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White House Worried About Discrimination Through Analytics 231

Posted by Soulskill
from the codifying-the-digital-divide dept.
Cludge writes "Describing concerns about the potential for big data methods to inadvertently classify people by race, religion, income or other forms of discrimination, the White House announced it will release a report next week that reviews the adequacy of existing privacy laws and regulations in the era of online data collection. The review, led by Obama's senior counselor, John Podesta, will outline concerns about whether methods used for commercial applications may be inherently vulnerable to inadvertent discrimination. 'He described a program called "Street Bump" in Boston that detected pot-holes using sensors in smartphones of citizens who had downloaded an app. The program inadvertently directed repair crews to wealthier neighborhoods, where people were more likely to carry smartphones and download the app.' 'It's easy to imagine how big data technology, if used to cross legal lines we have been careful to set, could end up reinforcing existing inequities in housing, credit, employment, health and education,' he said."
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White House Worried About Discrimination Through Analytics

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  • by mfh (56) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @07:32AM (#46852237) Homepage Journal

    The other side of this discussion are false positives. In any system where discrimination is allowed, power hungry climbers can throw a rival under the bus with a quick click. The system won't care if you and your family are labeled enemies of the state suddenly and put on all the blacklists that exist, your loved ones taken away without a trial and all because some person you work with wants your job.

    • by rbrander (73222)

      You mean like Afghans who sold out rivals (often relatives) to the USA, to become some of the longest-serving Guantanamo captives? Yeah, that happens. Has for centuries in any regime that takes people away upon suspicion. That's what's wrong, not the information-gathering system; why you don't circumvent the protections of due process. I'm not sure what's new about this particular complaint system.

    • More to the point, this inadvertently directed repair crews to wealthier neighborhoods. Typically, repair crews are intentionally directed to wealthier neighborhoods.

      I have damn good negotiation skills compared to the average man, but not to the professional. I'm trying to improve these in a number of ways--better study, better writing, public speaking training from lawyers. But the result of my menial advantage is obvious: I can call the city and make them do things for me for free.

      12 years a burn

  • Pfft... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blahplusplus (757119) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @07:42AM (#46852267)

    .. they got to be joking. Considering everyone is racing to total information awareness to gain competitive advantage (NSA, GCHQ, etc). There's no stopping this, this is all token bullshit at this point. The only way to deal with this is to make the opaque institutions more transparent. You create data wherever you go, modern technology is so embedded in everyday life that it's impossible not for someone to build any kind of profile on you. Corporations have long been buying and selling data six ways to sunday, we can already assume they (NSA and helpers) will turn the packets they are harvesting off the net from anything you've ever posted into a permanent dossier on you.

    Let's just be honest the leaders don't give a fuck, Obama is a moderate right republican. Most voters in North america are completely and totally politically illiterate.

    What the elite are worried about is political awakening... Many in the bottom billions of poor on planet earth are in abject poverty and oppression. Elites want to keep those people in their place, hence the elites desire to control the internet.

    People are waking up to the fact that the governments are all power hungry and corrupt and are not there to serve the interests of the people, but that of the global elite and the multi-billion dollar corporations.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • White House is looking ahead, far into the future, where all active and advertent discrimination is gone and the only problem left is inactive and inadvertent discrimination becomes the top priority. And it is acting now to forestall that possibility. But unfortunately many people will not see it as a farsighted move on the part of the administration and ridicule it. And the ridicule will come from both left and right. Finally Obama would have united America into one !. Hurrah!
    • by uberdilligaff (988232) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:41AM (#46852477)
      The hypocrisy is that the party currently occupying the White House has gone to extraordinary efforts to apply big data analytics to identify and exploit the very differences (race, income, ethnicity, education, etc.) that this article decries in order to maximize their political gain in elections. They go to great lengths to discriminate along the same factors that they want other organizations to be blind to. To quote from just one article describing Obama's 2012 campaign:

      "To derive individual-level predictions, algorithms trawled for patterns between these opinions and the data points the campaign had assembled for every voter—as many as one thousand variables each, drawn from voter registration records, consumer data warehouses, and past campaign contacts. ... The efficiency and scale of that process put the Democrats well ahead when it came to profiling voters."

      So, exploit the demographics (e.g. profile and discriminate) when it helps your party, but wag your finger at the rest of the world when they do it even "inadvertently".
      • by Latent Heat (558884) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:58AM (#46852539)
        . . . orders you to "don't go there."
      • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday April 27, 2014 @09:15AM (#46852627) Homepage

        So, exploit the demographics (e.g. profile and discriminate) when it helps your party, but wag your finger at the rest of the world when they do it even "inadvertently".

