Now, Phil and I had known each other for a few years. We met through LinkedIn.
We have never actually seen each other, in person. He’s not even on the same continent as I am. Yet I wrote the article all the same. It’s on Food Addictions and Treatments.
Now, did I expect fame and fortune from all this?
Well, I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be nice. But do I honestly think that empires will rise and fall based upon my one little article?
Of course not.
Karmic Wheel Spinning
But I think it illustrates the point I have made about collaboration. That is, sometimes you just up and do something for someone. And you do it because you just, well, want to do something for someone.
So that ends up a reward unto itself, is it not?
And by the way, I hope you do read the article. Because I think it’s the kind of thing that’s got to be written about. And it continues to shock me that other writers wouldn’t touch the subject matter with a ten-foot pole, as if it would give them cooties to talk about addiction. As if being at all sympathetic with people who are ill would, somehow, mean they were condoning those lifestyle choices or admitting that they, too, were imperfect.
Hey, I will shout it from the rooftops – I’m imperfect!
And if I’m not mistaken, the sky did not just come crashing down.
Go forth, and I hope you’ll collaborate, and do things for others. And the karmic wheel will turn for you, too.
According to The Boston Globe, Facebook announced in late April that, “its 1.3 billion users would soon be able to limit the information they reveal to other websites or mobile applications when they log in through their Facebook identities.”
The idea behind this move is to address users’ concerns about revealing their personal data just to check out a website.
The enormous social networking site is also considering making it possible for users to log into other sites anonymously. That is, the login would be anonymous to the other site, but not to Facebook. Because, of course, Facebook wants to gather (presumably) anonymous data for the purpose of aggregating it and better understanding user behavior.
One of the reasons why Facebook has grown so enormous (1.3 billion users) is because it reveals such intimate details to online businesses. Likes are routinely scanned. Birth dates are revealed. Even photos and friend lists are sometimes shared with outside businesses. The aggregation of quantitative data (we are studying this at Quinnipiac, in ICM 524, which is the Social Media Analytics class) is vital to any number of sites understanding people’s behavior on the web.
The truth is, any person who believes that any of their clicks are not being counted, timed, compared, or otherwise measured is in for a real surprise. They are. And this is not necessarily any sort of a bad thing, I might add. For data to be best understood, there really does need to be an awful lot of it. And what better site to bring a lot of data than the behemoth itself, Facebook?
The ruling is vague. It passes the individual judgment calls regarding relevancy and adequacy from the courts to the search engines themselves. In practice, because of its dominating market share, this European Court of Justice has almost ceded jurisdiction to Google.
In Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech; the reverse is true in the United States.
The Balance Tips Toward Privacy
In Europe, the balance tips in favor of privacy. And this is at the expense of the freedom of writing and oral expression. This is because of recent European history. On a continent where the memory of the Holocaust is still fairly fresh, courts remember. The Dutch government kept a comprehensive listing of its citizens. The list came from utilitarian motives. That is, there was a desire to maximize benefit, e. g. to provide a better delivery of social services. But when the Nazis came, they used that self-same list to track down Jews and Gypsies.
Furthermore, under Communism and its surveillance state, European individuals found their privacy rights violations. This was particularly by the Stasi in East Germany. Personal information had a use: to harm individuals and to pry into their private lives. Hence there is an overall mistrust of data gathering.
The Balance Tips Toward Free Expression
In the United States, it’s the opposite. Here, where the Holocaust did not directly come, and where the history of free expression goes back to Peter Zenger, the balance spills toward free expression. There is no ‘right to be forgotten’ law in America. And it seems unlikely that such a right would ever become recognized in the law. Instead, the push is in favor of expression. And if there is a take down request for an article, image, or website, it is on a copyright basis.
Parties with grievances must seek their own remedy. This is often asking a webmaster to take down an image, article, or link as a courtesy. Barring that, parties also will attempt to take over copyright. So they will demand a take down that way. Lawyers used this strategy when there were leaks of photographs of actresses Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence without authorization.
When Worlds Collide
Or, at least attitudes do. There is no world court or global consensus about the Internet. So Google and other search engines must comply with differing and potentially conflicting rulings. These will be about what can and cannot be in the index. As more courts get involved, they will impost dissimilar legal philosophies. Google’s attempts to be in compliance will get more and more complex. There is a very real possibility that search will splinter even more, and searchers in, say, Tijuana, Mexico would see different results from searchers 30 minutes away in San Diego, California. And, potentially, those searchers could cross the border and find suppressed (or not) information online.
