Connecting the dots

Business Week talks about how Math Will Rock Your World

This industrial metamorphosis also has a dark side. The power of mathematicians to make sense of personal data and to model the behavior of individuals will inevitably continue to erode privacy. Merchants will be in a position to track many of our most intimate purchases, and employers will be able to rank us not only by productivity, but by wasted minutes. What’s more, the rise of math can contribute to a sense that individuals are powerless, a foreboding that mathematics, from our credit rating to our genomic map, spells out our destiny.

This is not a new story. It is, as usual with a lot of technofud, an old story in new clothes.

There are those that pine for the good ol’ days with close knit neighborhoods. This was when the few merchants available knew their customers in much the same way that is the worry about privacy. Even worse, your neighbors often had an even more intimate knowledge about you and your family.

As in the story about the King’s new clothes, the invasion of privacy, in this case noticing that the new clothes were no clothes, didn’t make much of a difference until someone acted on the knowledge gained in the privacy invasion.

In criminal matters, prosecutors who invade privacy improperly loose the opportunity to gain evidence from that invasion. In civil matters, privacy invasion becomes grist for a lawsuit when secret knowledge is divulged or used in some innapropriate manner.

What technology is doing is making the knowledge more accurate and less expensive. It changes the flavor but not the underlying issues related to how that knowledge is used.

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