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How Big Data Threatens Society and Individual Freedom

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Our unbridled enthusiasm for data-driven technology is dangerous, says cultural critic Evgeny Morozov, because it encourages us to adopt a particularly skewed understanding of the concept of freedom. While always-connected devices give us the supposed freedom to leave our offices, for example, we forget that we are then always tied to the devices, which in turn always tie to work. Another link the freedom chain is the digital divide. "While each of us can still choose not to be on Facebook, have a credit history or build a presence online, can we really afford not to do any of those things today?"

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The ability of technology to track individual data--from how many steps one takes in a day, to measurements of worker productivity--forgets that life is often larger than the individual. Considering crime, education, and health, we see that larger social trends operate independently of an individual's choices. What's more, the prescriptions of Big Data will tend to homogenize our behavior in favor of efficiency. "Occasionally, someone needs to break the law, engage in an act of civil disobedience or simply refuse to do something the rest of us find useful. The temptation of Big Data lies precisely in allowing us to identify and make such loopholes unavailable to deviants, who might actually be dissidents in disguise."

Read more at the New York Times

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