At the bottom of this post are instructions if you want to do the same:
Big Data about people = stereotyping and prejudice
Recently in my work for LevelBusiness I’ve been learning about big data. It’s powerful, amazing and fun tech, and it’s all about stereotyping. As we all learned in primary school stereotyping, and it’s flip-side prejudice, are generally bad things that often lead to bad ends.
Big data involves boiling down vast data sets into actionable conclusions. Big data gets dicey when the topic at hand is people rather than things. The conclusion about people are of the form:
- persons a,b,c…. are likely to be pregnant.
- this set of people are often left-leaning (this TED talk on filter bubbles is worth watching).
- this people in this neighborhood claim more frequently on their insurance.
Then the actions are respectively:
- promote baby products to this group.
- only show certain search results to this group.
- decline to insure this group.
The critical but often overlooked point as that these grouping are always just probabilities based on the underlying data set. For example, Amazon infers your religion based on the wrapping paper you buy. They don’t know for sure that your are Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh, but they think that they have enough evidence to make it worth their while to treat you as if their assumption is true. This is the definition of prejudice:
Prejudice (or foredeeming) is making a judgment or assumption about someone or something before having enough knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy, or “judging a book by its cover”.
Prejudice + Hearsay = No Good
Every company needs to get to know its customers. But when every internet-using person is your customer you have to take care to be responsible about what conclusions you draw from your vast data sets and what actions you take based on them. Google may or may not be up to this task, I think this remains an open question. What bothers me though is the following clause in the new Google Terms and Conditions:
We have a good faith belief that access, use, preservation or disclosure of such information is reasonably necessary to (a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request…
Adam Levin’s of the Huffington Post’s analysis clarifies the risk:
Hold on, Bucky.
What exactly constitutes an “enforceable governmental request?” This sentence should read: “We will share information with a Governmental entity only when presented with a valid search warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.” Such a provision would make it obvious that by giving information to Google, you do not intend to waive your constitutional rights, and it would make it clear that despite the fact that your information was shared willingly with a private sector entity, you reasonably retained an expectation of privacy against Government intrusion.
In other words, Google is stereotyping you, and then not only are they acting on that prejudice but they are saying that if a government comes calling then they will happily share what they think they know about you. If you have even the slightest distrust of government, your own or any other in the world, then this should worry you.
I know, this data-driven stereotyping and prejudice is happening all over the place, but that does not mean it’s good or safe. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to be a willing sheep in the process. That’s why I’m switching away from Google as my default search service. I don’t want to feed more of my data into their prejudice machine.
Here are instructions if you want to do the same.
How to make DuckDuckGo your Default
Instructions from http://seodesk.org/address-bar-awesome-hacks/
- Chrome: Right-click the Chrome Omnibox » in the last entry fill the search engine name and keyword and copy/paste the URL http://duckduckgo.com/?q=%s » click on ‘make default’. (Alternatively you may add DuckDuckGo with suggestions to your search engines’ list and make it your default engine).
- IE: Enter DuckDuckGo hompage » click on the left arrow and select DDG from the sub-menu ‘Add Search Provider’ » check ‘Make this my default search provider’ » click on ‘Add’. (As in the previous example you may set DDG with suggestion as your default engine).
- Firefox: Type ‘about:config’ in the awesome bar and press ‘enter’ » confirm the declaration » type ‘Keyword.URL’ in the filter box » copy and past the following URL https://duckduckgo.com/?q= » click ‘OK’ and close this tab or window.You can also install the DuckDuckGo search plugin here.
- Opera: Right-click the DDG search box » Select ‘Create Search’ » type your preferred keyword » check ‘Use as default’ » click ‘OK’. (Note: Adding DDG and suggestions is more complicated and described here).
- Safari: Enter DDG hompage » click on ‘Add to Safari’ » follow the instructions.