Data mining children - the age of no privacy

Our children’s privacy

Did you ever consider the consequences of your online sharing with the family? As innocent and fun as it may be, creating family ties and bring everyone closer together, has also its darker downside. Every one of us is creating a gold mine for the Artificial Intelligence driven algorithms which will drive tomorrow’s online economy. And our children’s privacy is the currency of that economy.

Data mining systems explained

Let’s talk a look at what data mining is. This process is also called data or knowledge discovery and is the process of analyzing data from different perspectives and summarizing it into useful information. This knowledge sprung from the academia and only later was popularised in commercialised Big Data systems which are being used all over the net to analyse how companies can drive the business model in order to increase revenue, cuts costs, and find new markets. 

You may ask why we need Data Mining in the first place. What are the advantages? There are two reasons. The first one is that today, we have enough information information in the world to give every person alive 320 times as much of what was stored in Alexandria’s entire collection — an estimated 1,200 exabytes’ worth. If one placed all of this information on CDs and stacked them vertically, the CDs would form five columns which would all of them reach to the moon.

What we’re are looking at is an amazing explosion of data. As recently as the year 2000, only one-quarter of all the world’s stored information was digital. The rest was preserved on paper, film, and other analog media. But because the amount of digital data expands so quickly, doubling around every three years, that situation has now been reversed. Today, less than two percent of all stored information is nondigital.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 04.19.36

Datafication of… Everything.

But one shouldn’t be looking at size alone. That would be a mistake. Big data is also characterized by the ability to render into data many aspects of the world that have never been quantified before; call it “datafication.” For example, a location has been datafied, first with the invention of longitude and latitude, and more recently with GPS satellite systems. Words are treated as data when computers datamine centuries’ worth of books. Even friendships and “likes” are datafied, via Facebook.

Many countries around the world governments are aggressively pressing for more power, more authority, more surveillance rather than less, in every case these policy proposals that work against the public are being billed as public safety programs.Edward Snowden

Take a look at pictures and face recognition software. Your face and the myriad of pictures you put out, that’s another thing which can be datafied. And when you take all of these, separate datafied information, and start analysing them together, connecting them, that is when things start to get interesting. Supposedly completely disconnected things like an image of a girl on Facebook and some comment on Snapchat, can be brought together by an advanced Artificial Intelligence Algorithm, and connected, to make up a personal profile of the person. And this is only the tip of the ice berg.


Face woman

The playground of the hackers.

Recently hackers built an application, a proof of concept, which by using face recognition could find the users ID, the geo location, habits, inner circle and so on. This was already a couple of years ago, done by some very talented individuals, but done privately with almost no resources at all. Imagine the level advancement and sophistication, surveillance programs like PRISM can provide. This proves once again that every bit of info which we as parents, are willing to place on the net about our children, this might be used for purposes, that in the future, we might not have control over. In other words, we are building willingly an amazing database for the future algorithms. One brick at a time we are giving away the privacy of our kids.


Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 04.19.46

The ultimate screening process

Consider this simple example which explains why there are so many concerns associated with data mining – specifically regarding the source of the data analyzed. If an employer has access to medical records, this might be a perfectly legitimate reason to screen out people who have diabetes or have had a heart attack. Or for that matter any kind of imperfection, might be enough reason to discard the job applicant.  Screening out such employees will cut costs for insurance, will deliver on a more effective work force but  doesn’t it create ethical and legal issues, which are need to be raised? Does that sound like Gattaca? Well, with these kind of systems, we are certainly headed in that direction.


Toys turned surveillance weapons

Or another example. Earlier this year, toy maker Mattel caused privacy concerns of parents with their development of a Wi-Fi connected Barbie doll. The ‘Hello Barbie’ is designed to learn and memorize what kids have said, and holds realistic dialog with their owners. The doll comes installed with a microphone and a speaker, allowing the child to speak to the doll, and the doll to respond with a pre-programmed script. The companies will reportedly uses these “saved conversations” to discover what the kids are saying to their dolls, and what kind of responses need to be generated. All this is done very much like Apple’s Siri. Last month electronic toy company Vtech confirmed that its customer database had been hacked. This led to concerns that stolen data could be used to identify children, as names, dates of birth and even gender were stolen. With the coming trend of every toy and home appliance going online, this is surely just the first of many instances, where our privacy will be breached.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 04.19.48

We as parents are creating a breadcrumbs trail of our children. Even before they are born, we share the birth with pre-birth scans, then the birth pictures, then we proudly share the failures and successes of our little ones. From the very onset of the child’s life, we are making available a digital profile, for companies like Google and Facebook.  And all for free.

We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from government or the corporationWilliam O. Douglas

As Williams O. Douglas succintly put it, the age of no privacy is upon us. However we choose to live our lives, is surely up to us, and our public liberty. But when it comes to our kids, I think we shouldn’t force our values upon them, and decide these crucial decisions, how much, or how little privacy they will want. We should make room for so they can decide for themselves. Hopefully, we will curb on our parental desires to share everything online, and when time comes, we will let our children decide for themselves.