Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Weblining--what you 'search' can be used against you?

Anyone who has watched a law enforcement television show has heard the apprehending official state the Miranda warning to the person being arrested. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be held against you in a court of law...."

According to Wikipedia, "the 'Miranda rights' was enshrined in U.S. law following the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona Supreme Court decision, which found that the Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment rights of Ernesto Arturo Miranda had been violated during his arrest and trial for domestic violence." Within this decision the court did not provide the exact wording of the warning but did set guidelines that law enforcement must follow:
"...The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that he or she has the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court...."

In her recent New York Times article Lori Andrews provides a similar warning. She defines "weblining" as using the results from analyzing aggregate data to discriminate against individuals or groups of people. The term is based on the use of "redlining." Andrews explains:
"In the 1970s, a professor of communication studies at Northwestern University named John McKnight popularized the term “redlining” to describe the failure of banks, insurers and other institutions to offer their services to inner city neighborhoods. The term came from the practice of bank officials who drew a red line on a map to indicate where they wouldn’t invest. But use of the term expanded to cover a wide array of racially discriminatory practices, such as not offering home loans to African-Americans, even those who were wealthy or middle class."

For example, "Your application for credit could be declined not on the basis of your own finances or credit history, but on the basis of aggregate data — what other people whose likes and dislikes are similar to yours have done." "What?!?" you might ask, how can that be? Andrews goes not to explain that "If guitar players or divorcing couples are more likely to renege on their credit-card bills, then the fact that you’ve looked at guitar ads or sent an e-mail to a divorce lawyer might cause a data aggregator to classify you as less credit-worthy. When an Atlanta man returned from his honeymoon, he found that his credit limit had been lowered to $3,800 from $10,800. The switch was not based on anything he had done but on aggregate data. A letter from the company told him, 'Other customers who have used their card at establishments where you recently shopped have a poor repayment history with American Express.'"

Wow! While I do think that the analysis of data can and does provide the consumer with more useful, directed advertisements, this is not a proper use of individuals' aggregated data. So, here is your warning, what you search can and may be used against you. Now you know.

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