Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"Data is the pollution of the information age."

"Welcome to the future, where everything about you is saved."

Bruce Schneier, chief security technology ad BT, security guru and author of Applied Cryptography, Secrets and Lies and, more recently, Schneier on security, wrote an essay for tackling the issues related to the current data gathering that is growing out of control in the world nowadays.
Although I personally think that most of it is better suited for Sci-Fi novels, he did convince me that this is not a subject to be taken lightly. Starting with his analogy: "Data is the pollution of the information age." - quite an affirmation. He continues to explain that what he means is that, like 100 years ago when people were so focused on rushing the growth of industry that they ignored the many problems of pollution, "we're ignoring data in our rush to build the Information Age."
Schneier gives plenty of examples to show the reader what happens nowadays when we do customary things, such as buying from Amazon, wiring train ticket expanses with our credit card or even RFID chips present in our cell phones and cars, can all be used to correlate our lifestyles with possible purchases. After, he goes on with a few possible outcomes that, to me, seem so very out there and not really possible. Nonetheless, I believe he is right on the money when stating that "[data]... is valuable when reused, but it must be done carefully. Otherwise its after-effects are toxic...". One of the things that allow society to work is the fact that conversations, whether live or on the phone or any other device, is ephemeral. People can't remember everything and every detail and they usually don't have to justify every single word they say (well, except to our wives - who are apparently also an exception to the rule of forgetting - and forgiving, to that matter). Well, this changes when we are presented with a scenario where space is so cheap that it makes sense to just store all that conversational information from MSN, SMS, telephone, mail and so on without a specific intent, but only so that it might be useful in the future.
Well, so far, most of those are stored only if the owner chooses to, but as Schneier states, when government starts to play a big part in making those choices, we loose our right to privacy. "Privacy isn't just about having something to hide; it's a basic right that has enormous value to democracy, liberty and our humanity" - meaning that just because I'm not breaking any rules, I shouldn't have to share personal information.
Back to the pollution analogy, in a few years from now, who knows what sorts of problems this lack of caution with how, when and, most importantly which data we store. A 100 years ago we couldn't care less about pollution and now it's the most discussed issue in the globe, who's to say data is not the next "pollution"?

Closing the post, here is something to take from this:
Future generations will look back at us - living in the early decades of the information age - and judge our solutions to the proliferation of data
- let's make the best of it while we still can!

[via writting | ben fry]


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