For an international phenomenon like the Internet, this sort of parochialism probably won’t last long.
Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data
The Price of Handing Over an Email Address
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got when I was first surfing the Internet and beginning to understand the online community was to get a private throwaway email address. The idea was to use an online provider (I originally used Hotmail, and then moved over to Yahoo!) and not give out the address my husband and I had gotten when we signed up for our Internet Service Provider, Brigadoon. Brigadoon is long gone, replaced by several iterations and that service is now provided, in my home, by Comcast.
Eighteen years later, the Yahoo! account is one of my primary email addresses. Although my husband still uses the Comcast address, I almost never do.
It was an odd thing, back then, to use a separate address. We didn’t do this offline, e. g. neither of us had a post office box. Was it an unreasonable push for privacy in a marriage where we had vowed to be open with each other? Or was it a reasonable need for a separate space, almost like a separate set of friends or a man cave?
Of course, as we began to be spammed, I learned why this was such a good idea.
Throwaway Email Addresses
In fact, I also learned that using Gmail was better for activities such as job seeking. Now my resume sports a Gmail address, even though I still read most of my email via Yahoo!
But the throwaway address itself has become a more predominant one for me. And so now I am finding I don’t like it quite so much when it’s put out there.
LinkedIn and My Email Addresses
Once again, LinkedIn is a bit of a bull in a china shop when it comes to email addresses. I currently have several addresses on my account, some of which are no longer active. However, if I attempt to apply for a job through the LinkedIn site, a drop down menu appears where my email address will be added. There is no opting out. You have to pick an email address to be sent along with your application, even though it’s possible to communicate on LinkedIn itself. Your telephone number can be altered or deleted, but not an email address. You have to send one along to whoever posted the job.
Does this compromise privacy? I think it does, as there are a lot of reasons why I might want to remain a bit hidden when applying for a job. Employers are able to post jobs anonymously, but potential employees aren’t being given that luxury when it comes to applying for those same openings. It’s just another example of potential employees and their possible future employers not being on anywhere near the same level.
And maybe, just maybe, LinkedIn should rethink this policy, and give job seekers an opportunity to hide themselves better, at least when the initial application goes out.
What is the future of so-called ‘Big Data’? Big data is defined as being characterized by a large volume of information being (or able to be) analyzed by computers in an effort to comprehend human behavioral patterns. More often than not, the behaviors that are being observed and studied are related to either spending or voting.
I spent over a decade of my career as a data analyst so here are my predictions. Come along with me and we’ll go to ten years from now.
Have you ever struck up a conversation with a stranger on an airplane? If so, then at some point, you might have compared what you paid for airfare. For your trip to, say, Albuquerque, you might have paid $450. Your seatmate might have paid $250. The people in the two-seater across the aisle from you might have paid via frequent flyer miles, and those miles might have been obtained via flights that cost $1,000 or as low as $100. What’s going on here?
Now, you probably would have preferred paying $250 to $450, particularly when it seems that your seatmate’s experience is identical to your own. But you might not have been given the opportunity to do so. Or maybe you were, either by the time you were booking, or where you were booking from (either your IP address or where you surfed in from), and you didn’t know it at the time.
But here we are, ten years from now. And guess what? First degree price discrimination is the rule, and not the exception. You go to buy groceries, and you are shown choices.
Green bananas cost more than yellow ones, because you can store them longer, and so can the supermarket. A mixed salad costs more than the fixings not only because of the labor involved in putting it together, but also because you are willing to pay extra for the convenience.
You are offered the choice between a whole chicken and one that’s cut into pieces. Combine it with broccoli and pasta and you’re presented with offers for soy sauce or tomato sauce, and the prices are dependent not only on what you paid last week, but also on your spending habits. Are you more likely to cook Italian or Chinese style foods? That will also determine which prices you’re offered, as will the supermarket’s stock and the expiration dates for the sauces.
Messing with the System
You can really throw a monkey wrench into things if you step out of character and throw a party, and shop for it. Suddenly the system might think you have a dozen teenagers, based on all the pizza and chips you bought.
