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21 comments

Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

Posted June 22, 2017 12:00 AM by Hannes
Pathfinder Tags: Big Data privacy tijmen schep

I took a management course in grad school in 2009, and just about the only thing I remember about it was learning about the Hawthorne effect. This was research done at a Chicago factory from 1924-32, in which workers supposedly showed an uptick in productivity while participating in a study examining the effects of lighting on their work. A later study of the results claimed that the lighting had zero effect, and the workers were more productive because they simply liked the idea that researchers were taking an interest in their work. Some later critics found this anecdotal BS, but it was interesting nonetheless.

Tijmen Schep, a Dutch technology critic and privacy designer, recently identified a related effect in the digital realm. Schep calls the phenomenon “social cooling” (a riff on global warming) and describes it as the pattern of altered behavior exhibited when online users know they’re constantly being tracked by Big Data algorithms. And even though algorithms are mathematical, they were built by a human who likely showed some bias in their programming, so no algorithm is totally fair.

It’s safe to assume that nothing’s private online. Any user who clicks a link or searches on Google has an aggregate “digital reputation” that then leads to profiling. For example, third-party companies privy to a user’s data can accurately determine a user’s addictability, personality traits, economic stability, religion and reading habits simply by combing their data. Schep says that even though a company may claim they don’t sell your data, the patterns and labels they derive from it are legally theirs and they can sell them at will.

Schep worries that a society built entirely on digital reputation could have ill effects. Users may feel pressured to conform, avoid healthy risks to maintain high ratings, and eventually fall into rigid social labels and structures. Mistakes and imperfections are meant to be forgotten, but online records persist indefinitely and may affect a user over the course of their lifetime. Critics are seeing the increasing importance of online reputation as a sort of credit score tailored to social interaction. China is already exploring a variant of a wide-reaching social credit score.

There are countless other examples of the possibility of social engineering through data. In November of last year, Data Alliance, the Big Data arm of advertising company WPP, signed an agreement with music service Spotify to acquire the listening preferences, moods and behaviors of 100 million of Spotify’s users in 60 countries. While the press release for this deal claims that this data will be used to connect with users with targeted ads, one could see this data leveraged by insurance companies to determine a user’s risk of depression and other mood disorders.

Schep identifies a similar effect he calls mathwashing, which more or less defines the bias behind “unbiased” algorithms. (He borrows that term from former Kickstarter data scientist Fred Benenson.) Schep calls for algorithms to be treated ethically as a law rather than a tool, as the design of algorithms is becoming more and more crucial to fair living, and algorithms are increasingly implemented in the justice system through predictive policing and other strategies.

We don’t yet live in a completely quantified society, but it’s easy to see how targeted advertising and Big Data are both nudging it in that direction. I’ll consider that next time I think about clicking on a questionable link.

Image credit: luckey_sun / CC BY-SA 2.0

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#1

Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 12:29 AM

Trying to game the system says something about your character....AI knows....trying to skew the results only muddies the water...

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#2
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 8:25 AM

Maybe what gaming the system says about your character is that you're smarter than a lab rat that has no inkling that its behavior is being studied and evaluated. JMHO

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#3
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 10:57 AM

So you make a conscious effort to appear unreliable? To what end?

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#7
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 9:19 PM

Appearing to be unreliable has saved a lot of smart people a huge amount of work in their lives.

If something important needs doing at work right away who gets the job? Not the unreliable person, that's who.

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#9
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 11:02 AM

The trick is to appear to be unreliable, whilst being ready for service great or small at the same time, and getting a fantastic job done in record time while appearing to be fumbling, bumbling, and mumbling.

That way, the lookies don't get onto your scheme.

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#5
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 12:02 PM

Light changes its behaviour when being observed, does that make light intelligent?....or just smarter than a lab rat?

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 7:59 AM

or changes the attitude.

A positive attitude worker is more productive than a worker was a negative one.

I have seen this in a number of ways.

Same worker who has a base line of history, when things are going their way. they're have a productive out put.

Same work when things are not going well, such as problems at home, their productivity will drop.

And lighting may only be partial to creating a good environment. I have found its important to make sure the employee's home life the best possible, but as an employer, this only goes so far as to what an employer can do.

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#10
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 11:03 AM

It depends on what the job is....

If working doing audits for the IRS, I must assume that having a sucky attitude would be a real plus.

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 11:26 AM

If working doing audits for the IRS, I must assume that having a sucky attitude would be a real plus.

