Fuzzifying Data: Yeah, Sure

January 19, 2022

Data are often alleged to be anonymous, but they may not be. Expert companies such as LexisNexis, Acxiom, and mobile phone providers argue that as long as personal identifiers, including names, address, etc., are removed from data it is rendered harmless. Unfortunately data can be re-anonymized without too much trouble. Wired posted Justin Sherman’s article, “Big Data May Not Know Your Name. But It Knows Everything Else.”

Despite humans having similar habits, there is some truth in the phrase “everyone is unique.” With a few white hat or black hat tactics, user data can be traced back to the originator. Data proves to be not only individualized based on a user’s unique identity, but there are also minute ways to gather personal information ranging from Internet search history, GPS logs, and IP address. Companies that want to sell you goods and services purchase the data, but also governments and law enforcement agencies do as well.

There are stringent privacy regulations in place, but in the face of the all mighty dollar and governments bypassing their own laws, it is like spitting in the wind. The scariest fact is that nothing is secret anymore:

“The irony that data brokers claim that their “anonymized” data is risk-free is absurd: Their entire business model and marketing pitch rests on the premise that they can intimately and highly selectively track, understand, and micro target individual people.

This argument isn’t just flawed; it’s also a distraction. Not only do these companies usually know your name anyway, but data simply does not need to have a name or social security number attached to cause harm. Predatory loan companies and health insurance providers can buy access to advertising networks and exploit vulnerable populations without first needing those people’s names. Foreign governments can run disinformation and propaganda campaigns on social media platforms, leveraging those companies’ intimate data on their users, without needing to see who those individuals are.”

Companies and organizations need to regulate themselves, while governments need to pass laws that protect their citizens from bad actors. Self-regulation in the face of dollar signs is like asking a person with sweet tooth to stop eating sugar. However, if governments concentrated on types of data and types of data collection and sharing to regulate rather than a blanket solution could protect users.

Let’s think about the implications. No, let’s not.

Whitney Grace January 19, 2022


2 Responses to “Fuzzifying Data: Yeah, Sure”

  1. Google and Tracking Magic : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search on February 4th, 2022 5:05 am

    […] apps, and that is unlikely to change as long as tracking data (“anonymized,” we are repeatedly assured) remains a valuable source of revenue. CNet considers, “Can You Really Stop Google from Tracking […]

  2. Doing Good for Data Harvesting : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search on March 10th, 2022 5:10 am

    […] for suicidal individuals in the US. Naturally, the organization is hiding behind the assertion of anonymized data. Writer Karl Bode tells […]

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