Every minute, over 200 million emails are sent, 7,000 purchases take place on Amazon and 4 million google searches are made, all leaving digital fingerprints. Add to that the trail left by cell phones, credit cards, security cameras and the growing ‘internet of things’ and an incredible amount of detail about our personal life can now be inferred by computers. But with more and more decisions taken by algorithms, is there a risk we might fall into a “technocracy”?
Used carefully, there’s little doubt that big data can save lives. They help establish conduct patterns and predictions and this, coupled with personal data, can create more personalized medicine. At the hospital in Sabadell, a computer programme scans x-rays to identify those most likely to show lung cancer. These are then checked by a doctor. But, as the experience with covid tracking app has shown, AI’s use is still limited and there’s a danger of over-reliance.
Companies like Amazon, facebook and google make their money by selling user profiles to advertisers. But this can involve real risks for the people classified, especially in countries where certain sexual, religious or political leanings carry stiff penalties. Over 500.000 facebook members in Saudi Arabia are tagged as having ‘homosexual interest’ and advertisers can specifically target them. On a more mundane level, every second, people are wrongly profiled and can be denied mortgages or opportunities on the basis of these false profiles.
So what can be done to minimise the risk posed by big data while maximising the benefits? This report investigates.
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