Well,.. Also it can be attributed to a poor match employee to the job. I know of actuaries who just love their jobs... still some are there for a paycheck. A lot of public servants don't and never have care a chit about there jobs and are just there looking forward to their pension when they retire at 50.

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 11:28 AM

and.....BINGO!!!!

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#13
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 3:29 PM

DMV registration department is rarely better. My dad got rejected on a title transfer because they guy who signed the title over smudged the 2 and 0 together just a tiny bit on 2017 and they said they were not sure that meant 2017 and not some other number in the date.

It's a 1993 pickup so I have doubts that the sign over date is 1917 or 2117.

How bureaucratically petty and stupid is that?

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 3:41 PM

That I have to disagree... And least in Green Bay, WI.

This happened in the early 90's, A friend when to get his drivers licensed renewed, he put it off because he knew it was going to suck, especially the waiting and I can attest to that.

Anyways, when he went, he hit it just right, No one (customers) were there.... , well what he did was, he by-passed the serpentine aisle and went right to the closest clerk at the open counter.

The clerk refuse to help him, why?, because he didn't go through the serpentine. He actually had to go back, and zig-zag through the serpentine to the counter.

By the mid 90's, they had a electronic numbering system, and rarely do you have to wait longer the 20 minutes, with approx. 40-50 people in the waiting area.

And the clerks attitude were not only friendly they would make small talk with you,... about your car, the weather... or just joke around as they wait for items to be printed. It was quite pleasant....

Maybe they got some complaints to have the branch manager replaced or something.

The other good thing,... is our drivers licenses renal increased from every 4 years to every 7 years. to alleviate the workload. I also like that they don't issue paper titles, its all kept electronically by the state.

But I agree, bureaucracy is a lower life form, that's government bureaucracy.

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#15
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 4:00 PM

Why...it is beyond the pail sir. Sounds like a clear case of Kiss my butt (pronouncement upon them) is in order.

Question: Do they squeak when they walk?

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#16
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 6:10 PM

Maybe the floors do but looking at them I doubt many have walked in years!

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 7:44 PM

The look on these clerks from the 90's had a permenant frown on... and talk as though your bothering them. And even though they were probably 50 years old,... the looked a lot older.

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/23/2017 9:33 PM

They moved and got jobs here.

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#4

Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 11:37 AM

If Big Data does not "fix" things, the government may step in, and we know what problems might arise from that. Mistakes have been made, mistakes are now being made, and mistakes will take place in the future.

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#6

Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/22/2017 1:39 PM

Human nature is intrinsically inconsistant...

That's one of the things that makes us human, and not machines, yet...

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#19

Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/24/2017 2:17 PM

Does Big Data also include Nano BioMedically-Engineered invasive technology/structures?

Is the aim of nano biomedical engineering to change thinking and therefore behavior, with advanced applications? What safe-guards are there against privacy violations , on a scale that is unimaginable to the general public/hijacking/hacking/ de-humanizing abuse/misuse/torture/terrorism ?\

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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/24/2017 6:27 PM

The same safeguards there are now for that stuff. Teach your kids to think for themselves so that their minds can not be easily overridden and reprogramed by others.

Contrary to what many want us to believe our minds and brains are dynamic and extremely adaptable to change and influence regardless of the input source.

Even more so when we are aware of what sources of influence and to what end effects that influence can have on us.

You can put a chip in a lower functioning animal's brain and use it to influence its behavior at the base level (steer a mouse with a joystick using basic instinct queuing) but as the test animals cognitive capacity increases their more advanced and higher functioning brain can compensate and override such basic instinctual cohersion techniques nullifying the intended control.

The same chip and control techniques if implemented into a dog can be overridden by training the dog to simply not react. It will be aware of the forced influences but not willing to react because it's higher functional parts of its brain can override the commands.

Take it to the human level where we can cognitively understand the actual how and why of such a implanted control device and overriding it influence is even easier.

An initial forced triggering of fear, pain or even pleasurable enjoyment responses can be overridden if we know the triggering mechanism is a fake one intended to get us to do something we would normally not do willingly.

It may work a few times but our brains and thought process will quickly figure out the pattern and outcome for following through on it to the point a forced fear response willevnetialy just become a slight annoyance toward whomever is trying to use it against us.

In a sense our brains will have rewired themselves to block that fake signal and replace it with something else less influential or just grow to ignore it totally.

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#21
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Re: Will Big Data Force Changes In Online Behavior?

06/26/2017 9:16 AM

Go watch an episode of Dr. Who that involves "cybermen". It should run a cold shiver down your spine. This last week's episode is related.

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