Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Steve Lohr

Soon, your Privacy is Privatized: To be purchased

In the 1960s, mainframe computers posed a significant technological challenge to common notions of privacy. That’s when the federal government started putting tax returns into those giant machines, and consumer credit bureaus began building databases containing the personal financial information of millions of Americans.

Many people feared that the new computerized databanks would be put in the service of an intrusive corporate or government Big Brother.

 published in NYT this March 23, 2013 under “Big Data Is Opening Doors, but Maybe Too Many”

“It really freaked people out,” says Daniel J. Weitzner, a former senior Internet policy official in the Obama administration. “The people who cared about privacy were every bit as worried as we are now.”

Along with fueling privacy concerns, the mainframes helped prompt the growth and innovation that we have come to associate with the computer age.

Today, many experts predict that the next wave will be driven by technologies that fly under the banner of Big Data — data including Web pages, browsing habits, sensor signals, smartphone location trails and genomic information, combined with clever software to make sense of it all.

Proponents of this new technology say it is allowing us to see and measure things as never before — much as the microscope allowed scientists to examine the mysteries of life at the cellular level.

Big Data, they say, will open the door to making smarter decisions in every field from business and biology to public health and energy conservation.

“This data is a new asset,” says Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist and director of the Human Dynamics Lab at the M.I.T. “You want it to be liquid and to be used.”

But the latest leaps in data collection are raising new concern about infringements on privacy — an issue so crucial that it could trump all others and upset the Big Data bandwagon.

Dr. Pentland is a champion of the Big Data vision and believes the future will be a data-driven society. Yet the surveillance possibilities of the technology, he acknowledges, could leave George Orwell in the dust.

The World Economic Forum published a report late last month that offered one path — one that leans heavily on technology to protect privacy.

The report grew out of a series of workshops on privacy held over the last year, sponsored by the forum and attended by government officials and privacy advocates, as well as business executives.

The corporate members, more than others, shaped the final document.

The report, “Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage,” recommends a major shift in the focus of regulation toward restricting the use of data.

Curbs on the use of personal data, combined with new technological options, can give individuals control of their own information, according to the report, while permitting important data assets to flow relatively freely.

“There’s no bad data, only bad uses of data,” (even if false and erroneous?) says Craig Mundie, a senior adviser at Microsoft, who worked on the position paper.

The report contains echoes of earlier times. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, passed in 1970, was the main response to the mainframe privacy challenge. The law permitted the collection of personal financial information by the credit bureaus, but restricted its use mainly to three areas: credit, insurance and employment.

The forum report suggests a future in which all collected data would be tagged with software code that included an individual’s preferences for how his or her data is used.

All uses of data would have to be registered, and there would be penalties for violators.

For example, one violation might be a smartphone application that stored more data than is necessary for a registered service like a smartphone game or a restaurant finder.

The corporate members of the forum say they recognize the need to address privacy concerns if useful data is going to keep flowing.

George C. Halvorson, chief executive of Kaiser Permanente, the large health care provider, extols the benefits of its growing database on 9 million patients, tracking treatments and outcomes to improve care, especially in managing costly chronic and debilitating conditions like heart disease, diabetes and depression.

New smartphone applications, he says, promise further gains — for example, a person with a history of depression whose movement patterns slowed sharply would get a check-in call.

“We’re on the cusp of a golden age of medical science and care delivery,” Mr. Halvorson says. “But a privacy backlash could cripple progress.”

Corporate executives and privacy experts agree that the best way forward combines new rules and technology tools. But some privacy professionals say the approach in the recent forum report puts way too much faith in the tools and too little emphasis on strong rules, particularly in moving away from curbs on data collection.

“We do need use restrictions, but there is a real problem with getting rid of data collection restrictions,” says David C. Vladeck, a professor of law at Georgetown University. “And that’s where they are headed.”

“I don’t buy the argument that all data is innocuous until it’s used improperly,” adds Mr. Vladeck, former director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the Federal Trade Commission.

Vladeck offers this example: Imagine spending a few hours looking online for information on deep fat fryers. You could be looking for a gift for a friend or researching a report for cooking school. But to a data miner, tracking your click stream, this hunt could be read as a telltale signal of an unhealthy habit — a data-based prediction that could make its way to a health insurer or potential employer.

Dr. Pentland, an academic adviser to the World Economic Forum’s initiatives on Big Data and personal data, agrees that limitations on data collection still make sense, as long as they are flexible and not a “sledgehammer that risks damaging the public good.”