In some ways, it’s the electronic equivalent of an outdoor market. But instead of people haggling over rugs or spices, it’s the use of big data, as the supermarket attempts to predict what you’ll pay, what you’ll buy, and what will keep you coming back. How do you beat it? Current conventional wisdom is to clear cookies, surf privately, and be patient and watch for changes. But what if you need it now? And what if this is all happening in the grocery aisles or at the checkout counter? About the only things you can do are to pay in cash or put your purchases back, thereby opting out completely.
Here we are, still ten years from now. And there’s even more social stratification. The rich are richer. The poor haven’t budged much. The middle class is even more squeezed. Why?
This is another issue with big data – biases. So much attention is paid to the quantity of data that its quality can sometimes be overlooked, as can its relevance, or the reason for the quantity. Take the tweeting that goes on after a disaster. During the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bomber, all sorts of tweets came from Boston and Cambridge. But how many tweets are there currently about a tsunami (these disasters often occur in poorer countries, although not always) and Germanwings?
The bias is heavily in favor of more tweets about the Germanwings air disaster, versus an unspecified tsunami. When just looking at raw numbers, Germanwings looks like a far more important news story. But is it? Or is it just being tweeted about more because (a) it’s new (as of the writing of this blog post) and (b) it happened in the West, where there’s more use of Twitter?
It’s a bit of a selection bias, too, as readers might select or retweet information about the Germanwings crash as they’ve heard of it, and then more retweet and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that the information will continued to be spread at a more rapid rate than news of tsunamis.
Ten years from now, we might not even notice the selection biases going on around us, or that we ourselves have made. After all, we’ve told Facebook or its successor, and all news outlets, that news about, say, dolphins, is important to us. Hence we are served up more and more tales of dolphins, whereas stories of famine or elections or the like aren’t served up quite as quickly as we, and a statistically significant portion of our peers, continue to choose fluff pieces and familiar storylines over hard news, particularly if it’s about faraway places.
Make Big Data Smaller
How do we get off this train? Let’s come back to the present time. And let’s deliver hard news even if it’s not necessarily requested, because it matters. Let’s make pricing more transparent to consumers. And let’s look for reasons for data quantity and popularity that go beyond numbers. Just because there’s more of something, doesn’t make it better or more important. It just means there’s more of it.
Content Moderation isn’t as modern as you might think. Ratings systems are not new. Even before the internet, film reviewers like Siskel and Ebert would routinely award stars or thumbs up or down. Book reviewers would favor a work with placement in a well-known periodical, such as the New York Times Review of Books.
But there’s been a change. Reviews are now big business. Under social technographics theories, Critics encompass over 1/3 of all users online.
I believe that there are differing ethical considerations, depending upon the type of content under critique. There are fundamental differences between works of art and consumer goods and services.
Rating Consumer Goods and Services
For the rating of consumer goods and services, a lot of the measurements are quantitative ones. E. g. a size 10 shoe must be within certain length parameters. Those don’t change if the shoemaker is a large company or a tiny one-person cottage industry. The same is true if there is a promise for the manufacture of the shoe in a certain time frame. Either it’s delivered on time, or it’s not. The one-person operation and the huge multinational conglomerate both have the same seven-day week.
In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the contractarian ethical theory. This is whereby ethics are based on mutual agreement. So the shoemaker tells the consumer that the shoe fits a size 10. The consumer buys the shoe because they rely on the shoemaker providing a product within accepted length parameters. If the shoe is too long or too short, then the shoemaker is in breach.
There are subjective qualitative measurements as well. Is the shoe stylish and comfortable? Is it in fashion? Some of those variables are under the control of the shoemaker. Others, like the whims of fashion, are not.
But the reviewing of consumer goods and services is generally in the objective and quantitative realm. If the shoe isn’t in fashion, or the consumer doesn’t like the color, they don’t buy it. Reviewing after the fact is usually of fit, durability, and other measurable considerations. That’s not quite the case with works of art.
Rating Works of Art
For rating works of art, there is virtually nothing that’s measurable or objective or quantitative. While a film critic might dislike, say, the Lord of the Rings< films because of their length, that’s generally not the only reason a professional critic will supply. Instead, the critic will mention if the plot held their interest. They’ll mention if the characters were true to the source material. And if the actors’ performances were credible. Plus if a parent can safely take their children with them to the picture. About the only one of these review elements that is quantitative is the latter. And even the question of suitability for children is a subjective one.
