Kate Crawford speaking at the EmTech conference on privacy, big data, and the need for regulation. Privacy matters, because someday our personal data might be making choices for us.

This was the argument of Kate Crawford, a principal at Microsoft Research speaking at MIT’s EmTech conference Wednesday. Currently, there is scarcely any regulation of data scr**ed from our social media presences and online activity, and companies’ use of that information could result in discrimination. Craig Mundie, a senior adviser to the CEO at Microsoft, said while speaking at the same conference that this misuse of personal data is so bad it ought to be classified as a felony. Websites are snatching and grabbing data any way they can nowadays, both to improve their own services and also to anonymize and sell.

The trouble is that anonymization rarely works; while big data is often touted as a way to identify larder trends or arcs, it’s almost trivially easy to re-individualize and use on one person.

As a result, companies are increasingly using personal identifying information collected online to shape the experience of their customers. But it’s not just for harmless personalization: big data is “being used for more and more precise forms of discrimination—a form of data redlining,” said Crawford.     

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