An excellent editorial by Alistair Croll on the civil rights implications of Big Data contains a number of points I hadn't considered before, as well as great analysis of the way that the Big Data situation arrived:
“Personalization” is another word for discrimination. We’re not discriminating if we tailor things to you based on what we know about you — right? That’s just better service.
In one case, American Express used purchase history to adjust credit limits based on where a customer shopped, despite his excellent credit limit:
Johnson says his jaw dropped when he read one of the reasons American Express gave for lowering his credit limit: “Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.”
We’re seeing the start of this slippery slope everywhere from tailored credit-card limits like this one to car insurance based on driver profiles. In this regard, big data is a civil rights issue, but it’s one that society in general is ill-equipped to deal with.
We’re great at using taste to predict things about people. OKcupid’s 2010 blog post “The Real Stuff White People Like” showed just how easily we can use information to guess at race. It’s a real eye-opener (and the guys who wrote it didn’t include everything they learned — some of it was a bit too controversial). They simply looked at the words one group used which others didn’t often use. The result was a list of “trigger” words for a particular race or gender.
Big data is our generation’s civil rights issue, and we don’t know it
Sen. John Cornyn [R-TX, @JohnCornyn, +1 202-224-2934] introduced the Building America’s Trust Act as a “long-term border security and interior enforcement strategy” but refused to release the bill’s text, which has now leaked.
The CBC asked me to write an editorial for their package about Canadian identity and politics, timed with the 150th anniversary of the founding of the settler state on indigenous lands. They’ve assigned several writers to expand on themes in the Canadian national anthem, and my line was “We stand on guard for thee.”
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