The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: data mining (Page 1 of 2)

Snooping- Socially Acceptable?

“When I opened up the issue of teachers looking at students’ Facebook profiles with fifteen-year-old Chantelle, she responded dismissively: “Why are they on my page? I wouldn’t go to my teacher’s page and look at their stuff, so why should they go on mine to look at my stuff?” She continued on to make it clear that she had nothing to hide while also reiterating the feeling that snooping teachers violated her sense of privacy. The issue for Chantelle—and many other teens—is more a matter of social norms and etiquette than technical access” (boyd, 58). This passage, taken from the book It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, describes an opinion common of many people of all ages- even if one has nothing to hide, privacy is still valued.

The idea that knowing that you’re being snooped on can make you feel like your privacy is being violated, even if you have absolutely nothing to hide, is a fundamental argument in the discussion of privacy matters, especially in modern society. This concept can be related to data mining, as it can be uncomfortable knowing that your data is being mined, even if you have done nothing wrong. Just because someone has nothing to hide does not mean that they will or should relinquish their privacy. Data mining focuses a lot on the ethics of the practice; this passage focused more on the social norms aspect of snooping.

I found it interesting how this passage introduced this idea of privacy invasion as a matter of social norms and etiquette. Even though information on the Internet may be easily accessible to the masses, it does not make it socially acceptable for others to search for and view this information. But do people actually take etiquette into consideration when they are inclined to snoop? In some respects, these social standards should reduce the amount of snooping that occurs. However, even though it may not be socially encouraged to conduct this type of intrusive behavior, it is still very prevalent. I think that social norms do not stop people from snooping, although they may promote the practice of private snooping: keeping the information that one finds to him or herself, in order to keep the fact that he or she was snooping private. The Internet is saturated with personal blogs, profiles, photos, etc.- does that make it acceptable for strangers to view this information and use it how they please?

When privacy becomes a privilege

Since Marcus was questioned by the National Homeland Security after “being at the wrong place at the wrong time”, his freedom has been taken away from him. During the journey, he has fought himself all the way to the end of the story for his rights,  freedom and privacy. In this specific setting, these rights, freedom and privacy are no longer what we “suppose to have”, but rather a privilege that need to be earned.

Coming from a country where websites or tools such as Google, Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter are all blocked, I witnessed people’s different attitudes and approaches to this seemingly harsh censorship. Some would, as Doctorow suggests, getting around the Great Firewall of China by using an encrypted connection to computer in some other country (p. 112); some would physically get through this firewall, which is what I ended up doing. Either way, people would take some risks or make some sacrifice for the privilege to own their privacy. On the other hand, others, probably happen to be the majority of the population, either don’t really care about this censorship or choose to do nothing with it.

That really got me thinking, why would we care about privacy anymore while a lot of people around us seem to think it’s no big deal? And again I asked the question I asked when I wrote the first paper: why would we care about data mining if we are doing nothing wrong? Doctorow offers his answer to the questions in “Little Brother”– because privacy does matter. It is not about doing something wrong or shameful, but about doing something private, about having some corner of our lives that is ours, and knowing no one else gets to see it. (p. 57)

Inaccurate Accuracy

Though there were a lot of interesting insights made throughout the novel regarding cryptographic security, the point that most stood out to me had to do with the "paradox of the false positive."  In chapter eight of the novel, Marcus comes up with the idea to clone arphids in order to create a high number of unusual travel patterns and consequently bog down the DHS's tracking systems. He goes on to describe how anytime you are trying to collect data on a wide scale, lets say for example from one million people, the test's percentage of accuracy needs to be the same as the uncommonness of the thing being looked for. For example with one million people being tested, a 99% accurate test would still find 1,000 positives, which would be very unhelpful if you're looking for only one specific person. The more people, and the less common the variable you're searching for, the more unusable your test becomes.

What I thought was so interesting about this point is that when looking at the math for this sort of data mining, it seems so illogical. The probability of finding usable data in this manner becomes more and more difficult as the amount of data increases. However, just hearing the phrase "99% accuracy" creates an inherent false sense of security. This false sense of security becomes dangerous when we rely heavily on technologies such as these to find information for us. What happens when the accuracy is lower than 90%? Lower than 80%?

