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Opinion Quinnipiac Social Media Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 13 – ICM 552 – Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten

Right to Privacy vs. Right to be Forgotten

In 2014, a European Court of Justice ruled that there is a right to be forgotten on the Internet. Essentially, searches can remove older information if –

…the data appear to be inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive in relation to the purposes for which they were processed and in the light of the time that has elapsed.

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.

There is no such ruling in the United States. As Jeffrey Toobin put it in The New Yorker

In Europe, the right to privacy trumps freedom of speech; the reverse is true in the United States.

But why?

The Balance Tips Toward Privacy

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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.

Remedies

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.

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Opinion Quinnipiac Social Media Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 – Privacy and Big Data

The Price of Handing Over an Email Address

Quinnipiac Assignment 12 – ICM 552 - Privacy and Big Data
The old MSN Hotmail inbox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Quinnipiac Social Media Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 552 – Net Neutrality

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 552 – Net Neutrality

It’s been in the news, on and off, for the better part of a decade. It’s all about equal (maybe) access to the Internet for all. It’s Net Neutrality.

After all this time, it’s still a difficult concept to get across. So here’s what it is, according to Stuart Leung of Forbes:

“Net neutrality is the principle that suggests maintaining what we have now—an internet that, according the FCC’s own Open Internet page, ‘uses free, publically available standards that anyone can access and build to, and [that] treats all traffic that flows across the network in roughly the same way.’

Net neutrality proponents want to keep the internet as free and democratic as possible.

Those who are against net neutrality argue that businesses—like Comcast and Time Warner—have every right to offer enhanced services to those who want to pay for them. In fact, the FCC’s proposed updates to allow just this kind of ‘two-tiered’ system sparked the current debate.”

The concept is, essentially, that cable companies and other gatekeepers should not be in charge of deciding who gets which message faster. All Internet data should flow freely, smoothly, and in more or less the same way. My million-person interstate Candy Crush tournament should be delivered as quickly as your local town hall political debate as should our neighbor’s logging into his local unemployment website and as fast as a person on the other side of the country bidding on old comic books on eBay. Plus, of course, there’s your Aunt Sylvia who’s streaming Netflix.

Who’s for it?

Nearly all consumers, it seems. According to Forbes, a good 76% of those surveyed by Ask Your Target Market were in favor.

“76% of those surveyed said that internet service providers should not be able to differentiate between high-bandwidth services and other online data.”

However, some of the questioning was weighted rather heavily in favor of Net Neutrality. Survey respondents were also asked the negative, e. g. whether they thought that ISPs should be able to “block, slow down, or charge extra for high-bandwidth services.” When it was worded that way, understandably, only 10% of consumers thought that was a good idea. But what if they had been asked whether it was a good idea to charge less for lower-bandwidth services?

At the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel came out in favor of it. Per vanden Heuvel,

“The importance of preserving net neutrality should be obvious. A tiered {faster speeds for the rich, slower speeds for the poor} Internet will be great for the profits of telecommunications companies, but terrible for entrepreneurs, stifling the kind of innovation that can build massive followings before ever leaving the garage. Not only will big corporations gain an advantage, but also a small handful of them will have the ability to actively interfere with their competition: An Internet provider that offers its own phone service could block access to Skype, for example, or a cable company could disrupt Netflix’s streaming service. Worse yet, sanctioning the creation of ‘fast lanes’ could lead to online discrimination, with the providers choking off controversial views to protect their financial or political interests.”

However, vanden Heuvel doesn’t seem to be taking into account that this stuff’s not free. Speedy Internet needs maintenance, engineering, and good old electricity to run. While a slower ‘net also requires that, the wealthy can (and possibly should) shoulder more of the costs of it. But shouldn’t they get something for their troubles? Or should the cost be spread to everyone? If that’s the answer, then look for your bills to rise.

Who’s against it?

Probably the best-known face of the opposition is presidential candidate Rand Paul. But so is Forbes‘s own Joshua Steimle. Steimle notes that the new Net Neutrality rules essentially add governmental control (hence Rand Paul’s main objection). Steimle also says that one of the bigger issues is a lack of competition. Consumers generally have Internet choices that devolve to a phone company or a cable company (per Computerworld, over half of Americans have only one choice for high-speed Internet access). Verizon FiOs only exists in some major markets and it’s unlikely to be expanded. But whose ‘fault’ is this? If cable and phone companies, or Verizon, are having trouble competing in some markets, isn’t that how the free market is actually supposed to work? Better competitors stay in business; those which can’t compete, don’t.

But getting back to the government’s involvement. Per Steimle, putting the government squarely in the midst of how the Internet is delivered could turn into a privacy issue – and the US government doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation for preserving people’s privacy (in all fairness, neither does Facebook). But since when did evening out data speeds translate into online snooping?

Steimle also feels that freedom is being curtailed, and that the government, which has started unsupported wars and even placed people into internment camps in the past isn’t necessarily the greatest guardian of individual liberties. But citing FDR’s policies, which were in force over 70 years ago, seems like Steimle is clutching at straws. Yes, the government’s done some rotten things. It’s also done some great ones. Anyone can cherry-pick this argument as they please.

What Makes Sense?

Perhaps the two most vital ways to address this matter are –

  1. Even out the playing field when it comes to hardware. Yes, hardware! This means digging up the ground and putting in state of the art fiber optics all over the place, and not just in major cities. Does this help out FiOs? Yes and no – it would certainly better make their case for them. But if the hardware isn’t available out in, say, rural Kentucky, then the free market isn’t serving the people. If the hardware playing field is more level, then other playing fields can level out. After all, if someone who has the cash to purchase faster Internet speeds but the tools are just not there for them to buy, then it’s as if they’re unable to afford them. The effect is identical.
  2. Make it easier for companies to compete. This should happen with access to better hardware all around. As Steimle says, a lot of this situation is the fault of telecoms not competing in a truly free marketplace. If consumers have choices, they will vote with their wallets, and for better service. But right now, too many consumers have no choice, or an illusory choice (between two large companies) in the matter.

Upgrade the infrastructure. Add consumer choice. And, I feel, a lot of the fight about Net Neutrality will go away.

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Opinion Quinnipiac Social Media Social Media Class

Quinnipiac Assignment 10 – ICM 552 – The Future of Big Data

The Future of Big Data

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.

Special Prices

The Future of Big Data
English: first-degree price discrimination Español: Discriminación de precios de primer grado (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

First Degree Price Discrimination

Everybody on the airplane is subject to what’s called ‘first degree price discrimination‘, which, according to Adam Ozimek of Forbes, “involves charging every individual customer a price based on their individual willingness to pay.”

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.

Pervasiveness

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.

More Unfairness

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?

Bias

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?

Selection Bias

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | The Future of Big Data
Mentions of Tsunami on Twitter versus Germanwings, data taken from Topsy, March 31, 2015.

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.