Bucking for Improvements in Content Moderation
Further, a bad review for a consumer good/service can (should) lead to improvements. The company should try to make amends. According to Beth Harpaz’s article, Debate over ethics of deleting negative reviews, companies should actively try to improve their customer service after a complaint.
“TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said businesses are instead encouraged to reply to reviewers publicly on the site. It’s not unusual to see a negative review followed by an apology from a business detailing what’s been done to make amends.”
But no such option truly exists for works of art. A reviewer might hate scenes of the burning of Atlanta. Yet they won’t get an official new version of Gone With the Wind. So that’s not unless the reviewer personally edits the work. Even then, the edited version would be seen as unofficial and unsanctioned (and likely a copyright violation). All that the reviewer can do is (a) dissuade people from voting with their wallets for certain works of art. And, possibly, (b) convince the artist to try better next time.
For works of art, it’s more of the Eudaimonism theory of ethics – the well-being of the individual has central value. So, does the work entertain? So does it enlighten, uplift, or inspire? Gone With The Wind can. The Venus de Milo can. Shoes, however, cannot.
Quinnipiac Assignment 07 – ICM 552 – Wal-Mart and the PR Disaster on Wheels
In 2006, Wal-Mart got into major trouble when the company published a fake blog without divulging its origins or backing. Wal-Mart’s PR company, Edelman, apparently was behind the creation of an entity called Working Families for Wal-Mart (WFWM). In turn, WFWM put together the promo.
You have to be on another planet (or, offline) to not know about this. It has, most likely, been covered in the mainstream offline media by now (I don’t watch a lot of television, and I have not yet seen it in newspapers, but that does not mean it is not coming).
I am, of course, talking about the terrifically inventive charitable idea du jour – The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.
On July 31st of 2014, Pete Frates, who has ALS, challenged some celebrities, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, to what would become known as the ice bucket challenge. The challenge already existed, per the linked article, but the concept did not begin to gain viral social media traction until July 31st .
The premise is simple – either donate $100 to ALS research or douse yourself with ice water. You’ve got 24 hours and, once you’ve done either (or both), challenge at least three more people. The idea spread virally. A lot of people were pleased to see something other than Gaza and Ferguson in their news feeds.
ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a serious medical condition for which there is no known cure. It is a disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement. ALS is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Complicating matters is the fact that there are only about 30,000 or so people in the United States who are known to have it. Hence big drug manufacturers aren’t pursuing cures, as such cures and research are not profitable enough. It is essentially an orphaned disease.
But let’s get back to the challenge.
Purpose of the Challenge
I can come up with five purposes, and probably three (maybe four) of them were not the original ones.
Raise money for ALS research
Boost awareness of the disease
Lean on drug companies to pressure them to work on developing a cure
Lean on politicians to push them to pressure drug companies or perhaps pass laws subsidizing or otherwise encouraging research into orphan diseases
Hire a celebrity spokesperson (or more than one) to advocate for the victims of the disease
The challenge performs the first two tasks perfectly. Either you pony up the funds or you get soaked – and that’s all done on camera and is uploaded to social media. Most people reveal their choice on Facebook, which has over 1.4 billion users. The last three purposes are the kinds of things that this sort of attention can be used for. I do hope the big folks in ALS research don’t squander this opportunity, and try for all three.
Why is it Viral?
The challenge hits about every mark when it comes to virality. Here are some reasons.
It has a strong visual and auditory appeal. The dousing, the screaming, or even smug people signing checks and getting doused anyway – don’t underestimate how much humor there is in seeing someone getting their (allegedly deserved) comeuppance.
Humor is one component to virality, or at least it is one of the elements that is somewhat more likely to be present when any piece of media goes viral. By definition, the flipping of super-chilled water onto anyone’s head is going to be funny.
Another component that is often present in viral media is uplifting images, text, and actions. This is why Upworthy does as well as it does. When people write a check instead of dump water, they hit this mark instead. Either way, if they speak a bit about ALS, they also hit this mark.
Timing – initiating the challenge in January would not have worked as well. While people have been answering polar bear-style challenges for years, if you want to go viral, you want the majority to participate, or at least believe that they might want to participate. Selecting the month of August was brilliant, as this is either the warmest or second-warmest month in most years in the Northern Hemisphere. That is, the hemisphere where people are, in general, more likely to be wealthy and more likely to be online. In short, these were the people most likely to either participate in the challenge or at least watch videos of it and read articles (like this one!) about it.
