Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Privacy? Numbers In A Bucket

In exchange for a free smartphone, 100 students at M.I.T. have agreed to be tracked. The dormitory research project is being led by an M.I.T. professor who’s also the co-founder of Sense Networks, a software analytics company in New York that’s determined to figure out where people go and what they like. Sense looks at data from cell phone records and devices that feature global positioning systems, then applies complex statistical algorithms to sort it all out and make predictions. Direct marketers have known for quite awhile about demographic profiling and predictive modeling, of course. An article in the November 29 New York Times affirms the DM wisdom “…with the Internet, wireless sensors, and the capability to analyze an avalanche of data, a person’s profile can be drawn without monitoring him or her directly.” GPS tracking boosts this “collective intelligence,” disclosing not only where we go, but what we buy, which social networks we belong to, what Internet sites we surf, and … well, just about everything else. Harrison Brown, an 18-year-old freshman mathematics major who’s part of the tracked set at M.I.T. isn’t concerned. “The way I see it, we all have Facebook pages, we all have email and websites and blogs. This is a drop in the bucket in terms of privacy.” Some bucket, huh?

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