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Random Findings VII

“I want you to remember to have great strength and have great courage. There can always be a little bit of fear or nervousness, but courage overcomes that. Your desire to win, to be the best you can be, becomes greater than anything you fear. That’s courage. That’s how you do it.”

     – Kay Yow

Information Mining Essay, Uncategorized 1 comment on Encroachment in Information Mining Technologies – Part VII

Encroachment in Information Mining Technologies – Part VII

If we give the Internet legitimacy, then the users of the Internet will be better able to protect themselves. This will also help create better citizens within the Internet. These citizens must understand that they are involved in the creation of a new paradigm. They are creating the digital persona. They may identify themselves as this digital persona, but they also must understand the implications of their actions in the physical world. There also needs to be a focus on information education. We now have loads of information sent at us, but who can process it all? What does it mean if my credit score is below 600? Sure, I’ll buy that product I can’t afford because I have 3 months to pay it off. This kind of attitude will fail this generation financially, but the disconnect between having physical money, spending borrowed money, and earning credit prevents this generation from understanding the consequence of their actions. To know – the best defense against the information wave known as the Internet.

Of course, part of the ability to educate will come when more are involved in the Internet itself. It is generally a middle-upper class phenomenon. It requires computers, electricity, connectivity, and a general ability to spend time learning how to use. In many parts of the world, including rural areas of the United States, this just isn’t an option. Again, the least-advantaged are disenfranchised at the expense of the advantaged. Therefore increasing participation on the Internet will help in determining how information should be used. This is a global concern, but there isn’t a global dialogue.

Open dialogue will, I predict, improve the quality of browsing as well as the information that companies can glean. Most of us have nothing to hide, and as a result are more than willing to share our buying patterns in hopes of getting similar products that we will like. However, that same group does not want their credit card number released onto the Internet for anyone to use. Another element of the government’s participation is allowing the computers that the Internet runs on to be moved to international locations. America has no right to claim ownership over a global commodity like the Internet. Overall, participation is a key step to making sure that the use of information on the Internet is somehow regulated. If governments are unwilling to regulate, then the masses must do so.

I think that it’s important to note that just because the Internet is a technical entity does not mean that a technical solution exists to all of its problems. This is the issue of the silver bullet that we discussed in class. Technological fixes turn into an “arms race” of build, break, repair – repeat. Technologies such as tor and Anonymizer allow the user to hide from where they are browsing. This protects the user, but does not allow the company to better serve their client. Should the user have to lose on certain offers because they are afraid of being tracked? In today’s Internet, the answer seems to be yes. Better rules, better software can be written, but someone will break it, and the cycle will continue. Technology is the foundation of the Internet, not the solution of the information problem on the Internet.

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Encroachment in Information Mining Technologies – Part VI

But what if we just didn’t know? Couldn’t ignorance be bliss? The problem is that many are using the Internet without, “the cognitive ability to appreciate the possible consequences of disclosure of personal information” (Friedman and Thomas). Even something as simple as describing one’s daily route to school for a class project in following directions and then posting it online could potentially allow a stalker or harm doer to more easily make one a target. Beyond the web, imagine how one’s SIM card could be used in their telephone. Whenever you walk by the GAP in a mall, it will send you a text message with their latest sale offer (Friedman and Thomas). It can be scanned as you enter and exit so that there is a record of where you have been. Again and again, the trust between the user and anonymous continues to break down if we don’t know and understand the implications of sharing information digitally.

I still think that the academic community is looking too hard for experts to find the solution to these problems. This is a problem that needs to be solved by the masses. Where the experts can help is to understand whether the issues we are dealing with are inherent to the Internet or simply a function of computer software in general (Tavani). There needs to be an emphasis on better software design, this is true, but, in the absence of improved code, there needs to be an information revolution on the Internet. The users of this domain have to demand that their information be used within the limits they impose, and the companies need to respect these demands. The need to deliver the solution that aides the least well-off is important to ensuring that as the Internet grows, the information in it does not become a threat to our identity. Furthermore, the users need to become better educated about what they should and should not expose about themselves. Finally, there needs to be a greater sense of trust between users. The Internet shouldn’t be a playing field for harm doers. It’s up to the users to make sure that these issues are solved.

Being on the Internet is a tight rope act between finding what used to be unknown and leaving a trail where one can be followed. Constantly wiping out the trail behind you makes the process of “surfing the web” much more difficult, but is probably a necessary action in today’s Internet (Tips). However, even this done well might not be enough. The real solution is exposing the Internet for what it is, an elevator where everyone is listening even if they are acting as if they aren’t paying attention, and moving from there to develop a more participatory solution to the issues presented.

As I have stressed throughout most of this paper, I think that education is an important marker of progress in dealing with this topic. How can we educate about something abstract like the Internet? Bring it into our curricula and help develop good browsing techniques. Show students that the Internet isn’t about pornography, social networking sites, and online games. Create the paradigm of a digital identity successfully so that future generations are able to know the difference between their physical self and their online persona.