        Maybe it's more like, "Exploit demographics when determining who you can persuade and sell things to, but use the same level of analysis when analyzing demographics to hand out public benefits, in order to make sure the benefits are provided equitably."...?

        Because it seems to me that they're not saying, "We shouldn't analyze this data," but more that, "We should be careful when analyzing this data to prevent bias that would result in unjust public policy." So therefore in that line of thinking, targeting your campaign ads to likely voters would be fine. Targeting your tax cuts to the same likely voters would not be fine. Targeting your tax cuts to only benefit rich white men would be even less fine.

  • by JeffOwl (2858633)
    FTFA "White House announced it will release a report next week that reviews the adequacy of existing privacy laws" hahahahahahaha... So now the White House is concerned about privacy. I feel better already.
  • by oic0 (1864384) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:18AM (#46852395)
    I worry about this every time I see any government form that asks for race. What can they possibly do with that information that wouldn't be discriminatory?
    • "Race: Human. Mostly."

    • by msauve (701917)
      Your race:

      1) NASCAR
      2) Kentucky Derby
      3) Tour de France
      4) Boston Marathon
      5) Indianapolis 500
      6) Other/unknown
    • When the census-takers came around a couple of years ago, they asked me how many people lived in my home. I told them.

      Then they started asking me questions about income, the race of everybody in the home, etc. I did not tell them.

      I said "The Constitution provides that you take an enumeration of the population. You have done so. You have no other business here. Goodbye."

      Close door.
  • Nationality (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:21AM (#46852399)

    Years ago I was flipping through TV channels and came across a scene from a movie based on The Little Prince. He's on an asteroid that's divided up into little countries and some bureaucrat is telling him that he can't cross from one country to the next without extensive paperwork - but the asteroid is so small the only a couple steps would take him into the a neighboring country.

    And the more I thought about it, the more it seemed ridiculous to try to coerce people to live out their lives in which ever arbitrary geographical boundaries they were born into - an egregious affront to principle of individual freedom. Would it be so wrong for a person to live a few years in one country and a few in another? Is there really a fundamental need to keep everyone on the planet penned up in arbitrary geographical boundaries?

    But while many people become quite sanctimonious in defending laws against discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and perhaps even such things as religious and political views, many of these same people will nod approvingly of laws that not only allow, but actually require, discrimination on the basis of nationality.

    Certainly there is progress to made in reducing the last vestiges of racial and gender discrimination. But to ignore discrimination of the basis of nationality seems both oblivious and inconsistent.

    • by Richy_T (111409)

      Such controls are only fairly recent and are typically more about control than anything. Hopefully they are a fad that will pass though the welfare states of many nations make it troublesome to remove.

      • No, such distinctions are as old as time. There will always be the in groups and the out groups. You can't even call it human nature as many animals form hierarchical groups that collectively lay claim to territory and compete with one another for resources.

  • by prefec2 (875483) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:22AM (#46852407)

    The whole point of big data is to identify common properties of groups of people to be able to exploit them. While big data could also be used to find diseases, protect us from natural disasters, its is only utilized to such efforts when their is a financial gain or a gain in control of the population. For companies, it is only used for exploitation. Now wondering about that is hypocritical.

  • by swb (14022) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:27AM (#46852431)

    They have more money, more political access, are better educated and have access to more resources.

    Even if Boston dispatched street repair based on complaints, wouldn't they end up fixing roads in wealthier areas before poor areas simply because the more money people have the more likely they are to own cars and drive more? And are more likely to call and complain, and so on?

  • America!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cookYourDog (3030961) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:28AM (#46852433)
    What a masterful politician.

    Instead of a discussion on privacy, and liberty, we are moved the much more state-friendly discussion of skin color and class. After all, Americans are all racist, greedy, and hate-filled, and only the state can protect us from one another. I, for one, support the drones.
  • by srichard25 (221590) on Sunday April 27, 2014 @08:47AM (#46852495)

    Let's apply the same standards to the NSA collecting data on all Americans. Since white people are more likely to own cell phones and use the internet, the NSA data collection will be racially biased and should be ended in the name of equality.

  • He described a program called "Street Bump" in Boston that detected pot-holes using sensors in smartphones of citizens who had downloaded an app. The program inadvertently directed repair crews to wealthier neighborhoods, where people were more likely to carry smartphones and download the app.

    This is a perfect example of something that's NOT discrimination. The "wealthy" neighborhood committed more time and energy towards reporting potholes; this is not discrimination based on their person, but these p

    • by ganjadude (952775)
      heres another idea, Fit this app on cops who do patrol work, you would get a good map fairly quickly, and you would be helping out the poor (most crime happens in poor areas, therefore more cops driving around, therefore more potholes reported!)
    • by tepples (727027)

      BUT people who can afford gas for a $5000 for a car can afford a $50 smart phone capable of running the apps.