He is leading a group at the M.I.T. Media Lab that is at the forefront of a number of personal data and privacy programs and real-world experiments. He espouses what he calls “a new deal on data” with three basic tenets: you have the right to possess your data, to control how it is used, and to destroy or distribute it as you see fit.

Personal data, Dr. Pentland says, is like modern money — digital packets that move around the planet, traveling rapidly but needing to be controlled. “You give it to a bank, but there’s only so many things the bank can do with it,” he says.

His M.I.T. group is developing tools for controlling, storing and auditing flows of personal data. Its data store is an open-source version, called openPDS.

In theory, this kind of technology would undermine the role of data brokers and, perhaps, mitigate privacy risks. In the search for a deep fat fryer, for example, an audit trail should detect unauthorized use.

Dr. Pentland’s group is also collaborating with law experts, like Scott L. David of the University of Washington, to develop innovative contract rules for handling and exchanging data that insures privacy and security and minimizes risk.

The M.I.T. team is also working on living lab projects. One that began recently is in the region around Trento, Italy, in cooperation with Telecom Italia and Telefónica, the Spanish mobile carrier.

About 100 young families with young children are participating. The goal is to study how much and what kind of information they share on smartphones with one another, and with social and medical services — and their privacy concerns.

“Like anything new,” Dr. Pentland says, “people make up just-so stories about Big Data, privacy and data sharing,” often based on their existing beliefs and personal bias. “We’re trying to test and learn,” he says.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 24, 2013, on page BU3 of the New York edition with the headline: Big Data Is Opening Doors, But Maybe Too Many.

Am I working hard? What is “work” to qualify it in first place?

There are several types of “working”, or feeling that we have been working, or thinking that what we are doing can be perceived as working by the community…For example:

First, many people exclusively work to get paid in currencies, on the assumption that if work is not compensated by money, another term should be invented to confound language

Second, many more people, billion of them, are practicing the bartering method: They produce product and services and exchange them with other types of products and services…If I inherited an olive tree-field, I’d rather barter my olive or olive oil (added-value process) with a pair of shoes and save my profit from a middleman…Actually, we are bartering skills and talents (acquired with hard work, time, and patience) for another set of skills and talents…

Third, many more people, mostly men, are discovering the mysteries of daily survival skills through maintaining house and family demands (housekeeping chores)…

Fourth, many more people are taking more seriously types of hard work, camouflaged as leisure time, which bed rid you for a week in pain and suffering and ruin your “currency paid job”: You should not go hiking for 8 hours before prior exercising for this arduous task.  As any work, prior hard work, efforts, time, and patience are required to doing a stupid work such as hiking, gliding, ocean treasure hunting…

Fifth, many more people are starting to appreciate truly “leisure work” that bring laughter, smiles and contentment into the life of family members…Like what?

Sixth, with the advent of Internet social platforms and easy and quick publishing, life is getting more complicated: How could you define publishing posts and articles on social platforms, working 8 hours a day, including holidays, and not earning a dime from this hard work?  Not only you are working hard, but publishing carries huge responsibilities when you disseminate ideas, concepts, and express your thoughts to thousands of readers… Writing for the benefit of the “demonizing” process of your troubled life should be a different category from publishing your “soiled” life…?

Suppose you get paid for reading and publishing on Internet, would your work be perceived by your community as true work, and that you are indeed a “normal” person…?

I stumbled on this post from emmatzeng (see link in note) published on Sept. 21 under “Has hard work become an exotic concept?” referring to “work culture” in Western and Eastern countries (I edited slightly the post):

“A few weeks back, I came across an NY Times piece “Reaping the Rewards of Risk-Taking” (written by Steve Lohr) that basically expounds the innovation-driven, creativity-centric values that encapsulate Steve Jobs’ life and career and brands America as the all-encompassing hub for such risk-taking pioneers. I already wrote an entire post about Jobs’ ideologies, but I have to comment on them again, perhaps because they strike such a deep, personal chord in me.

Before I delve into personal technicalities, the article classifies Jobs as “the vanguard of innovative thought, experimentation, and so-called “recombinant mash-ups,” or disruptive products that blend perspectives from different disciplines.  At the core of all this creating and revolutionizing are the tried and true American values of pioneering, innovating, and risk-taking; and it is, in fact, these very principles that put our nation at a competitive advantage to other countries, even despite the latter’s heavy government financing for scientific research and educational achievements in science and technology….”

