Sunday, March 31, 2013

Privacy: Valued, given away, and under-protected

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"What You Didn’t Post, Facebook May Still Know"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Big Data Is Opening Doors, but Maybe Too Many"

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Gene-analysis firms reach for the cloud"

Thursday, March 21, 2013

"Senate Panel Weighs Privacy Concerns Over Use of Drones"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Device Prevents Driving While Phone Is In Use"

Monday, March 18, 2013

"Domestic Drones Stir Imaginations, and Concerns"

From the new Twitter feed:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Geographic Information Ethics and GIScience

The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers will include two special sections  on Geographic Information Ethics and GIScience.

Session organizers are Rodolphe Devillers, Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland; Francis Harvey, Department of Geography, University of Minnesota; and Dawn Wright, Environmental Systems Research Institute and College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University.

From the organizers' Web site:

Ethical engagements with the multitude of GIS applications and uses, whether surreptitious or overt, have marked recent developments in the field. Indeed, the variety of applications of geographic information science & technology (GIS&T) has led the U.S. Department of Labor to highlight geospatial/geographic technologies as the third largest high-growth job field for the 21st century. While the potential benefits and risks of geographic technologies are becoming well known, these sessions provides a forum to engage ethical issues. For instance:
  • Geographic technologies are surveillance technologies. The data they produce may be used to invade the privacy, and even the autonomy, of individuals and groups.
  • Data gathered using geographic technologies are used to make policy decisions. Erroneous, inadequately documented, or inappropriate data can have grave consequences for individuals and the environment.
  • Geographic technologies have the potential to exacerbate inequities in society, insofar as large organizations enjoy greater access to technology, data, and technological expertise than smaller organizations and individuals.
  • Georeferenced photos, tweets and volunteered (and unvolunteered) geographic information can reveal private information. Those data that are increasingly publically available and used to study societal phenomena raise significant privacy concerns.
Papers in this session again engaged with the above issues in relationship to GIScience, including such topics as:
  • case studies, curriculum development, or the pedagogy of teaching GIS ethical issues;
  • issues of privacy, surveillance, inequity, erroneous or inappropriate data concerning geographic technologies;
  • codes of ethics and conduct of professional organizations;
  • GIS professional development;
  • reflections on the changing nature of ethical issues in GIS&T
These sessions are co-sponsored by the AAG GI Systems & Science and Ethics, Justice, and Human Rights Specialty Groups.
My thanks to Deepsea Dawn Wright for sharing this information.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

Big Data goes to grade school

I haven't been posting many blog entries lately because I've been busy editing a book on pervasive computing. More on that later.

For today, I've got something that isn't quite in the main stream of this blog: Data aggregation on K-12 students.

The quotations in this entry are from an article by Stephanie Simon and published by Reuters, "K-12 student database jazzes tech startups, spooks parents" (March 3, 2013).

I'll start with the up side: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others have developed "a $100 million database built to chart the academic paths of public school students from kindergarten through high school." A newly created nonprofit organization, inBloom Inc., will run the database.

School districts will be able to use the database free of charge (for now). This one database will be able to integrate a school's student data in one place. "Schools tend to store different bits of student information in different databases, often with different operating systems." This is inefficient on its face, and it makes it difficult for schools to provide instruction tailored to the abilities and interests of students.

Seven states are already signed up, and the larger the pool of school districts, the more useful the database will be. Creators of educational technologies will be able to mine the database and create better education packages, including custom packages for states, school districts, individual schools, clusters of students (sports fans, say, or those who struggle with math), and even individuals.

Just think of the possibilities. With several states using the same platform for data, there will be huge incentive for technology companies to get on the band wagon. It seems likely that better and less expensive applications will appear quickly.

This all sounds great, and if it is handled properly, it might be truly wonderful. But if there weren't a down side, I wouldn't be writing about it.

In order to exploit the database, corporations will have to have access to all of this student data.
In operation just three months, the database already holds files on millions of children identified by name, address and sometimes social security number. Learning disabilities are documented, test scores recorded, attendance noted. In some cases, the database tracks student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school - even homework completion.
What about the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the U.S. Department of Education's regulation to protect student privacy and is known to make it difficult for families paying their children's college tuition to see the kid's grades? Apparently it's no obstacle.
Federal officials say the database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any "school official" who has a "legitimate educational interest," according to the Department of Education. The department defines "school official" to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.
It's not hopeless: "Local education officials retain legal control over their students' information" and the database "gives school administrators full control over student files, so they could choose to share test scores with a vendor but withhold social security numbers or disability records." Still, there are reasons for concern.
"Once this information gets out there, it's going to be abused. There's no doubt in my mind," said Jason France, a father of two in Louisiana.

While inBloom pledges to guard the data tightly, its own privacy policy states that it "cannot guarantee the security of the information stored ... or that the information will not be intercepted when it is being transmitted." [ellipsis in original]
So it looks like schools and states will be depending on the good character of corporations with dollar signs in their eyes to handle student information in a responsible and safe manner.

Did I mention that the database infrastructure was built by Amplify Education, a division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp?

How do you think that will work out?

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director