Data mining fears are costing lives, Google's Larry Page says
Google faces an uphill battle if mining healthcare data is on its agenda. There's already a perception out there that Google knows too much, and when you delve into the highly personal sector of healthcare, it's hard to imagine there being much public support. However, Google's Larry Page says that his company could save as many as 100,000 lives next year by mining healthcare data. If true, might that change your mind?
Besides the money Netflix offered up its subscriber data, which included their viewing recommendations and choices, but didn’t include names. Netflix believed it had protected the identities of its subscribers this way. With no names it would be impossible to identify any single person in a crowd the size of Netflix’s subscriber base.
That was the theory anyway. Two computer scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, Arvind Narayanan and Vitaly Shmatikov, rolled out a paper in early 2008 that showed you could in fact identify individual subscribers from Netflix’s data. With privacy compromised the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in, and as Netflix refused to back down on its contest, the FTC sued to protect subscriber privacy.
Netflix blinked, and has announced that to settle the lawsuit it would withdraw its contest. Netflix says it will continue to refine how it handles recommendations, in cooperation with the research community, and will be more attentive to the privacy of its subscribers in the process.
There’s a bigger lesson to be learned here. We tend to be blasé about the data trail we leave while on the Internet. After all, our identities, we are told, are removed prior to any data sharing or mining. Turns out, no matter how big the crowd we are in, our individual identities aren’t necessarily protected. Something to think about.
Using the guise of shielding more of your personal information, and giving you more control over the information you enter into Facebook, it turns out that Facebook is actually making it harder, if not impossible, to shield your personal information, and is making more of that information available to others--whether you like it or not.
The bad, the EFF says, are the abysmal privacy settings recommended by Facebook. While prior default settings limited access to your networks and friends, the new default settings make your information available to everyone, everywhere. Lesson here, says the EFF, don’t accept Facebook’s privacy recommendations.
Still, it doesn’t much matter. EFF gets down to the ugly: a lot of personal information you could once shield is now open to the public, regardless of what you want. And not just your information, but the information of all your friends as well. Facebook says this information was never really private, or that it could be obtained by other means, or that users didn’t really care. EFF doesn’t quite buy Facebook’s explanations. And it worries, given the nature of data mining, the information about you available to anyone and everyone (including third-party app developers--whether you use the app or not), poses risks that you won't realize until it's too late.
For Facebook users it should be caveat utilitor. Facebook’s need to trade on your personal information appears to have trumped your concerns for privacy, so take care.