ENTRIES TAGGED "data mining"

Big data and privacy: an uneasy face-off for government to face

MIT workshop kicks off Obama campaign on privacy

Thrust into controversy by Edward Snowden’s first revelations last year, President Obama belatedly welcomed a “conversation” about privacy. As cynical as you may feel about US spying, that conversation with the federal government has now begun. In particular, the first of three public workshops took place Monday at MIT.

Given the locale, a focus on the technical aspects of privacy was appropriate for this discussion. Speakers cheered about the value of data (invoking the “big data” buzzword often), delineated the trade-offs between accumulating useful data and preserving privacy, and introduced technologies that could analyze encrypted data without revealing facts about individuals. Two more workshops will be held in other cities, one focusing on ethics and the other on law.

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Protecting US reporters’ records, data mining tools, and congressional acronym abuse

Notes and links from the data journalism beat

It seems that new data journalism tools are being released every day. The latest data journalism tools include: CivOmega, a modular prototype for government data that allows developers to plug in their own APIs and Fact Tank, a new data journalism platform from the Pew Research Center. Also, for journalists in the US concerned about protecting their own personal data, government investigators now face more hurdles when seeking a reporter’s records. And for a little data journalism levity, check out the latest project from Noah Veltman, a data journalism fellow at the BBC. Veltman used the GovTrack Bulk data API, SQL and Python to conduct a self-described “overly in-depth analysis” of Congressional Acronym Abuse from 1973 to the present.

Your links for the week:

  • The alpha of CivOmega: A hack-day tool to parse civic data and tell you more about Beyoncé’s travels (Neiman Lab)
    The idea of “a Siri or Wolfram Alpha for government data” — something that can connect natural language queries with multfaceted datasets — had been kicking around in the mind of MIT Media Lab and Knight-Mozilla veteran Dan Schultz ever since a Knight Foundation-sponsored election-year brainstorming session in 2011.
  • Introducing Fact Tank: An Interview with Pew Research Center President Alan Murray (Data Driven Journalism)
    Obviously, we collect vast amounts of data, about demographics, about a variety of issues – we are basically a data shop. In the past, most of the dissemination of our data has been done through existing media. But we also felt it was important for us to get our own data relating to news events out to the public more quickly and more directly. Additionally, we also felt it was important for us to play a role in aggregating data sets which we can then present ourselves.”
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Strata Week: Why we should care about what the NSA may or may not be doing

Response to NSA data mining and the troubling lack of technical details, Facebook's Open Compute data center, and local police are growing their own DNA databases.

It’s a question of power, not privacy — and what is the NSA really doing?

PEW graph

Pew Research Center national survey

In the wake of the leaked NSA data-collection programs, the Pew Research Center conducted a national survey to measure American’s response. The survey found that 56% of respondents think NSA’s telephone record tracking program is an acceptable method to investigate terrorism, and 62% said the government’s investigations into possible terrorist threats are more important than personal privacy.

Rebecca J. Rosen at The Atlantic took a look at legal scholar Daniel J. Solove’s argument that we should care about the government’s collection of our data, but not for the reasons one might think — the collection itself, he argues, isn’t as troubling as the fact that they’re holding the data in perpetuity and that we don’t have access to it. Rosen quotes Solove:

“The NSA program involves a massive database of information that individuals cannot access. … This kind of information processing, which forbids people’s knowledge or involvement, resembles in some ways a kind of due process problem. It is a structural problem involving the way people are treated by government institutions. Moreover, it creates a power imbalance between individuals and the government. … This issue is not about whether the information gathered is something people want to hide, but rather about the power and the structure of government.”

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The 0th Law of Data Mining

Preview of The Laws of Data Mining Session at Strata Santa Clara 2013

Many years ago I was taught about the three laws of thermodynamics. When that didn’t stick, I was taught a quick way to remember originally identified by C.P. Snow:

  • 1st Law: you can’t win
  • 2nd Law: you can’t draw
  • 3rd Law: you can’t get out of the game

These laws (well the real ones) were firmly established by the mid 19th century. Yet, it wasn’t until the 1930s that the value of the 0th law was identified.

At Strata I’m going to be talking about the 9 Laws of Data Mining – a set of principles identified by Tom Khabaza and very closely related to the CRISP-DM data mining methodology.

They may possibly, just possibly, not be as important as the laws of thermodynamics, but at Strata they will be supported by an equally important 0th Law.

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Strata Week: Political data mining “bait-and-switch”

Inaugural 2013 app has plans for your data, the "unprecedented" security issues of the Internet of Things, and optical switches speed up data centers.

Here are a few stories from the data space that caught my attention this week.

Inaugural 2013 app takes as much as it gives

Inaugural2013appThe Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) launched the first official inaugural smartphone app, Inaugural 2013 (for iOS and for Android), Monday. Daniel Strauss reports in a post at The Hill that inauguration attendees can use the app to locate and RSVP to events, watch events via livestream, and navigate the event with an interactive map.

What isn’t front and center in the pomp and circumstance of the shiny new app are the terms of service and the privacy statement. Steve Friess at Politico points out that in the fine print, users are giving the PIC permission to share their data — phone numbers, email, home addresses, and GPS location data, for instance — “with candidates, organizations, groups or causes that [the PIC] believe have similar political viewpoints, principles or objectives.”

Gregory Ferenstein reports at TechCrunch that “privacy advocates find it troubling that the fine-print on the PIC’s website says it can use activity data ‘without limitation in advertising, fundraising and other communications in support of PIC and the principles of the Democratic party, without any right of compensation or attribution.’”

