The recent ethical controversy of internet privacy and compliancy laws has gained exceeding popularity. The advancements of technology as well as emerging fields of statistics such as data mining have contributed to the growth of this controversy.
I recently read the New York Times article How Companies Know Your Secrets. The article discuses a Target statistician’s development of a pregnancy prediction model used to identify pregnant mothers. The knowledge that mothers are more desperate for a “one stop shop” after children sculpted the model objective. The objective is to entice women prior to motherhood through coupons and advertisements to develop a sub-conscious shopping “habit”. The ability to collect data from tracing internet visitation and credit/ bonus card purchases has led to a calculus of subconscious urges. (This has also led scientists to affirm that technology is addictive and habit forming because of the sub-conscious pleasure received from an immediate response of an email or a search engine answer.) Target officials defended their new pregnancy prediction mechanism by stating: “Our mission is to make Target the preferred shopping destination for our guests by delivering outstanding value, continuous innovation and exceptional guest experience. . .we have developed a number of research tools that allow us to gain insights into trends and preferences within different demographic segments of our guest population. Almost all of your statements contain inaccurate information and publishing them would be misleading to the public. We do not intend to address each statement point by point.” The company declined to state what the inaccurate information was.
Privacy issues were of concern relatively recently in the Facebook ad tracking controversy. In addition, the recent revision of Google’s security and privacy terms has also jeopardized a user’s comfort and security. The new Google revision permits certain tracking of user searches to optimize their search algorithm. Google just received media for bypassing Apple privacy settings to collect Iphone information (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0212/73023.html).
Some consumers feel as if the breach of privacy for data collection is beneficial by providing useful coupons and advertisements for applicable products; however, a woman not ready to disclose a pregnancy who receives personal coupons for baby products may feel the individualized attention is uncomfortably invasive. Many people are not aware of the danger associated with privacy and compliancy laws. What are the repercussions of a miscalculated assumption derived by a purchasing history being sold to another institution such as the government, or a potential employer? Is a commenter being irrational by posing the question, “When I apply for a job will they turn me down because there is a 97% chance that I’ve had cancer in the last three years” based upon pharmacy purchases. As technology readily progresses privacy laws are lagging behind. Congressmen Edward Markey recently drafted a mobile device privacy act but unfortunately it cannot be viewed without advising Google, Facebook and Twitter, and most likely revealing your identity (http://devinedevices.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/goo-detat/). I believe this is just a beginning to the establishment of many internet privacy and data protection laws.