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Encroachment in Information Mining Technologies – Part V

This brings up the issue of protection and its relationship with privacy. In worldview 1, we let the church protect us. This evolved into a more state-sponsored role as worldviews progressed. In the next worldview, we might need to protect ourselves. Our identity’s are now what’s at stake, and something as large as the national government exists at too macro a level to be the protecting entity. It’s going to be an integral part of the new worldview to define how government and the individual co-exist. In many ways, governments are transcended by the seemingly limitless bounds of the Internet, and yet, it is the government that can best restrict our access and experience on the Internet. Should they be allowed to do so? Is China justified in blocking content with which the ruling party doesn’t agree? What about our government and its domestic spying practices? The argument from both entities is that they are protecting the masses from potentially harming themselves. If the goals were simply this altruistic, none would have cause to worry. However, it is often the case that information is misused and corrupted to serve a purpose. Can the government be trusted to not conduct a McCarthy-esque digital witch-hunt? The ability to protect an identity on the macro scale is too large a task. Therefore, I think that privacy and protection become roles relegated to the individual on a micro scale, and the government should set the guidance for proper governance of digitally gathered information.

Let me pause and define privacy. Privacy is, “an individual’s desire and ability to keep certain information about themselves hidden from others” (Fule and Roddick). The important thing to remember here is that privacy online delivers back to the individual their humanity offline. Protecting this privacy is a critical part of any future where reality and the Internet must co-exist.

Is it possible to data mine and exclude sensitive information? Fule and Roddick seem to argue that this can be done with improved rule sets for selecting data. Also, one has to understand the rules that they are constructing and see where potentially harmful information can be found. This is analogous to saying that we must predict that whatever we create can be used for harm and take every step imaginable to make sure the harms that we imagine cannot become reality. As has been demonstrated throughout the course, to completely think of every use of a product is impossible. Even if this were possible, their solution requires the user to interface with the data-mining algorithm to make critical decisions. Oftentimes, it is the user themselves who does not understand the information and its implications. This partial solution, and the derivatives that have come from it since, is the reason why I say that a technical solution is not possible.

I think that there are professionals in computer science who agree that this is a social issue that must be discussed. Above all else, it is an issue of identity (Woodbury). Am I willing to sell my identity for the convenience of anonymity? The key to answering that question is knowing. I have to know to whom I am giving my information, to whom they will give my information, and how anyone will use my information. Woodbury stresses that we cannot trust that Internet businesses will follow ethically acceptable business practices. It may not be in their best interest to secure user data, and as a result, the user’s information may be up for sale to the highest bidder. Knowing that, what are you willing to share? Your identity should not be a commodity sold to the highest bidder, but by doing business on the Internet, you are risking this exact issue. The consumer must demand from the company that their identity be protected.

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Encroachment in Information Mining Technologies – Part IV

There is a constant struggle to expand the circle of inclusion for ethical thought in discourse. This is often aimed at natural environments – animals, plants, ecosystems – but what about digital persons? With the development of games such as World of Warcraft and EverQuest and online communities such as Second Life, digital beings are becoming an integral part of people’s lives. What of our ethical domain transfers into this digital world? This question was debated when an early multi-user role-playing game had a user digitally control and rape other users (Dibbell). What did this mean? The community came together and discussed the issue, but was unable to reach a conclusion. An administrator of the game arbitrarily deleted the offender’s account. However, the question of ethical dimensions in a digital world was not answered. Do our physical ethics exist in a digital world? They must if the load of information that exists on the Internet is to be dealt with appropriately. We cannot lose the trust that we’ve built into our system of digital exploration, and this requires us to extend our circle to include our digital personas as well. Has this technology created more harm than good? Barbour warms that, “technology has created subtle ways of manipulating people and new techniques of electronic surveillance and psychological conditioning.” What will be the cost of these new techniques to our physical and digital personas?

I think that it is critical to look at how trust develops on the Internet, maintain this first pass, and then improve on it. When the ability to purchase online became an option, my mom refused to do so. Why? She didn’t think that should trust online retailers. How can one trust an individual who can memorize and then use your credit card, but not trust a machine that is built to protect your information? There was a barrier between the physical meaning of trust and the virtual meaning of trust. This barrier has crumbled for my mom, and others as well. This is because Internet commerce has found a way to build healthy relationships between the companies and the consumers. However, I know that my mom won’t store her credit card information in their databases. Ease of use has not yet won over her need to feel financially secure. This suggests to me that there are varying levels of trust, and that each time an incident of exposed data is revealed, that level of trust takes another step backwards. So how do we build trust? I think a more open attitude is required here. It is the inability to discern when information is being gathered, and how it is being used, that leads to the breakdown of trust between physical persons and online companies. Building trust is an integral part of the evolution of information and identity on the Internet.

This is one place where the government could make a big, positive difference. Already having displayed its ability to mine such information (Jordan), the government should now take an active role in regulating how this information can be handled and economized. This would give a legitimacy to the Internet businesses who need to use the information for business practices, but protect the consumer from the potential harms of data mining, accidentally released data, and data solicitation. If the consumer’s voice was backed by a government regulatory agency, then we would start to see the kind of information maintenance needed to help the Internet grow without threatening individual’s identity’s. This does not give the government access to this kind of information. Though it is an overseer, it must be one through a black box model. It can check inputs and outputs, and when results are incorrect go back and tweak the inside mechanics, but it should not actively be involved with the data itself. It seems that the government has already shown that it cannot ethically be the body where data is stored and distributed (Jordan), but should attempt to repair the damages done by enacting a more public policy of better governance over data garnered through the Internet.