      The purchase price of a smart phone is only a fraction of how much it costs to run over a 24-month period. Or are the applications also designed to run with no data connection, logging data for later upload through Wi-Fi?

      • by mysidia (191772)

        The purchase price of a smart phone is only a fraction of how much it costs to run over a 24-month period.

        And yet... so far my admittedly limited observation is that in the US -- most people have cell phones, even people who are poor ---- their cell phone may have replaced their landline. The monthly cell phone plan is one of those essential things that people seem to buy, just after water food, essential medicine, and electricity, even when they don't have any disposable income.

        Or are the ap

        • so far my admittedly limited observation is that in the US -- most people have cell phones, even people who are poor ---- their cell phone may have replaced their landline.

          Unless you get someone who buys a dumbphone because he doesn't want to have to pay extra for a data plan [slashdot.org]. Or perhaps he buys an Android phone because it's cheaper than the iPhone that Street Bump requires because he didn't buy the phone with the specific intent of running Street Bump.

          records an entire trip

          Thank you for clarifying. But it still requires specifically an iPhone, and I was under the impression that iPhone ownership, as opposed to dumbphone or Android phone ownership, was correlated with higher socioeconomic status.

  • Poor people can get gov't-subsidized smart phones [prweb.com]. There's no reason in the world they can't use these apps the same as the evil rich folks. This is blatant race- / class-baiting from the White House to further distract the masses from matters of real importance -- you, destruction of our civil liberties, telling the NSA not to talk to the press, etc.
  • Yet the White House has no qualms about discrimination based on lack of net neutrality. They can be bought.
  • Describing concerns about the potential for big data methods to inadvertently classify people by race, religion, income or other forms of discrimination ...

    This is good news, and I'm surprised people upthread have said little about that. Very few people in the general public seem to give a damn about invasion of privacy, or perhaps are even all that aware of it, but if you can frame the debate in terms of hot button issues like discrimination it will go a long way in helping to bring about awareness of this issue. Have you ever heard of the media not jumping on a discrimination issue (except age discrimination of course)? If we ever return to a system of gover

  • Podesta argues that pothole repairs will be disproportionately skewed towards smartphone-toting folks in the suburbs, not the low income areas, really?

    What happens when a city bus load of smartphone-toting commuters hit a pothole? Thirty or fourty simultaneous alerts will all go out for the same pothole.

    Don't poor/lower income areas, by definition (almost) have orders of magnitude more traffic that the affluent neighborhoods? Wouldn't the greatly increased traffic, even with disproportionately fewer smartph

    • by tepples (727027)

      What happens when a city bus load of smartphone-toting commuters hit a pothole? Thirty or fourty simultaneous alerts will all go out for the same pothole.

      Only if 1. the application's data filter is tuned for bus suspensions and not just passenger car suspensions, and 2. that route's driver hasn't mastered swerving to miss it every time.

      Mr. Podesta appears to have forgotten that the FCC has expanded it's lifeline phone service (which, though initiated under Pres. Reagan, is commonly referred to as Obamaphones) to include 2 Gb/month data plans and free smartphones

      I wasn't aware of that either. Have final rules been adopted? If so, I'd like to read these rules to see who qualifies, particularly whether already having (or appearing to have the means to pay for) Internet access at home would disqualify someone.

  • ... collects (or requires the collection of) more race information than the federal government. Physician, heal thyself.
  • Sometimes society gets silly. The simple truth is that any interview is a deliberate act of discrimination. It is not about race or religion. Sometimes it is about where you are born or where you live. Suppose you want to hire a salesman to sell Mercedes Benz cars. Obviously you want that salesman to come from a background and living situation in which owning a new Mercedes is common place. A salesman from that background can reel in new customers for the dealership. More common yet is an experie
  • Another problem is that many of these analyses - let's assume they're generally accurate and not misleading - could result in numbers that are not politically correct. Like the sort of statistics that might drive law enforcement policies, or new laws targeting certain lifestyles or races. I don't know how we can differentiate between statistical analysis driving action and action born of discrimination, but simply ignoring the issues is not the correct decision.

    There are whole sets of these sorts of probl

  • He described a program called "Street Bump" in Boston that detected pot-holes using sensors in smartphones of citizens who had downloaded an app. The program inadvertently directed repair crews to wealthier neighborhoods, where people were more likely to carry smartphones and download the app.'

    Oh noes! More tax money might be spent on the undeserving rich! Someone might raise a big stink about this, increasing the number of people who get this app! If too many people get the app, how can they justify hiring as many telephone operators for in-person reports, think of all the lost jobs!

    In other news, one more person has discovered that when collecting data you need to account for inherent biases in collection if you want unbiased data.

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