Data is a liability, not an asset

Programmers know it, management reject it: code is a liability, not an asset. Read the rest

Dear Internet of Things: human beings are not things

My new Locus column is What If People Were Sensors, Not Things to be Sensed? Read the rest

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WATCH: More private companies gather license plate data


It's no secret that license plate data is big business. Here's a demo of how these companies gather data as they troll parking lots and public streets gathering indiscriminate license plate info, looking for matches on other databases. Read the rest

On Big Data's shrinking returns

In my new Guardian column, I point out that the big-data-driven surveillance business model is on the rocks. Read the rest

Mapping the disciplined ranks of anti-vax Twitter

Anti-vax Twitter consists of several thousand vaccine denialists whose present project is stopping California's mandatory vaccine bill, through campaigns of lockstep tweeting to lawmakers, workplace and home-based harassment of dissenters, and coordinated SEO campaigns that muddy the waters for concerned parents who try to research the subject. Read the rest

Social graph of mysterious twitterbots

Terence Eden has mined the social graphs of thousands of mysterious, spammy twitterbots, which may or may not be the same larval spambots I wrote about. Read the rest

Imaginary ISIS attack on Louisiana and the twitterbots who loved it

Gilad Lotan has spotted some pretty sophisticated fake-news generation, possibly from Russia, and possibly related to my weird, larval twitterbots, aimed at convincing you that ISIS had blown up a Louisiana chemical factory. Read the rest

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Thousands of Americans got sub-broadband ISP service, thanks to telcoms shenanigans

Measurement Lab, an open, independent analysis organization devoted to measuring the quality of Internet connections and detecting censorship, technical faults and network neutrality violations, has released a major new report on how ISPs connect to one another, and it's not pretty. Read the rest

Wouldn't it be great if a billboard could actually read your mind?

Said no one, ever. Except, apparently not: the "data scientists" of Posterscope are excited that EE -- a joint venture of T-Mobile and Orange -- will spy on all their users' mobile data to "give profound insights...that were never possible before" Read the rest

Mercilessly pricking the bubbles of AI, Big Data, machine learning

Michael I Jordan is an extremely accomplished computer scientist who is also deeply skeptical of claims made by Big Data advocates as well as people who believe that machine intelligence, AI and machine vision are solved, or nearly so. Read the rest

Ontario police's Big Data assigns secret guilt to people looking for jobs, crossing borders

There are no effective legal limits on when and to whom police can disclose unproven charges against you, 911 calls involving mental health incidents, and similar sensitive and prejudicial information; people have been denied employment, been turned back at the US border and suffered many other harms because Ontario cops send this stuff far and wide. Read the rest

Microsoft says it won't use contents of emails to target ads

Alan sez, "Microsoft is pushing out an update to its privacy policies." Read the rest

Big Data should not be a faith-based initiative

Cory Doctorow summarizes the problem with the idea that sensitive personal information can be removed responsibly from big data: computer scientists are pretty sure that's impossible.

IRS won't fix database of nonprofits, so it goes dark

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "Due to inaction by the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Congress, Public.Resource.Org has been forced to terminate access to 7,634,050 filings of nonprofit organizations. The problem is that we have been fixing the database, providing better access mechanisms and finding and redacting huge numbers of Social Security Numbers. Our peers such as GuideStar are also fixing their copies of the database." Read the rest

Inherent biases warp Big Data

The theory of Big Data is that the numbers have an objective property that makes their revealed truth especially valuable; but as Kate Crawford points out, Big Data has inherent, lurking bias, because the datasets are the creation of fallible, biased humans. For example, the data-points on how people reacted to Hurricane Sandy mostly emanate from Manhattan, because that's where the highest concentration of people wealthy enough to own tweeting, data-emanating smartphones are. But more severely affected locations -- Breezy Point, Coney Island and Rockaway -- produced almost no data because they had fewer smartphones per capita, and the ones they had didn't work because their power and cellular networks failed first.

I wrote about this in 2012, when Google switched strategies for describing the way it arrived at its search-ranking. Prior to that, the company had described its ranking process as a mathematical one and told people who didn't like how they got ranked that the problem was their own, because the numbers didn't lie. After governments took this argument to heart and started ordering Google to change its search results -- on the grounds that there's no free speech question if you're just ordering post-processing on the outcome of an equation -- Google started commissioning law review articles explaining that the algorithms that determined search-rank were the outcome of an expressive, human, editorial process that deserved free speech protection.

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