Tag Archives: Big data

Uber’s “God View” shows more power means more responsibility

In case you haven’t seen, Uber, the controversial (for taxi companies anyway) new contract ride service, is in trouble. Seems they have a way of knowing where everyone who uses their service goes. It’s available to those inside the company. It’s called “God View.”

Obviously there is considerable power in having such a God view. As Lord Acton reminded us, there is a corrupting power related to power. All it would take would be for someone not using their head to use it for bad reasons. Buzzfeed broke a story about the New York executive for Uber using the God View to track the movements of a reporter and others. One other executive said that Uber might use the tracking information to smear reporters who wrote critically of the company. He, of course, apologized and admitted saying that was “wrong.”

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking to a group of almost 200 Sheriff’s and police chiefs. Big data is getting to be big news, big opportunities, with big concern. There is no question that big data which is now being made available to law enforcement to provide “threat scores” including any questionable or threatening social media post, will be an important enhancement to law enforcement. But, given revelations like the NSA activity and the increasing awareness of the loss of anonymity, a backlash against big data and its use is already evident. No doubt, it will grow.

Companies like Apple, Google–even Uber–are amassing personal data of amazing detail and complexity. We need companies and executives who commit to “do no evil” as Google famously has done. More than that, we need leaders who don’t just say it, but do it.

There will be legislation–as so many seem to think rules fix all problems. Legislation alone won’t. We need people and leaders to understand the corrupting nature of power and have the moral strength to resist. When they don’t, as with these Uber folks, the public reaction should be swift and decisive.

I’m thinking that Uber’s reaction of now publishing its privacy policy is far too little and too late. It should have revealed the existence of God View earlier. It should severely limit the people who have access to it rather than making so widely available in the company. It should have a strict policy for when God View would be used and publicly disclose that. It should have an outside, respected panel responsible for approving any use of it. Overkill? Maybe, but if not the result may be market kill. Any more such revelation of abuse of God View may seriously damage rider’s willingness to use Uber. Suddenly, taking a taxi for many looks like a safer bet.

Privacy and the Internet, an honest assessment, but is it good or bad?

Bruce Schneier in this CNN opinion piece makes it very clear: privacy is gone. He uses three examples of people who all the reason in the world and the technical savvy (including our former CIA director) to maintain privacy and how it proved impossible for them. Take all the security measures you can think of, and those who want to know about what you do, who you are, how you spend your time will find out.

“Big Data” is a term we are going to be hearing much more about.

News headlines last week said that our defense analysts now consider cyberwarfare a greater threat to our national security than terrorism. That’s is saying a lot.

Sometime I think I’m about the only person in the world not absolutely terrified by the loss of privacy. It’s a little to me about the fear or animosity toward cops. Some people seem to treat police like enemies. Sure, occasionally I panic a bit when driving and I see a patrol car with radar checking speed. I only panic though when I’m not in cruise control and may have not been watching my speed. Other times, I’m wishing they would catch some of these yahoos flying by me as I am maxed out at 76 mph in a 70 zone.

I’m certain there are a lot of people doing things using the Internet that they are not particularly proud of. Is it possible that this lack of privacy may help keep people from doing the things they just as soon their spouse or children or friends or pastor not know about? I was raised with the understanding that somehow, somewhere an eternal record was being kept on my actions. That I will face a day when that record will be replayed in full view of the ultimate judge and perhaps all of humanity. Talk about big data! For many, being given that kind of thought as a young child may seem cruel and lead to vast guilt. Not really, providing that forgiveness and grace are also part of that picture. Buried in the deepest sea and all that.

We seem to have sort of lost the value of teaching about right and wrong, including the thought of some kind of record being kept and some possible disclosure of that record. But, that religious teaching is being replaced by a secular equivalent. No doubt the growing recognition of what Schneier is talking about is triggering a lot of fear and guilt. Perhaps it is also serving in some cases as a restraining force. When someone thinks about logging onto that porn site, will they now start thinking about who will know about it when?

There is a difference in the old idea of big data (religious) vs. today’s idea (secular)–I’m not sure where forgiveness and redemption comes in. Wait and see on that one I guess.