miData All Around

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miOwn Interpretation

It’s been four months since I wrote miData Experience story where I talked about one of my accounts being hacked and how that led me to do some research about data privacy.

During this time, I’ve been on a quest to find out how data collection works and why it’s such a buzzword lately.

When I was writing miData Experience, I was reading a book by Hannah Fry called Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms, which I found fascinating. If you are interested in algorithms and how they are shaping different aspects of our lives, I recommend you give it a read.

What is the miData Series all about?

  • I am talking about data collection and the ethical questions to be considered.
  • How Internet giants shape the law and economics of the digital world.
  • How interfaces and interaction design are being used to attract and keep users.
  • What actions have been taken so far. And how all this has a big impact in our lives.

Why is this important to know?

In her book, Hannah Fry explains how data is used to predict people’s behaviours, consumer psychology and health problems. Most importantly, how algorithms are used in the justice system, in advertising and in health care. In addition, she also talks about the implications of building algorithms with human biases, and what happens when algorithms make decisions for us.

For the first time in history and with the advance in digital media, we have the technology to collect massive amounts of data about humans and the world we live in, which in turn has brought new ethical questions and legal considerations.

Data is being collected everywhere, and algorithms are using this data to predict usability, costs, risks, personality, etc.

Data companies are keeping track of our race, level of education, habits, social circles, social status, whether you pay your bills on time, whether you stay at home, how often you travel, or whether you are in a complicated relationship. These data points help companies make a very accurate assumption of who you are and how valuable you are for them.

Fifteen years ago we didn’t question whether or not to put our emails, our names or our photos online. Who would have thought that cyberbullying would be a thing? That one tweet could ruin your life or that years later, Facebook was going to be the platform to influence the opinion of millions of voters during the US elections.

Just as we didn’t think of the consequences of the digital tools that were being created decades ago, it’s hard to think how the current and future technologies are going to impact our lives in the next 10 years.

Why is this important to me?

I work in technology, I design digital products and I believe it’s my duty to help shape the world we live in and think ethically about the consequences of new technologies that have and continue to shape our world. It is my responsibility as a product designer to be part of a positive change.

I am not the only one talking about this. The misuse of big data and lack of regulation in privacy has been questioned many times before. By Edward Snowden when he outed the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013. By the works of Ann Cavoukian in developing Privacy by Design in 1995. By the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) created in 1978 focusing on the protection of personal data. By the enforcement of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018. By the Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) community which promotes privacy and security by offering transparency about how the code works. And even by TV shows like Black Mirror, with episodes like Nosedive that talks about a scoring system where everything we do online and offline rewards you with points. If you don’t think this is a reality, take a look at the current Social Credit System in China.

In 2014 and after Snowden disclosed the extent of the NSA with regards to U.S. intelligence collection, the Director of National Intelligence asked the National Academy of Sciences to assess the feasibility of creating alternative technologies to conduct targeted collection as opposed to bulk collection, that could still assist intelligence agencies with national security.

The research concluded that there is no software technique that will fully substitute bulk collection.

As Nsikan Akpan digital science producer for PBS NewsHour wrote in his article on metadata:

“…It’s difficult to know in advance who you should and shouldn’t be collecting data on, for the very reason that if you knew already, then you wouldn’t need any data in the first place.”

Why am I sharing this to the online community?

Because it’s happening right now and it’s forming our future. With the Internet of Things (IoT) still in development, it’s important to know how and why things are going in the direction they are. Billions of people are connected right now.

As a product designer, it’s my responsibility to educate about the interfaces and digital products that are shaping and changing our world and our perception of it.

Digital tracking is still a developing technology and the ethical questions are yet to be sorted out.

If our data is now part of our economy, then the law needs to adapt around it; data privacy is not just about personal information, it’s about individuality. People write their thoughts, ideas and feelings somewhere digitally, anything online can be misinterpreted and used against you.

If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them to have him hanged — Cardinal Richelieu

In addition, digital fingerprinting is very accurate “cross-browser fingerprinting, is a technique capable of successfully identifying users 99% of the time.” Even when using a VPN, recent development of these technologies makes it possible to track you and re-identify your device.

The development of new technologies that analyze and implement data algorithms have the potential to influence our behaviour. Big questions are being asked about how predictability will affect our options in the future to get loans at a bank or the cost of health insurance.

What can we do?

What we do now has an impact on the future of technology, law and the economy. We can request control and transparency, we can check what data is out there about us and decide whether or not we consent to the use of it.

The difficult part is to know where the right line is; to define right and wrong is difficult. The collection and analysis of big data helps predict, improve, innovate and prevent, but also removes individuality and has the potential to influence people’s behaviour. Where is the balance?

Here are some questions to keep in mind

Do you trust a company that can access your data, what you do and where you’ve been? Do you trust a company that can make accurate assumptions about you without ever talking to you? Do you know where the company is located? Do you know what the jurisdiction’s regulations are? How do you think this will have an impact on your future?

Disclosure:

This data series is merely a personal journey and research I’ve done for myself. Let this article allow readers to be more reactive about what they share through digital technologies.

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Product designer, post digital nomad, passionate about technology, art and design.

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Bettsina Walkinson

Bettsina Walkinson

Product designer, post digital nomad, passionate about technology, art and design.

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