Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What I am reading 5/27/2014

Ars Technica - FTC has it's eye on regulating shadowy business of "data brokers" -

Most consumers don't know about data brokers, but the brokers sure know about them. Data brokers, like the nine studied in the FTC report published today, get information about consumers from the offline world: retailers, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and real property records. Increasingly, that data gets combined with online information collected via cookies, which provide details about what sites a person visits and what type of online information is being sought out.

I downloaded the report but it's 110 pages so I didn't get a chance to read it.  I have a couple thoughts on how to at least mess with the data brokers.

  1. Create a false, or multiple false personas.  Use your real ID for the important stuff like banks and bills and the fakes for everything else.  I would even go so far as to get one or two skype or google voice phone numbers and don't tie them back to anything.
  2. Surf on more than one browser.  Use incognito mode and purge the cookies when you are done.
  3. If given the option always opt out whne sites ask if they can use your location data or collect information.
  4. Use a script that will hit the google I feel lucky link every 15 seconds while you are at work or sleeping.  That should skew their metrics.

BoingBoing - Privacy versus government surveillance: where network effects meet public choice

The Snowden papers reveal an international surveillance network whose scale surprised even
industry insiders and security experts. In order to understand how this might be brought under
appropriate political, judicial and social control, we need to understand its dynamics. Of course these depend hugely on the economics of the communications service industries; its was the existence of large service firms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft which control the personal information of many millions of people that enabled the intelligence agencies to gain cheap and convenient access via PRISM, while the relatively small number of international cable operators facilitates TEMPORA. But that is not all

The actual paper BoingBoing is discussing is here.

FiveThirtyEight - Be Skeptical of Both Piketty and His Skeptics

Piketty’s errors would not have been detected so soon had he not published his data in detail. That’s not to say that transparency is an absolute defense.5 But one should also assume that there are as many problems (probably more) with unpublished data, or poorly explained methods.6
The peer-review process ideally involves both exactly replicating a research finding and replicating it in principle. It would be problematic if other researchers couldn’t duplicate Piketty’s data. But it would be at least as problematic — I’d argue more so — if they could replicate it but found that Piketty’s conclusions were not very robust to changes in assumptions or data sources.

I chose this quote for a reason, because it illustrates not only the debate over Piketty's book, but also over another contentious issue - Anthropogenic Climate Change.  One of the major complaints of serious skeptics is that Mann has never released his data sets so his work can't be independently evaluated.  They clam that he has only released the data to people who are sympathetic or invested in his views.  That causes suspicion of the accuracy of his data.  Even if you believe that Climate Change is entirely driven by man caused influences you should still want the data vigorously challenged.  The point being that this sort of skeptical argument is good for driving knowledge forward.

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