Data collection can save lives

but people are worried it could ruin lives too.

Companies often use algorithms to optimize users’ experiences on their websites.  Sites like Facebook collect user data to provide them information that is more likely what they are interested in.  Facebook can also tailor advertisements to target audiences, and can therefor receive more advertising money.  In this seemingly win-win situation for Facebook and the user, who is losing?

According to a report from French think-tank Forum d’Avignon, even the consumers are benefitting from this technology, “are more and more suspicious about this massive capture of (their) data.

Data capture is not only collecting what sites you visit frequently, but is also collecting and creating an image of who you are.
“The depth (and the intimacy) of personal data collected without our necessarily being aware of it enables third parties to understand our identity, our private and cultural past, present and future lives, and to sell them.”
Data collection is still evolving, because businesses can market their understanding of their audience to advertising companies better. Most social media sites even allow users to promote tweets.  When the Appalachian State University Men’s Ultimate team promoted their team in the beginning of the year, they were able to select the age range and location of who they wanted to promote to, but for big businesses, the options are much more descriptive, and therefor worth more.
 With companies profiting off of human identity, and other groups able to push their products or ideas to select audiences, it brings a lot ethical questions to consumers, businesses, and governments.
In the first presidential debate of the 2016 U.S. election, Hilary Clinton called for an “intelligence surge” to protect citizens from homegrown terrorists. But by homegrown citizens are terrorists too, so this intelligence surge would mean that more and more of regular citizens information would be tracked by the government.
According to a New York Times article, “The United States already collects and shares more intelligence than ever.” Some of citizen’s information rights are still protected though.
“And the F.B.I. is not allowed to conduct open-ended investigations without evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Nor is it allowed to collect intelligence solely related to people’s views. Admiring Osama bin Laden or the Islamic State or expressing hatred for the United States is not a crime.”
Without these protections, the U.S. would not be defending the independence and democracy that it was founded on.  There must be a balance of safety and freedom.

In Europe during Forum d’Avignon, 500 participants came to the conclusion that we must build a society that is “aided – not driven – by data.” To do this they believe data collection must balance “research, economic and social development, and the protection of personal

data.”
This idea realizes that all personal data cannot be protected, or else we wouldn’t be a society, but just a group of completely independent people.  Our individual stories and information is what makes us human, and sharing it with others is part of the human experience.  By balancing research, development and protection, society can interact safely and fairly in the online world.
Data collection can not only streamline our online experience, but can help people in the real world.  After the devastating earthquake in Japan in 2011, Facebook developed a feature to track who is safe during disasters.  Now families and friends of those in a affected can quickly see if their loved-ones are accounted for.
Data-collection can even save lives.  Computer scientists and social workers are collaborating at University of South Carolina to create an algorithm that can “identify the best person in a given homeless community to spread important HIV prevention information among youth, based on a mapped-out network of friendships,” according to an article on Mashable.
Being 60% more effective at spreading information than word-of-mouth, this data-collection algorithm will help teach homeless people simple health education such as “the importance of wearing condoms” and where and how to get tested for HIV.
Education is key to preventing HIV from spreading among homeless people, and maybe this technology can be used to help teach homeless people more skills to get out of the streets.  Watch the TEDx Talk  below to learn more about educating the homeless.

**Featured Photo by Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons. 

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