Is Privacy Algorithmically Impossible?

MIT Technology Reviewwhat.is_.personal.data2x519: “In 1995, the European Union introduced privacy legislation that defined “personal data” as any information that could identify a person, directly or indirectly. The legislators were apparently thinking of things like documents with an identification number, and they wanted them protected just as if they carried your name.
Today, that definition encompasses far more information than those European legislators could ever have imagined—easily more than all the bits and bytes in the entire world when they wrote their law 18 years ago.
Here’s what happened. First, the amount of data created each year has grown exponentially (see figure)…
Much of this data is invisible to people and seems impersonal. But it’s not. What modern data science is finding is that nearly any type of data can be used, much like a fingerprint, to identify the person who created it: your choice of movies on Netflix, the location signals emitted by your cell phone, even your pattern of walking as recorded by a surveillance camera. In effect, the more data there is, the less any of it can be said to be private. We are coming to the point that if the commercial incentives to mine the data are in place, anonymity of any kind may be “algorithmically impossible,” says Princeton University computer scientist Arvind Narayanan.”

An API for "We the People"

WeThePeopleThe White House Blog: “We can’t talk about We the People without getting into the numbers — more than 8 million users, more than 200,000 petitions, more than 13 million signatures. The sheer volume of participation is, to us, a sign of success.
And there’s a lot we can learn from a set of data that rich and complex, but we shouldn’t be the only people drawing from its lessons.
So starting today, we’re making it easier for anyone to do their own analysis or build their own apps on top of the We the People platform. We’re introducing the first version of our API, and we’re inviting you to use it.
Get started here:
This API provides read-only access to data on all petitions that passed the 150 signature threshold required to become publicly-available on the We the People site. For those who don’t need real-time data, we plan to add the option of a bulk data download in the near future. Until that’s ready, an incomplete sample data set is available for download here.”

Frameworks for a Location–Enabled Society

Annual CGA Conference “Location-enabled devices are weaving “smart grids” and building “smart cities;” they allow people to discover a friend in a shopping mall, catch a bus at its next stop, check surrounding air quality while walking down a street, or avoid a rain storm on a tourist route – now or in the near future. And increasingly they allow those who provide services to track, whether we are walking past stores on the street or seeking help in a natural disaster.
The Centre for Spatial Law and Policy based in Washington, DC, the Center for Geographic Analysis, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University are co-hosting a two-day program examining the legal and policy issues that will impact geospatial technologies and the development of location-enabled societies. The event will take place at Harvard University on May 2-3, 2013…The goal is to explore the different dimensions of policy and legal concerns in geospatial technology applications, and to begin in creating a policy and legal framework for a location-enabled society. Download the conference program brochure.
Live Webcast:

Stream videos at Ustream

Science Exchange: Science as Service

ScienceUnion Square Ventures: “Right now, there are thousands of scientists whose research is being held up because they lack access to the experimental expertise needed to test a hypothesis or verify a result. But while we have seen how online marketplaces can dramatically expand and create new businesses in many other diverse areas, it is still too difficult for those scientists to access the right experimental expertise.
Help is on the way. Techniques that some label “science as a service” are making specialized resources and institutional expertise available on demand and with openness and transparency. Science Exchange is applying these market-based principles, having created an online community for scientists to list, discover, access and pay for experimental services from research institutions around the world, thereby creating the world’s first true online marketplace for specialized scientific expertise….
Science Exchange’s mission is to democratize access the global network of scientific resources and expertise. We are excited to be investors in Science Exchange. You can read more about the company here.”