Yet More Reasons
The second piece of timing is how it came when so many people had seen a lot about Gaza and Ferguson, as I stated previously. For many, the challenge was a welcome bit of good news in an otherwise dreary Dog Days of Summer media landscape.
There is an element of daring in it but, except for the elderly (Sir Ian McKellan notwithstanding) and the gravely ill, it’s not really dangerous. But do watch out for slippery floors. Yes, there are already blooper videos out there (many of them are NSFW; Google is your friend if you’re interested in such things).
Virality is baked right into it. One aspect of the challenge is to call out at least three other people and challenge them. Furthermore, they have 24 hours to respond either way. Hence you have added three more names. However, the names begin to repeat after a while. So the trebling of participants slows down, eventually shrinking a lot closer to a doubling of participants. The duplication of names also happens because most people run in somewhat small circles and share neighbors, friends, family members, etc. The 24 hour time limit plays very well into most people’s demands for more and more and different entertainment to consume, on daily, hourly, or even minute by minute basis.
Still More Reasons
Social media has shaped a lot of our behaviors, and the ice bucket challenge plays nicely into how ordinary people are finding out that they are now entertainers online. They have followers, and they are beginning to understand that they need to provide content for their followers. As a result, so many people are obsessed with taking selfies, or Instagramming everything they eat or wear. Because they know they need to provide content, but they’re stumped as to what to provide! The challenge provides a perfect prompt.
The involvement of celebrities added a cool factor. The involvement of all sorts politicians on the political spectrum allowed a way for political rivals to talk to each other. After all, who could be against trying to defeat a horrible disease?
The challenge has even spawned parodies and copycats. There’s the rice bucket challenge in India, the rubble bucket challenge in Gaza, and the Orlando Jones bullet bucket challenge. It’s a helluva clever campaign, and deserves all the props it’s been getting.
Amusing and upbeat, the challenge has, as of the writing of this blog post, raised over $50 million for research. Please give generously and, in the meantime, enjoy Bill Gates getting drenched.
In a statement, Bruins President Cam Neely said, “The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday’s game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization,”
Twitter is, I feel, a wonderful medium. But it also has a capacity for speedy publication of half-thoughts. It seems, sometimes, to be a nearly perfect medium for rapid fire hate speech. What, if anything, could be done? How could something such as this incident be prevented in the future?
Subban was targeted for his race. Certainly Bruins fans were angry about their team’s unsatisfactory outcome. Yet the response was absolutely and completely out of proportion to the offence. In fact, it was thoroughly misplaced. Disappointed sports fans of course have the freedom to speak their minds. There is really no law or rule against becoming emotional, or even incensed. Many, many sports fans have perhaps overly deep emotional investments in their beloved teams. But this was different. In this instance, Subban was set apart, isolated, and attacked for not the color of his jersey, no. Instead, Subban was the subject of Twitter fury due to the color of his skin.
What did Martin Luther King say? That he had a dream that, someday, his children would be judged, not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character. Unfortunately, that day is not quite here yet, it seems.
The #AmazonCart hashtag was officially introduced in early May, encouraging Twitter users who see tweets of products sold on Amazon.com to reply with the hashtag, which then puts those items in the users’ Amazon shopping carts.
The enormous online retailer’s website has detailed instructions on how to connect your Twitter account to Amazon.com, which is evidently a vital step in the process.
Would you do it? I’m not so sure I want people to see if I am buying lingerie, medical supplies, or self-help books. Imagine a potential employer seeing a purchase of cross-dressing supplies, or The Communist Manifesto, or any number of anti-aging products. What if I were investigating products to help me get a divorce, get through chemotherapy, or file for bankruptcy?
If I keep my age (and any attendant clues about it, such as my graduation years, or the earliest versions of software that I claim to be an expert regarding) off my resume, does not the purchase of menopausal relief supplies make it something that a potential employer could reasonably infer? Here in Massachusetts, a credit check is not supposed to be permitted. Yet if I purchase a book about improving my credit score, would not a potential employer put two and two together? Of course, there is the possibility that I am overthinking this (I have been known to do that before). But still!
Methinks the Internet already knows plenty about my spending habits. I can take the extra five minutes or so and use a regular shopping cart at Amazon. And no one will ever need to know I’m buying disco albums.