with digressions; and everything in between. If we expand access to build these system with human values we wish to amplify; it could just as well increase "freedom" "autonomy" and sustainable"well being" among the techo-societies participants.

Obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163467)

Whoever wrote this has never worked on real big data projects.

I work on big Data warehouse and business intelligence projects all the time.
We're lucky if people have data well enough organized to calculate sales by district by month.
And you're worried about people finding out thinks about you that even you don't know?

First of all, you can pay cash (or eMoney, many forms of which are essentially untraceable. I use Japan Rail's mobile Suica to pay for lots of small stuff. The card has a serial number, but it's not registered to a name...). I don't use loyalty cards when I buy things like condoms or medicine.

It's not particularly easy to connect different databases of different designs behind different firewalls either, even when you want to on purpose.

Also, I use amazon.co.jp, but I buy all KINDS of stuff. Stuff for my girlfriend, presents for my friends, stuff my boss asked me to get, etc. If they try to analyze that, what is it going to tell them about me? "He likes paper-clips, tampons, USB flash memory, and paper." Whoop di doo.

I actually will be really interested and entertained to know that their analysis reveals!
In fact, I propose a deal - I will let them do whatever analysis they want on my data, as long as they show me the results (like Google's Latitude Dashboard).

Just coz they can put a product.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163475)

...in front of me that I'm likely to need, when I need it most, and when I'm most willing to buy it, doesn't mean I'll choose to buy it *from that vendor*.

Chances are I'll think, 'yes, I do need that! Thanks for the tip - I'll go somewhere else and get one.'

Beware the forest (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41163617)

class action lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and media firestorms
Oh my!

Unless this guy goes out and actually out competes everyone with the database of ruin, none of the above seems like a good enough incentive to prevent one from being created.

Educated, but naive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41164079)

For someone educated enough to write in Harvard Business Review, it amazes me how naive Paul Ohm must be to imply that companies saying 'no' is a realistic or even believable option. Anyone who believes that anything they do might make companies or governments take a moral stand is destined for disappointment. I wouldn't go as far as saying that they deserve to be exploited, because they don't, but anyone so naive is almost certainly going to end up so.

No Worries, Mon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41164199)

You are far more likely to be on the database of neglect or the database of annoyance long before the door to your closet gets opened. If you haven't learned to your lesson by being a victim of id theft or being a product you get what you deserve.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>