A composite semblance of perspectives on big data, privacy, metaphors #edcmooc

#edcmooc Week 2 commentary- a composite semblance of perspectives on big data, privacy, metaphors

With inspiration from

-the video “Sight”

  -the text Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4). http://firstmonday.org/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2370/2158

-the article called The Private InformationFacebook Makes Public. http://howto.cnet.com/8301-11310_39-57612001-285/the-private-information-facebook-now-makes-public/

– a quick glance at The Digital Agenda for Europe http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/futurium/en/content/envisioning-internet-futures

In “Sight” there are definitely dark undertones of a person who is an expert manipulator, his toolbox being his internet access, availed through his workplace, to databases of girls he dates and indeed if we don`t pick up on the underlying malevelance in his persona, there are clues such as the Jekyll and Hyde poster on his wall. The wall of apps or trophies for successful dates speaks for itself and is what the girl in the story reacts to. Don`t completely get how he is able through a simple voice command of “wait” to put the girl into some kind of hypnotic trance.

The story does successfully depict how information on someone can be misused to manipulate them – getting them to react to you they way you would want. Very disconcerting. The use of data by third parties ( the gentleman here in this story is a third party user of private data) is something that at present does not have clear regulations as it is such a comprehensive area..big data..and it is an area I feel that does require policy guidelines for use,  deterrants and prosecutions for abuse.

One of the challenges for future society according to Digital Agenda Europe (http://ec.europa.eu/digital-agenda/futurium/en/content/envisioning-internet-futures)

is “Ensuring an appropriate balance between trust and privacy in social interactions, as well as the appropriate balance between right to privacy and right of organisations and states to secure their physical space”

Likewise these challenges are also listed:

“5) The risk of bypassing fundamental rules thanks to our increased capability to gather personal data, including thoughts and opinions. 6) The need to look after individuals in a world of big data

So it seems that the temptation for utilising and ultimately monetising big data is there. What is not there at present are definite clear guidelines on a policy level for what should be allowed and what should not. In fact It is apparent to me that 3rd party vendors buy and sell lists of leads for marketing -accumulated from sources that are not divulged.

Also, Facebook does seem to have policies in place written in small print that gives them the right to use your private photos. And here is evidence that companies are lurking on the sidelines and able to retrieve information from Facebook profiles for use in generating data on individuals:

“Of particular concern to privacy advocates is the ability of third-party app developers to access your friends list. Last August, CNN’s Katie Lobosco reported that at least one financial-lending company uses your Facebook friends list to help determine your creditworthiness.”


” Facebook users are installing apps from developers who help themselves to the users’ private information without offering a clear mechanism for retrieving the data. Users have no way of knowing what the information includes or how it will be used, let alone whether it is accurate” (From http://howto.cnet.com/8301-11310_39-57612001-285/the-private-information-facebook-now-makes-public/)

In extrapolation of this trend, whereby we can glean that information about private users is being taken without permission, where one cannot easily stop nor complain about this and where in fact the systems present a seeming show of transparency (details are in small print or rather hidden in a convoluted series of directions for how one could stop application developers from taking private data..this involves contacting developers directly, and in many cases no contact information is given) – this is not transparency nor accountability but rather hidden license for stealing, and license for placing the blame on the user for not reacting before any use of data took place.

Such a licentious display of disregard for the privacy of users` data is hidden behind rhetoric that has an officious sounding charm- in fact one could argue that the whole officious sounding rhetoric on sites that display such sentences as:

” Our company complies to the Safe Harbor Framework.” is a deliberate good looking, courteous and professional sounding ploy to rob you of your private data.

For if you do a little research you will find that this can essentially mean nothing as companies who comply to this organisation that does indeed stand as a watchdog for improper use of private data, are self certifying!

Companies are self certifying!

And to make things even harder on the individual user, if one does have a complaint requiring dispute resolution, one would discover in a great number of cases that many companies have ‘no dispute resolution options and  instead refer customers to the American Arbitration Association, which charges complainants from $120 to $1,200 per hour, with a minimum of 4 hours, on top of a $950 administration fee.’ http://howto.cnet.com/8301-11310_39-57612001-285/the-private-information-facebook-now-makes-public/

To get back to the rhetoric that has that officious charm- I would say it is a metaphor that carries with it promises ( false ones) of professionalism, accountability, transparency. We are inclined to be taken in by its countenance.

We can read in the text entitled Salvation or Destruction that

` The Internet represents a wide-spread technology with confusion surrounding the mechanisms, ethics, privacy, etc. associated with this technology. Thus looking at the way journalists, politicians, corporations, and others describe this technology provides us insight into its envisioned potential and uses. Recognizing and reflecting upon these Internet metaphors, and the ways they could potentially shape culture, should be an important practice for researchers.’

Indeed and I would say that media literacy and critical thinking skills are an imperative for this generation.


‘Metaphors …. do not have to be automatically accepted. “[M]etaphors are contestable, and there are real political and cognitive issues at stake.”’

But this is also true-

‘As Internet usage and access expands, these metaphors become more ingrained. These metaphors become a stable part of a culture’s discourse, and those using the metaphors often do so unconsciously. When invoking metaphors related to the Internet, people choose to invoke common metaphors or create new metaphors entirely depending upon their experiences. “Thus, it is important to continue to monitor the metaphors at work to understand exactly what work it is that they are doing.”[9]



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