One thing we have discussed in class more than once is the idea of data mining, especially in schools, to attempt to find patterns that would predict crime before it occurred. The point that always gets brought up in favor of this sort of data mining is that it potentially could keep students safe, which of course would be beneficial. However, lets say that these measures were implemented at Vanderbilt, with 12,725 students, and the test had a reasonable 95% accuracy rate of finding potential threats. Theoretically 636 students could be found potential threats by the system. It's improbable and illogical to question over 600 kids in order to find a possible one or two actual suspects. Though neither Marcus nor I were making the claim that all data mining is useless, seeing the numbers on how useful it really is puts the idea into a better perspective.

Justified Paranoia

When reading Little Brother, the passage that really stuck out to me was after Marcus’s kidnapping when he initially realized he was being bugged. The combination of paranoia, fear, and anger surrounding Marcus’s every thought became evident as he emotionally responded to the Department of Homeland Security watching his every move. He cautiously approached the seriousness of his situation, stating that “There were eyes out there, eyes and ears, and they were watching me. Surveilling me.” (Doctorow 86)

I was drawn to this passage because I had a similar reaction when the Edward Snowden leak occurred. Although I obviously have different circumstances than Marcus and have nothing to hide whatsoever, I still felt as if my privacy had been unrightfully invaded. Knowing that the government was capable of surveying my daily activities through my browser history, phone calls, text messages, and more gave me an uncertainty about if anything I ever did was truly private.

And as an ordinary, completely harmless citizen, I mostly viewed this process as unnecessary. The United States government has nothing to gain by monitoring my online activity, as all they will discover is the unhealthy amount of time I spend on Facebook, my ability to watch countless Grey’s Anatomy episodes on Netflix, and my slight obsession with Taylor Swift music videos.

Still, I view my browser history as mine, as it is a reflection of my day-to-day thoughts. Googling whatever comes to my mind has become a kind of second nature to me and looking at what I’ve searched will quickly reveal my favorite TV shows, places to online shop, and which classes I’m taking. At times, particularly when ads directed at me from my past search history show up, I think the Internet knows me better than I know myself. And do I want the United States government to know me on this same, personal level? Definitely not. My online activity is arguably one of the closest things to a diary that I have, and while I understand the goal of finding potential terrorists through data mining, I can’t help but feel the same paranoid, taken-aback emotions Marcus did when he was bugged.

Data Mining: The Internet's Way of Knowing Us Better Than We Know Ourselves

After a long day filled with unfamiliar Spanish vocab and seemingly endless Chemistry questions, I decide to reward myself by opening up a new tab to my most visited webpage: Facebook. I quickly scroll through my friends’ most recent uploads, my interest steadily declining. As my newsfeed takes me from one album to the next, I repeatedly encounter personalized ads designed to catch my attention at exactly the right moment. Online shopping pages with clothes I had once considered screamed for my attention as quizzes relevant to my life’s biggest decisions entitled “What type of surgeon should you be?” result in me being steered to another website. How did Facebook know I wanted to be a doctor? I had only decided this a few short weeks ago myself. I shrug my shoulders and finish my quiz, embracing the fact that Internet seemed to know me better than I knew myself.

Data mining has become one of the most valuable techniques of the Internet today, taking your personal information and using “behavioral surveillance…to predict, with amazing accuracy, the propensity for a person’s behavior” (Morris). In Morris’s article entitled Mining Student Data Could Save Lives, he argues for that mining student data by accessing their personal searches and documents could be used as a safety technique to help prevent future massacres such as the 2007 Virginia Tech case. I found this article uniquely compelling because of the relevancy it has in my life. As an active Facebook user myself, I am constantly prone to this data mining, often times without my knowledge. I hope that writing this essay will allow me to better understand data mining and how it personally affects me, as well as form an opinion on how much of your personal data I believe college campuses deserve to access.

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How and to what extent should we use student data mining?

The author of the article ““Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, Michael Morris, suggests that student data mining is necessary in schools and can be used to prevent oncampus violence. It is indeed a controversial topic that is very relevant to us as students. Personally, I’m an international student who have experienced both eastern and western educations; in both cases, students’ networks are totally under the surveillance. I’ve also heard and witnessed a few incidents of the school intervening with students’ online behaviors, and I really start to question whether we have such thing as privacy once we are connected to the Internet.

On the other hand, due to the special relationship between the university/college and the students, certain surveillance of students’ internet behaviors might be needed for safety reasons. But before it is used and heavily valued in universities, one might want to question the effectiveness of this technology. Is that really a tool with such high accuracy? Or in fact students are more often being stigmatized? Also, for those “troubled” students, would they really use the school Internet to search about the “twin Glock 22 pistols”, or email each other about the plan or violent behaviors they are about to pull off? Certain levels of student data mining can be used in universities, but how and to what extent it should be used need to be well considered.