Going along those lines, businesses like Apple, who are credited with revolutionizing the computing and electronics sectors, generally trade at higher valuations on the stock market because they enjoy what is called an “innovation premium.” Sort of it’s the truly innovative businesses that are the game-changers which brings in serious dough–and power.

Now, you’re probably wondering why this all matters to me as an individual aside from the knowledge that 1) I’m a huge admirer of Jobs, and 2) I’m all about creativity and risk-taking. 

Well, two weeks ago, I lived and worked in Asia. It was a unique, eye-opening experience that I’ll never quite be able to put into words and all that other jazz that you hear from everyone else who’s lived abroad: I’ve seen firsthand the cultural disparities that underlie Western and Eastern societies.

The West culture champions its free-spirited, individualistic culture, while the East generally values discipline, respect for authority, and academic excellence. In this respect, a Westerner might look at an Asian and label him as rigid and self-deprecating, and an Asian may view his Western counterparts as undisciplined and disrespectful.

I won’t take sides.  As a born and raised American, my time in Asia has allowed me to better understand how the Eastern side of the world thinks and operates. Thus, speaking solely from sheer observation alone, I believe that Lohr’s article, though compelling, presents a one-sided, ethnocentric perspective that completely ignores the strengths of other cultures, particularly those of the East.

I have seen a handful of Americans in my age group with lofty, elaborate dreams of pursuing their passions eventually settle into dry, unfulfilling jobs. Off the top of my head, I can cite a number of reasons for this phenomenon like lack of drive, personal insecurities…, but I believe that, at the root of it all, is an unwillingness to work hard, to exercise discipline, and to suffer a bit in order to reap the future rewards.

And while I advocate strongly for the mantras of our generation that egg us on to pursue our passions, I believe that these adages need to come with a forewarning–something along the lines of, “Go hard after your dreams–but be dang well prepared to work your butt off for them and encounter some setbacks along the way. THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.

The truth of the matter is, taking risks is exponentially tougher than simply going after what’s safe and socially accepted. In this respect, taking risks requires hard work and discipline, virtues that Eastern societies hone in on.

Sure, Jobs dropped out of college after his first semester and spent some time traveling India, which is awesome and all, but he also slept on the floors of his friends’ dorm rooms and went to a local temple every week to partake in a free meal. Oh, not to mention that he started Apple in his parents’ garage and spent ten years building it into a multi-million dollar business. If that doesn’t sound arduous and even a bit unsexy, then I don’t know what is.

I have encountered and worked alongside multitudes of bright, hardworking individuals during my time in Asia. The work ethic is so strong there that it almost puts our good ol’ American working middle-class values to shame.  What I also witnessed in Asia was an unquestioning and borderline passive stance towards societal norms. Nearly every time I thought to challenge authority in some way shape or form, my remarks were almost always met with an all-too-accepting “that’s just the way things are.”

On the flip side, Americans are great at questioning the status quo, engineering new ideas, and standing up for their opinions and beliefs. It is, essentially, this flourishing spirit of creativity and outside-the-box thinking that attracted me back home. Nonetheless, aside from our dedication to individualism and appetite for creativity, I worry that a good number of my fellow Gen Y-ers simply cower in fear at the prospect of being challenged and stretched beyond their perceived means. It is this distaste towards discomfort that paralyzes us and puts us as a competitive disadvantage on the global scoreboard.

I’d like to expand on Lohr’s points and argue that, while America is a unique and vibrant nation with a strong knack for creativity, we should never allow ourselves to get away with believing that our school of thought is superior to any other culture’s.

Instead, we should be utilizing our resources to continuously seek out new ways to grow, to adapt to our increasingly globally connected world, and to broaden our perspectives. Like Jobs instructs, it is our duty as a nation that fosters innovation to cultivate an environment that rewards curiosity and open-mindedness. That takes some hard, unadulterated work.

What do you think? Do you agree that our current and future generations would be better off finding and achieving a delicate balance between Western ideals of personal freedom and creativity and Eastern morals of discipline and respect, or am I way over my head with this one?” End of post

Note 1: You may read my book review of Amelie Nothomb on her experience working with a Japanese company (Trembling and stupor)

Note 2: http://emmatzeng.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/has-hard-work-an-exotic-concept/


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