There has developed a concept within information management the experts call 'Big Data'. It has become a still more urgent phenomenon as information of any kind is posted online to such a degree that no one can grasp how much there is and what it can cause.
In fact, information should be used only for what is intended. This means tests, control or update in the proper context and the using the sources, which from the beginning has been the point of digitization. Access to use should also be limited to people being the reason for things placed online.
That’s not how the game is played these days. The digital world behaves as allowed to, and few remember to place the proper access conditions limiting availability. Even if you try, there is always something not getting added. We are simply not aware of the consequences it has linking date information. There is too little transparency regarding all the data we leave floating around in cyberspace, voluntarily or forced to do so. I will comment a bit on that.
The latest example to remind us of this new type of risk is the misuse of knowledge about credit card information in Denmark. The idea of the big greedy American investment bank Goldman Sachs eating the way into our credit card administration, NETS, seems to worry us less. The most embarrassing is almost that the administrators were aware of the risk of leakage around the credit card handling but just did not do anything about it in time. We must hope they do not treat the secret personal bank entries with the same carelessness. The government is now thinking of depriving NETS concession for data handling.
Abuse will take place wherever there is a chance. That much is clear. The unethical behavior of our leading gossip magazine will regretfully over time most likely belong in the more curious end of that spectrum.
While eagerly discussing the Danish scandal on the media front, there seems to be a cancellation of an international action on data monitoring. The U.S. Central Intelligence NSA tap information wherever they can, but these matters are harder to deal with in a debate because of secrecy in the intelligence services, and so it is impossible to get to know anything on this.
We obviously cannot claim anything here because a number of small nations’ security is tied to the more radical and expensive intelligence the U.S. is doing. Who knows, maybe we will need the help of the Americans later if it comes to our own national security? No one really want to confront Big Brother.
I remember the joke with a picture of a boy who talks to President Obama. They have added balloons where the boy asks 'My dad says you are spying on us online?' and Obama answers 'He's not your dad'.
Edward Snowden got in trouble as a whistleblower and now resides in Russia. I am among those who think Snowden did the right thing, even if he has to pay the price. It is in the cards. Employees of the Guantanamo detention center who also got remorseful and leaked information now leads a life as de facto excluded from the U.S. labor market because of their outspokenness. Conscience you must keep to yourself, especially living in powerful nations.
Conventional national wars seems more and more distant in our part of the world, everyone seems to agree, regardless of the rattling of weapons in Ukraine. What we may risk, however, are attacks on our data communication systems. If hackers have managed to sabotage the data communication we are all of a sudden bad off, and there is ongoing research into how to prevent this while presumably there is an equally intense research into using the paralysis of the data communication of others offensively.
Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are excellent for spreading a message and effectively gather people for a spot action or demonstration, but the effect is short-lived. These manifestations from the grassroots miss the coordinated action that should follow, because they just do not have any management structure, which can make sure to organize the subsequent required hard work.
However, the web can be used as a hub for minorities or individuals struggling for recognition. In Cambodia, human right defenders use the internet to keep in touch, and since they are already organized, digital platforms provide a beneficial function to assemble and maintain the commitment.
In China, a few dissidents are imprisoned for their critical expressions or statements. Even if you have to switch servers, attention on the web help people keep in touch and make it harder for the authorities to continue incarceration because the bad publicity in itself becomes a burden on the system.
I saw a documentary about the Chinese artist Wei Wei for long kept in house arrest. His installation art deeply respected in art circles in the West reminds us that in the right hands and with proper purpose art can still have an important social function. You are often unsure about that when it comes to Western art frolicking through experiments but without any substantial content or commitment.
I come to think of my participation in the recent meeting with the art rights management company Copydan, where there were also a few lectures programmed. In one of them was presented disturbing perspectives about combining data information that both can be abused and used for the benefit of people, for example in the treatment of diseases. It’s called Big Data. No one knows how it will affect individuals or larger groups we are part of, but changes will occur.
An example used in the demonstration of Big Data in the field of diseases has been Google's warning of influenza epidemics. Google stores people's Internet searches and by going back and examine the prevalence of keywords or combinations of these, one can see how they follow influenza spreading over time and geographic locations. There may even be a kind of warning service, as the more conventional statistical records are working later in time, and just when it comes to epidemics, time is a key factor when it comes to organizing counter efforts.
An important issue in disease treatment is administration of medicine. With large amounts of data available, you can more easily decide the optimal dose in proportion to the individual patient based on diagnosis and treatment results from a large amount of precedent. An example here is the optimal treatment of prematurely born babies.
When Steve Jobs got cancer, he could draw on a wealth of statistical data to refine the treatment, and some would argue that it helped to prolong his life by several years.
Another important consequence dealing with vast amounts of information is that you can find correlations between events or subjects that not suspected to exist by following the old channels on causes and effects. Here the statistics show means to investigate further.