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How Much Privacy Will Students Concede?

Data mining is a new, innovative technique that major companies have incorporated into their marketing strategies. This technology uses specific algorithms to identify trends and convert them to usable information, so that the only advertisements that pop up are relevant to your wants and needs. This powerful technology has many more capabilities that could make an impact on the lives of many as Michael Morris explains in his article "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives."

Although mining data could predict future suicidal or homicidal actions of students, people are still hesitant to allow this invasion of privacy because they believe it is not anyone's right to access that information. This debate of security vs. privacy has been going on for a few years now since the technology has become available to us. I plan to write about this article for my paper because I believe that this new technology should be used to prevent tragedies from occurring. Even if it does invade your privacy a little, that should not matter if you have nothing to hide. I feel strongly about this because I believe it can save lives, and we should do everything in our power to save just one life.

"War is Peace, Freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength"

Think about the term "preemptive war." Isn't it a little funny? A war to prevent a war. Is it worth it? What happens if it fails? Could a war larger than the theoretical one be waged then? It is definitely not impossible...

What about the idea that a world without surveillance seems to beg tragedy and pain? Does it have to be that way? Yes, behavioral surveillance has the possibility of stopping incidents from happening, but at what cost? Michael Morris's "Crystal ball" isn't as clear as he is making it out to be. Even with the most up-to-date data mining systems, you cannot truly get inside someones head. What happens when an official approaches someone with the intent of preventing a disaster? Could the official rub that person the wrong way and only succeed in pushing someone over the edge? What about the multitude of false-positives that are likely to pop-up? How can any task-force sort through all of them each with a level of scrutiny to determine if a person is sane? And what about the people who leave no virtual mark of the suffering they are going through?

Now think about the mass ignorance of the surveillance already being perpetrated against every one of us? I, for one, had no idea all that the NSA had been reported of doing until taking this class. What about everyone else? Is this ignorance bliss?

What kind of Orwellian society are we living in today? Have our nightmares become our reality?

I am choosing to write about "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives" by Michael Morris because I think Morris brings up many interesting points (some I touched upon above) without truly considering all that comes with it.



*The title references a famous line from 1984 by George Orwell*

Safety versus privacy: what's more important?

In a devastating massacre on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) campus in 2007, a total of 33 lives were lost.  Aside from the calamitous loss of lives, one of the most saddening aspects of the tragedy is that it could have been prevented.

In the article "Mining Student Data Could Save Lives," author Michael Morris explains that universities have the ability to access student emails, student internet searches, and student social media accounts through a process called "data mining."  By searching through this information, university officials can predict student behavior and prevent on-campus violence.

I plan to write my paper on Morris' article because as a college student, much of what Morris explains strongly pertains to me and my peers.  I find his article very interesting because both sides of the argument (safety versus privacy) hold compelling arguments.  I hope to explore each side with the goal of determining which is more important.  Student concerns about Internet privacy (even privacy of one's own personal email) are very legitimate, however, university officials' interest in protecting the student body as a whole may be paramount.


What Matters More- Privacy or Protection?

Finding the appropriate balance between privacy and surveillance is a pressing issue that afflicts 21st century society. The arguments for and against data mining are both very valid. In Michael Morris’s article, “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives,” student shootings evidence the demand for widespread student data mining to protect the campus community. Morris says that if universities were to mine and analyze student data, they could screen the analyses to identify suspicious behavior and potential problems. I intend to respond to this essay because as a current college student, the topic of the article is extremely applicable to my life.

I believe that personal experiences shape one’s opinions, and if I had been a victim of the Virginia Tech shooting, then I would be in favor of student data mining. However, I do support personal privacy in this age of continually increased surveillance, so the best solution would be to find a balance that does not compromise total privacy, yet still enhances security.

An interesting aspect of the article is that it does not elaborate on other methods besides data mining in order to identity suspicious behavior and prevent problems. There are ways to recognize early warning signs without sacrificing one’s privacy. Behavioral cues, such as isolating oneself from his or her friends or always being in an angry mood, should hint that something is wrong. If friends, resident advisors, or professors could recognize these clues and get the individual the help that he or she needs, then this could also prevent problems from occurring.

There are many reasons for and against data mining, and I plan to explore these ideas in my essay while determining my opinions on what should be done to solve this controversial problem.

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