Data spies: The dark and shady practices of Silicon Valley

This is how data harvesting really works. You're not going to like it.

  • In this absorbing talk spanning the last 20 years of tech, Roger McNamee starts at the origins of the PayPal Mafia (which included entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, and Reid Hoffman) and traces them to Silicon Valley's global domination.
  • Data is used by online vendors in all industries to make behavioral predictions for profit – often in unethical or cloaked ways.
  • Did we sign up for this? Roger McNamee calls for a halt to blind participation and asks for a national debate on whether commerce based on personal data (but not for personal benefit) should be legal.
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You have doppelgängers. They’re quietly influencing your life.

Companies refer to like-minded strangers when recommending products to you.

  • One way companies recommend products to you is by referring the purchasing tendencies of individuals who have bought similar items in past. When these individuals have many similarities, they are referred to as doppelgangers.
  • This can also work in medicine. When someone gets sick, professionals may refer to the patient's health doppelganger, who's had similar symptoms, and prescribe treatments that previously worked.
  • It's a powerful methodology and it gets more powerful the more data you have. That is, the more data you have, the more likely you're going to find someone in that data set who's "really, really" similar to you.

In 1999, David Bowie knew the internet would change the world

Musican. Actor. Fashion Icon. Internet Visionary?

  • David Bowie was well known as a rock star, but somehow his other interests and accomplishments remain obscure.
  • In this 1999 interview, he explains why he knows the internet is more than just a tool and why it was destined to change the world.
  • He launched his own internet service provider in 1998, BowieNet. It ceased operations in 2006.
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I reported the news in print and online. Here’s the difference.

Former NYTimes executive editor Jill Abramson dissects the big problem with internet news.

  • Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times, describes what life was like for a journalist in the 1980s – a "stone age" when news was governed by the printing press schedule.
  • Today, many journalists will break stories on Twitter before writing it, eliminating nuance and increasing the chance of error.
  • Social media in particular has added a fatal speed to journalism. Errors erode public trust in the media, and allow those in power to undermine the free press.
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Who is getting rich off you? The insidious big data economy.

Where is your data now? Follow the money.

  • Your day to day actions on the Internet give businesses personal data that turns you into an ad target – or the opposite.
  • Facebook, for example, allowed landlords to block demographic groups such as African Americans, LGBTQ, or disabled people from seeing housing ads – a violation of the 1968 Fair Housing Act.
  • Data brokers have crossed a line, but the laws that should regulate them are outdated; just look at the billion-dollar data deal between 23andMe and Big Pharma. Is it ethical?
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