U.S. News suggests we relax and learn to love big data collection

According to this report:

It seems like there’s more information about us flowing around online with each passing day, whether we intended that to happen or not.

But there are also great benefits associated with those data flows and the uses of our personal information, and lawmakers should be careful when seeking to curtail commercial data collection and use or else they could kill the goose that lays the Internet’s golden eggs.

Apparently, this reporter has been won over by the book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. I wonder who its authors work for? In an interview, they stated:

Big data improves economic efficiency, but that’s only a very small part of the story. We realized when talking to dozens and dozens of big data pioneers that it improves health care, advances better education, and helps predict societal change—from urban sprawl to the spread of the flu. Big data is roaring through all sectors of the economy and all areas of life.

They think that’s the good side of big data collection. As for the dark side, they state:

However the real challenge is that the problem is not necessarily where we initially tend to think it is, such as surveillance and privacy. After looking into the potential misuses of big data, we became much more troubled by “propensity” — that is, big data predictions being used to police and punish.

The U.S. News report includes this quote from the book:

“data’s value needs to be considered in terms of all the possible ways it can be employed in the future, not simply how it is used in the present.” They note, “data is like a magical diamond mine that keeps on giving long after its principle value has been tapped.”

In my opinion, that’s a problem, although the U.S. News reporter doesn’t think so:

…the harms that are sometimes alleged about commercial data collection and use are almost never substantiated. No one is being excluded from the information economy because of these practices. To the contrary, data collection means all consumers enjoy a fuller range or goods and services, usually at a very low price.

Terrific. More variety in goods and services, but life under tyranny. As the Scriptures state, the love of money (greed) is the root of all evil. Unfortunately, the reporter is correct that people will prefer the greater variety of goods and services:

People will adapt to most of these practices as they have in the past when other technologies disrupted established social and economic norms…technologies that were initially viewed as intrusive or annoying one day often become not just accepted, but even essential, in fairly short order.

Are convenient goods and services the true opiate of the people?

The article implies, while asserting the opposite, that those who oppose big data collection are a threat to the economy:

Heavy-handed regulatory approaches to data management will likely derail our data-driven economy and all the benefits it brings us. This is not about “protecting corporate profits” or Silicon Valley companies. This is about ensuring that individuals as both citizens and consumers continue to enjoy the myriad benefits that accompany an open, innovative information ecosystem.

It’s not about “protecting corporate profits” or Silicon Valley companies? Me thinks he doth protest too much.

The author of this piece is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. That’s a “free-market” think tank funded by folks such as the Koch brothers. You can see who’s on its board of directors on this Wikipedia page. As I said, greed is the root of all evil.

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