At the same time distribution of power around the use of data change. Previously most of this kept within institutions registered. Now the use of these new digital platforms for statistics come in as an important supplement, and in the hands of very different users than those who previously had almost a monopoly on such things, so there is also a shift of power within information management.
Another aspect of the availability of lots of data from time passed is a reduced ability to forget actively. We humans tend to change our self-concept towards a more acceptable image of ourselves but also of our closest contacts and our environment more generally. It helps us to move on in life, as we forgive others and eventually displace or reduce a negative experience or perception. Historians are skeptical about these mechanisms and Big Date in the future will come to their aid but become a burden for people with things in their past they would rather forget. Old messages will be pulled forward and tell what individuals were careless to say a long time ago. Perhaps here we have some of the more unpleasant aspects for the individual.
In the film 'Minority Report' a person is convicted of a crime he did not commit, but which he most likely was going to commit, calculated according to statistical data of which society is obviously very confident - sometime in the future.
A preliminary prelude to this scenario are the 'No Fly' lists from airline companies. At the airport, you risk not being allowed to fly because the statistical profile on you indicate that you are too risky to have on board as a passenger.
In return, you may as a prisoner be released, because your profile shows there is minimal risk that you will again commit a crime. In return, similar mechanisms could help the police to streamline efforts against criminal activities.
The other day I saw a program about fraudulent influences through social media. Many believe that 'like' messages on Facebook is an advantage, or that the mentioning of a product on Twitter is a recommendation, but 'likes' can be purchased in bundles of tens of thousands in some parts of Asia. Good publicity on Twitter explained by a company offering gifts to well-known persons who then on their status recommendation give a product an enhanced reputation.
Some of all this dubious accumulation of info on the web, we can, after all, influence ourselves. We should all do what we can to limit the available information about us in cyberspace.
Nevertheless, we gladly fill in boxes on Facebook and Twitter about who we are and what we do. We have in a sense ourselves to blame when we now know that the U.S. intelligence agency NSA and a lot of others are oriented about such information and take account of them or use them as they see fit. Who would dare to place their computer documents in a Dropbox in the cloud when the information is checked automatically for the use of hazardous keywords?
I considered at one point to terminate my free G-mail account with Google but abstained from that decision. The very feature that I myself am using keywords to find an old file is, after all, important to me.
I avoid putting copyrighted material out on Facebook, because I know that I leave the rights to use them to others. The other day, when Facebook had some anniversary, some old customers received a greeting with a mechanically compiled show with personal information they had in the course of time posted online. Many charmed by this, some were perhaps a little worried.
We know by now why our mail program, search and social networking seems to be free. Providers make profits on the information they can sell to advertisers frolicking in the column to the right with exactly the offers that they believe will be of interest precisely to me. With some weak souls it may work. When I happened to see that dating companies presented themselves there - perhaps even as advertising in the string of postings - I cannot help but think that maybe someone have discovered that I am currently single, a fate more people will be happy to help me overcome.
Not long ago I saw the excellent movie 'Disconnect'.
Still, you have to kiss many frogs to find a prince. My princes are not high school movies, romantic comedies or violence ballets with action or superheroes. It is contemporarily relevant dramas performed with professionalism, and usually the prince is American. Over 95% of all frogs also come from over there.
Disconnect is such a gem which over three parallel storylines describes the problems you can get online by visiting obscure chat rooms, both for youth and adults. You can build a fictitious identity and nasty classmates can trick a lonely boy into believing that he is chatting with a sensitive girl and thus lay open his deeper emotions.
On the web, you cannot only create fictitious identities you can assume other people's identities as well. The motif of identity theft not developed fully in Disconnect, some lose all their money and cybersex and cyber bullying are strong themes in the film. It also focuses on the problem of journalistic source protection and the risk of vigilantism, rarely questioned in American film, rather the opposite.
All in all, an unusual recommendable movie that I was extra happy to see with my teenage daughter who could be more at risk than myself. Fortunately, she is smart and careful with everything she does and handle responsibly her social network. As a father, you become a little proud when your children are socially robust and behave sensibly.
Control of the Internet is something that many agencies want, but it is hard. Although the paternalistic China struggle to prevent unpleasant information circulating among the users.
A frequently used feature to control is searching for keywords. One should be cautious about using words like sex or paedophilia, because there is most likely a search engine somewhere that intercepts your statement if you use certain words.
You can also search for specific types of images. There are rumors that you can make a statistic about the amount of sex sites on the web by doing a survey of the prevalence of pink pixels. It might be a joke, but you try and error with statistical tests on the various search models. Statisticians know how much background information they need if they are to draw conclusions with sufficient probability.
The contemporary matter with the leak from NETS and the abuse from a gossip magazine is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg. The development will undoubtedly lead to more examples on how we feel abused online.