Data Anxiety

Tempus fugit


“Big Data, as a term with no clear definition, which serves as a marketing campaign for technology vendors, encourages people to put their faith in technologies without first developing the skills that are needed to use those technologies. As a result, organizations waste their money and time chasing the latest so-called Big Data technologies—some useful, some not—to no effect because technologies can only augment the analytical abilities of humans; they cannot make up for our lack of skill…”

Visual Business Intelligence - If Big Data Is Anything at All, This Is It Stephen Few

Secret e-scores »


Consumer purchasing-power scores, compiled from huge amounts of data, measure your potential value as a customer. But you’ll probably never learn your number(s). These metrics are very different from traditional FICO credit scores. There are two companies, e-Bureau and a smaller spin-off, Tru-Signal that sell this information to companies. Both are located in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The article describes this sort of predictive consumer analysis as being:

fueled by almost unimaginable amounts of data and powered by complex computer algorithms. The result is a private, digital ranking of American society unlike anything that has come before.

U.S. regulatory authorities are concerned, particularly the Fair Trade Commission. Consumer advocates, such as those with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, express a more general worry that federal laws have failed to keep up with the rate of change in the digital age.

This isn’t too recent (August 2012), but it remains relevant. Unfortunately, I think that the FTC is still concerned but hasn’t done anything about it.

* arctanh is my other tumblr. It is uh, messy.

Technology concentrates power


In the 90’s, it looked like the Internet might be an exception, that it could be a decentralizing, democratizing force. No one controlled it… But those days are gone.

Orwell imagined a world with a telescreen in every room, always on, always connected, always monitored… we’ve done him one better. Nearly everyone carries in their pocket a tracking device that knows where you are, who you talk to, what you look at, all these intimate details of your life, and sedulously reports them to private servers where the data is stored in perpetuity.

Each of us leaves an indelible, comet-like trail across the Internet that cannot be erased…  we have to track all this stuff, because the economic basis of today’s web is advertising, or the promise of future advertising. The only way we can convince investors to keep the money flowing is by keeping the most detailed records possible, tied to people’s real identities. Apart from a few corners of anonymity, which not by accident are the most culturally vibrant parts of the Internet, everything is tracked.

Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding, we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing. “High five, bro!”  We are shocked when the Ukrainian government uses cell tower data to send scary text messages to protesters in Kiev, to keep them off the streets.

We treat freedom and the rule of law like inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the fragile and precious treasures that they are. And now, of course, it’s time to make the Internet of Things, where we will connect everything to everything else, and build cool apps on top, and nothing can possibly go wrong.”

— An extract from Our Comrade The Electron, a talk from the Webstock Conference by Maciej Cegłowski, which is worth reading in its entirety. via new-aesthetic

Emphasis mine.

Millennials and digital affluents share data

This recent Intel Semiconductor study assumes that the more personal data is shared, the better. It is an odd survey, both subject matter and methodology. The primary, though not exclusive, intent is discovery of

the most compelling way to close the gap between those who will share and those who won’t… 

The following content is disturbing, given that the context is an Intel Public Relations study about millennials and technology.

Research revealed that it is possible to incentivize sharing by showing the specific benefits. For example, when asked if they would share personal information to lower costs of medications, the number of low-income consumers previously unwilling to share their data increases from 66 to 80%

Of course low-income (and high-income) people will pay whatever is necessary, whether the medium of exchange is currency or personal data, when in need of medicine! 


36% think technology should learn about their behavior and preferences when they use it.

So. That means that about 64%, maybe 60%, are undecided or don’t think technology should learn [sic] about their behavior. Yet this seems to say the opposite.

70% of millennials will favor… applications that watch their work habits and smart pills that monitor their health.

Monitoring of work habits is welcomed

  • 59% of millennials say people are over-reliant on technology, believe it makes users less human and desire technology that is more personal and knows their habits.
  • Individuals with high incomes are the most willing to anonymously share personal data, such as results of lab tests and travel information…and allow monitoring of their work habits.

Both findings are odd, as anonymity and surveillance are mutually exclusive.

* All emphasis mine.

Single-source AM radio and PGP encryption

In Phoenix, we have our very own time zone, Arizona Standard, The radio show that I listen to most often, WSJ in the morning, is on a local, terrestrial station, KFYI 550 from 4:03 to 5:00 AM. Yes, it really IS scheduled to begin at 4:03 AM AST. I enjoy that.

For those who aren’t on Arizona Standard Time, go have a look at the main WSJ radio program page. I was mildly surprised that the Wall Street Journal has its own radio network.

I like AM news radio

AM news radio seems to be the most timely yet validated news source. I have a theory about why that would be true: Radio broadcasts can be very quickly produced. This doesn’t apply to WSJ radio only! All good AM radio stations enjoy the same advantages.

A few more advantages

1. Television broadcasting is inherently less responsive, as there is more infrastructure and preparation required for video.

2. Accuracy on Twitter is so-so. I have been burned by that. It is embarrassing!

3. News reports delivered via the internet, as well as print news, require careful written composition. It takes time to do that correctly.

Yes, I am enthusiastic. In case you were questioning my integrity, wondering if I were a paid endorser, I had a related but separate motivation for writing this post. 

PGP Encryption

For those who have information to share, but wish to do so anonymously, or with the assurance of privacy, there is Wall Street Journal SafeHouse. It is unique, insofar as I know. I first found a link to the page in June 2011, so I can say with confidence that it isn’t a flash-in-the-pan response to recent events. That increases my trust.

The URL in my previous paragraph has the link to actual site. Access is via SSL or course. I am really impressed that the page is 100% free of any cookies! Rarest of rare: I could find ZERO evidence of UA-xxxxxx or any other g_ack style Google Analytics tracking!

