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What's new at the crossroads of culture, technology and science
Curated by Artur Alves
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The difficulties of the anonymisation of big data

The difficulties of the anonymisation of big data | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
FREQUENT visitors to the Hustler Club, a gentlemen’s entertainment venue in New York, could not have known that they would become part of a debate about anonymity...
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The anonymisation of a data record typically means the removal from it of personally identifiable information. Names, obviously. But also phone numbers, addresses and various intimate details like dates of birth. Such a record is then deemed safe for release to researchers, and even to the public, to make of it what they will. Many people volunteer information, for example to medical trials, on the understanding that this will happen.

 

But the ability to compare databases threatens to make a mockery of such protections. Participants in genomics projects, promised anonymity in exchange for their DNA, have been identified by simple comparison with electoral rolls and other publicly available information. The health records of a governor of Massachusetts were plucked from a database, again supposedly anonymous, of state-employee hospital visits using the same trick. Reporters sifting through a public database of web searches were able to correlate them in order to track down one, rather embarrassed, woman who had been idly searching for single men. And so on.

Each of these headline-generating stories creates a demand for more controls. But that, in turn, deals a blow to the idea of open data—that the electronic “data exhaust” people exhale more or less every time they do anything in the modern world is actually useful stuff which, were it freely available for analysis, might make that world a better place.

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ORG Zine | Privacy and anonymity: necessary requirements for free speech?

ORG Zine | Privacy and anonymity: necessary requirements for free speech? | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Artur Alves's insight:

"In the face of mass surveillance, technology that increases the protection of privacy is under a significant threat from those with an interest in restricting its use; we must fight to ensure that this does not happen. Instead of pitting privacy and freedom of expression against each other, as has been the case for so long, we must embrace the principles contained within both of these fundamental rights to enable the protection of all of us, lest we lose them completely."

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Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users

Revealed: how Whisper app tracks ‘anonymous’ users | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
After reviewing Whisper’s back-end tools and speaking extensively with the company’s executives, the Guardian has also established that:

User data, including Whisper postings that users believe they have deleted, is collated in a searchable database.
Artur Alves's insight:

Another company that also "guarantees" anonymity has been ousted as thoroughly committed to exploit users' trust.

 

«After reviewing Whisper’s back-end tools and speaking extensively with the company’s executives, the Guardian has also established that:

User data, including Whisper postings that users believe they have deleted, is collated in a searchable database. A team headed by Whisper’s editor-in-chief, Neetzan Zimmerman, is closely monitoring users it believes are potentially newsworthy, delving into the history of their activity on the app and tracking their movements through the mapping tool.Whisper’s policy toward sharing user data with law enforcement has prompted it on occasions to provide information to both the FBI and MI5. The company is cooperating with the US Department of Defense, sharing information with researchers investigating the frequency of mentions of suicide or self-harm from smartphones that Whisper knows are being used from US military bases.Whisper is developing a Chinese version of its app, which received a soft-launch earlier this month. Companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are banned in mainland China. Whisper executives said they had agreed to the demands China places on tech companies operating in its jurisdiction, including a ban on the use of certain words.

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What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone

What Phone Companies Are Doing With All That Data From Your Phone | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
They're mining it and selling it. But don't worry, it's all anonymous. Maybe
Artur Alves's insight:

"A team of researchers from Louvain University in Belgium, Harvard and M.I.T. found that by using data from 15 months of phone use by 1.5 million people, together with a similar dataset from Foursquare, they could identify about 95 percent of the cell phones users with just four data points and 50 percent of them with just two data points. A data point is an individual’s approximate whereabouts at the approximate time they’re using their cell phone.

The reason that only four locations were necessary to identify most people is that we tend to move in consistent patterns. Just as everyone has unique fingerprints, everyone has unique daily travels. While someone wouldn’t necessarily be able to match the path of a mobile phone–known as a mobility trace–to a specific person, we make it much easier through geolocated tweets or location “check-ins,” such as when we use Foursquare."

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