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Strata Week: Big data’s big future

Big data in 2013, and beyond; the Sunlight Foundation's new data mining app; and the growth of our planet's central nervous system.

Here are a few stories from the data space that caught my attention this week.

Big data will continue to be a big deal

“Big data” became something of a buzz phrase in 2012, with its role in the US Presidential election, and businesses large and small starting to realize the benefits and challenges of mountains upon zettabytes of data — so much so that NPR’s linguist contributor Geoff Nunberg thinks it should have been the phrase of the year.

Nunberg says that though “it didn’t get the wide public exposure given to items like ‘frankenstorm,’ ‘fiscal cliff‘ and YOLO,” and might not have been “as familiar to many people as ‘Etch A Sketch’ and ’47 percent’” were during the election, big data has become a phenomenon affecting our lives: “It’s responsible for a lot of our anxieties about intrusions on our privacy, whether from the government’s anti-terrorist data sweeps or the ads that track us as we wander around the Web.” He also notes that big data has transformed statistics into “a sexy major” and predicts the term will long outlast “Gangnam Style.” (You can read Nunberg’s full case for big data at NPR.)

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Strata Week: Big data’s daily influence

Big data's broad effect on our world, myriad uses for traffic data, and Obama's big data practice vs. policy.

Here are a few stories from the data space that caught my attention this week.

How big data is transforming just about everything

Professor John Naughton took a look this week at how big data is transforming various industries that affect our daily lives.

He highlights finance, of course, which he says has been “pathologically mathematised;” marketing, for which there is more data about human behavior than we’ve ever had; and the very broad category of science. Naughton notes that researchers used to conjure up theories and look to data to support or refute; now, researchers turn to data to find patterns and connections that might inspire new theories. Naughton also looks at medicine, which is just on the brink of delving into the big data realm. He writes:

“Last week’s news about how Cambridge researchers stopped an MRSA outbreak affecting 12 babies in the Rosie Hospital by rapidly sequencing the genome of the bacteria illustrates how medicine has become a data-intensive field. Even a few years ago, the resources required to achieve this would have involved a roomful of computers and upwards of a week.”

Naughton addresses the use of big data in sports as well, speculating that baseball has been the sport most transformed by data. He’ll likely find agreement there. Barry Eggers goes into depth on the dramatic effect big data is having on baseball over at TechCrunch. He notes that simple data analysis of statistics, which baseball has embraced since its beginnings, has evolved into gathering mountains of unstructured data and employing Hadoop to gain new and better insights from data that isn’t part of the structured game information. Eggers writes:

“By having his data scientist run a Hadoop job before every game, [San Francisco Giants manager] Bruce Bochy can not only make an informed decision about where to locate a 3-1 Matt Cain pitch to Prince Fielder, but he can also predict how and where the ball might be hit, how much ground his infielders and outfielders can cover on such a hit, and thus determine where to shift his defense. Taken one step further, it’s not hard to imagine a day where managers like Bochy have their locker room data scientist run real-time, in-game analytics using technologies like Cassandra, Hbase, Drill, and Impala.”

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Strata Week: Data mining for votes

Candidates are data mining behind the scenes, data mining gets a PR campaign, Google faces privacy policy issues, and Hadoop and BI.

Here are a few stories from the data space that caught my attention this week.

Presidential candidates are mining your data

Data is playing an unprecedented role in the US presidential election this year. The two presidential campaigns have access to personal voter data “at a scale never before imagined,” reports Charles Duhigg at the New York Times. The candidate camps are using personal data in polling calls, accessing such details as “whether voters may have visited pornography Web sites, have homes in foreclosure, are more prone to drink Michelob Ultra than Corona or have gay friends or enjoy expensive vacations,” Duhigg writes. He reports that both campaigns emphasized they were committed to protecting voter privacy, but notes:

“Officials for both campaigns acknowledge that many of their consultants and vendors draw data from an array of sources — including some the campaigns themselves have not fully scrutinized.”

A Romney campaign official told Duhigg: “You don’t want your analytical efforts to be obvious because voters get creeped out. A lot of what we’re doing is behind the scenes.”

The “behind the scenes” may be enough in itself to creep people out. These sorts of situations are starting to tarnish the image of the consumer data-mining industry, and a Manhattan trade group, the Direct Marketing Association, is launching a public relations campaign — the “Data-Driven Marketing Institute” — to smooth things over before government regulators get involved. Natasha Singer reports at the New York Times:

“According to a statement, the trade group intends to promote such targeted marketing to lawmakers and the public ‘with the goal of preventing needless regulation or enforcement that could severely hamper consumer marketing and stifle innovation’ as well as ‘tamping down unfavorable media attention.’ As part of the campaign, the group plans to finance academic research into the industry’s economic impact, said Linda A. Woolley, the acting chief executive of the Direct Marketing Association.”

One of the biggest issues, Singer notes, is that people want control over their data. Chuck Teller, founder of Catalog Choice, told Singer that in a recent survey conducted by his company, 67% of people responded that they wanted to see the data collected about them by data brokers and 78% said they wanted the ability to opt out of the sale and distribution of that data.

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Unstructured data is worth the effort when you’ve got the right tools

Alyona Medelyan and Anna Divoli on the opportunities in chaotic data.

Alyona Medelyan and Anna Divoli are inventing tools to help companies contend with vast quantities of fuzzy data. They discuss their work and what lies ahead for big data in this interview.

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Demoting Halder: A wild look at social tracking and sentiment analysis

You no longer have control over where a first impression occurs.

My short story, "Demoting Halder," was supposed to lay out an alternative reality where social tracking and sentiment analysis had taken over society. As the story evolved, I wondered if the reality in the story is something we're living right now.

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