EDIT  Oops, I misspelled my local Fox Talk Radio affiliate as KYFU instead of KFYI in my first version.

interesting while frightening and of questionable legality

This is an excerpt, and not intended as criticism of the author, nor of Facebook. The author is making a point about a new Facebook payment function. She is also emphasizing the importance of care regarding sharing of personal data. It is GOOD advice.

Patricia Handschiegel is not doing anything frightening, nor of questionable legality! I want to emphasize that.

I am not making any allegations that Facebook is doing anything of questionable legality either. What is happening as a result of Facebook is what I found frightening. Read on and I’ll tell you what I found questionable as far as legality.


There was an article today about Facebook testing a payment functionality for its users. 

What’s interesting is, a lot of companies that require or allow login via Facebook do some pretty crazy things with your profile from there, including software that not just scans your profile but the profiles of everyone you know, keywords or buzzwords usage set to identify things you might specifically talk about and all kinds of other things.

For example, a friend in the medical industry said that they now require job applicants to apply using Facebook login. Entirely because, from there software scans user profiles and everything on it, and the profiles of all friends and everything on them as well, which then notes any flags on any front, and largely determines whether or not someone gets the job. This includes the Facebook ‘friends’ users have friended that they do not actually know and vice versa. Some software is said to then also check out the friends of your friends, etc.

Not a lot of Facebook users probably know this but it is an interesting aspect of the news above regarding payments.


Facebook gives access to third-party apps. Facebook is not doing any scanning. Someone commented on Patricia’s blog post, saying that she was accusing Facebook of doing this scanning. She was not.

It may be ethically questionable to do this sort of collating of personal information for marketing purposes. It is not illegal. In fact, I was rebuked on Google+ for finding it objectionable by various erudite sorts, following a post by Professor Jeff Jarvis for praising this behavior in a sales context. Jeff Jarvis referred to a SUBSET of this data as “SMALL DATA”. I don’t know what is SMALL DATA versus BIG DATA.

I DO know that in the United States, it is not legal for Equal Opportunity Employers to require an active Facebook account as a condition of employment. Nor is it acceptable to use the results of such a scan as the primary criteria upon which to base hiring decisions.

Is Patricia’s friend correct? It is anecdotal. I hope it isn’t true.

Again, I am not casting stones at Patricia for writing a blog post about something an acquaintance told her.

“No. This isn’t good journalism. Although it is an opinion piece, the anti-government, pro-corporate bias is disturbing, and misrepresents reality. TechCrunch alleges that eight U.S. Congressman are behaving irresponsibly by sending a written list of questions “directly to CEO, Larry Page”.”

Comic XKCD Nails Google Glass Critics (Especially Congress) - reviewed by Ellie Kesselman - NewsTrust

The congressmen are DOING THEIR JOBS! They are supposed to protect our Fourth Amendment rights, and that is what they are doing! Google is a U.S.-domiciled company. U.S. Congressmen don’t need “to Google search” for information! The author of the article states that they “shouldn’t be permited” to address inquiries directly to the CEO of Google.

This is additionally irresponsible, as it is unfair to, and misrepresents Google. Google has not made a public statement regarding the questions, negative nor otherwise.

Apparently, TechCrunch is acting as self-appointed corporate advocate for Google (as well as misappropriating Randall Munroe’s xkcd webcomic, posting it without the requisite alt tag and text).

Going Bright

Wiretapping without Weakening Infrastructure


"Mobile IP-based communications and changes in technologies, including wider use of peer-to-peer communication methods and increased deployment of encryption, has made wiretapping more difficult for law enforcement."

Law enforcement wants to be able to have the same functionality used in the past, but for newer technologies. Two problems:

  1. Extending wiretapping to Internet-based services would result in even more security risks.
  2. It might have a negative impact on innovation.

The article suggests this as the solution:

"Law enforcement’s use of passive interception and targeted vulnerability exploitation tools creates fewer security risks for non-targets and critical infrastructure than do design mandates for wiretap interfaces."

Is it effective? I’m inclined to believe it may be. One of the authors is a well-regarded information security professional. He is temporarily working with the Federal Trade Commission, but will return to being a teacher. That’s an understatement! “full tenured professor in Computer Science at Columbia University” is more accurate. He also is a good friend of @TheRealSpaf, which is an indicator of integrity.

Source for excerpts:
S. Bellovin, M. Blaze, S. Clark, S. Landau, Wiretapping without Weakening Communications Infrastructure, IEEE Security & Privacy, January/February 2013 Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 62-72; DOI: 1540-7993/13/

Online Tracking Jumps »

Online tracking on 50 of the most-visited websites has risen sharply since 2010… The average visit to a Web page triggered 56 instances of data collection, up from just 10 instances when Krux conducted its initial study, in November 2010.

The article refers to results from Krux’s most recent study, in December 2011.

The use of (automated) online auctions by advertisers competing to purchase website visitor’s behavioral data is disturbing. Certainly the sharp increase in usage of this method is disquieting.

In real-time bidding, as soon as a user visits a Web page, the visit is auctioned to the highest bidder, based on… the type of page visited or previous web browsing by the user. To make the auctions work, advertising companies are racing to place tracking technology on as many websites as possible. That technology gives them user and Web-page data to sell.

A lot of energy and effort is being focused on what seems to be a shrinking pool of potential customers:

We’ve moved from a traditional advertising model of buying 1,000 impressions. Now you evaluate and buy a single impression.

This could be due to improvements in big data (“data harvesting”) and analysis methods.

It DOES seem odd to me, that for such a huge growth area as e-commerce, there would be competition at a single-user impression level. This is especially curious, given that it was three orders of magnitude higher, just a few years ago.


Is it due to a diminishing pool of potential customers? Fewer clicks on banner ads overall? Or something else that I haven’t even thought of.