The White House, Tumbling Things

tumblr_inline_mlvflrwBYf1qz4rgpThe White House launches Tumblr: “We see some great things here at the White House every day, and sharing that stuff with you is one of the best parts of our jobs. That’s why we’re launching a Tumblr.
We’ll post things like the best quotes from President Obama, or video of young scientists visiting the White House for the science fair, or photos of adorable moments with Bo. We’ve got some wonky charts, too.
Because to us, those are actually kind of exciting. But this is also about you. President Obama is committed to making this the most open and accessible administration in history, and our Tumblr is no exception.
We want to see what you have to share: Questions you have for the White House, stories of what a policy like immigration reform means to you, or ways we can improve our Tumbling. We’re new here, and we’re all ears”

Visual argumentation

Volta: “Visualising arguments helps people assemble their throughts and get to grip with complex problems according to The Argumentation Factory, based in Amsterdam. Their Argument Maps, constructed for government agencies, NGOs and commercial organizations, are designed to enable people to make better decisions and share and communicate information.
Dutch research organisation TNO, in association with The Argumentation Factory, have launched the European Shale Gas Argument Map detailing the pros and cons of the production of shale gas for EU member states with shale gas resources. Their map is designed to provide the foundation for an open discussion and help the user make a balaced assessment.”


Toward an Ecological Model of Research and Development

Ben Schneiderman, the founding director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab,  in The Atlantic: “The choice between basic and applied research is a false one….The belief that basic or pure research lays the foundation for applied research was fixed in science policy circles by Vannevar Bush’s 1945 report on Science: The Endless Frontier. Unfortunately, his unsubstantiated beliefs have remained attractive to powerful advocates of basic research who seek funding for projects that may or may not advance innovation and economic growth. Shifting the policy agenda to recognize that applied research goals often trigger more effective basic research could accelerate both applied and basic research….the highest payoffs often come when there is a healthy interaction of basic and applied research (Figure 3). This ecological model also suggests that basic and applied research are embedded in a rich context of large development projects and continuing efforts to refine production & operations.”

From Open Data to Information Justice

Paper by Jeffrey Johnson for Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association: “This paper argues for subsuming the question of open data within a larger question of information justice. I show that there are several problems of justice that emerge as a consequence of opening data to full public accessibility, and are generally a consequence of the failure of the open data movement to understand the constructed nature of data. I examine three such problems: the embedding of social privilege in datasets as the data is constructed, the differential capabilities of data users (especially differences between citizens and “enterprise” users), and the norms that data systems impose through their function as disciplinary systems.
In each case I show that open data has the quite real potential to exacerbate rather than alleviate injustices. This necessitates a theory of information justice. I briefly suggest two complementary directions in which such a theory might be developed: one leading toward moral principles that can be used to evaluate the justness of data practices, and another exploring the practices and structures that a social movement promoting information justice might pursue.”

The Social Affordances of the Internet for Networked Individualism

Paper by NetLab (Toronto University) scholars in the latest issue of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: “We review the evidence from a number of surveys in which our NetLab has been involved about the extent to which the Internet is transforming or enhancing community. The studies show that the Internet is used for connectivity locally as well as globally, although the nature of its use varies in different countries. Internet use is adding on to other forms of communication, rather than replacing them. Internet use is reinforcing the pre-existing turn to societies in the developed world that are organized around networked individualism rather than group or local solidarities. The result has important implications for civic involvement.”

Crowd diagnosis could spot rare diseases doctors miss

New Scientist: “Diagnosing rare illnesses could get easier, thanks to new web-based tools that pool information from a wide variety of sources…CrowdMed, launched on 16 April at the TedMed conference in Washington DC, uses crowds to solve tough medical cases.

Anyone can join CrowdMed and analyse cases, regardless of their background or training. Participants are given points that they can then use to bet on the correct diagnosis from lists of suggestions. This creates a prediction market, with diagnoses falling and rising in value based on their popularity, like stocks in a stock market. Algorithms then calculate the probability that each diagnosis will be correct. In 20 initial test cases, around 700 participants identified each of the mystery diseases as one of their top three suggestions….

Frustrated patients and doctors can also turn to FindZebra, a recently launched search engine for rare diseases. It lets users search an index of rare disease databases looked after by a team of researchers. In initial trials, FindZebra returned more helpful results than Google on searches within this same dataset.”