8:53am

Mon December 16, 2013
Opinion

Burriss on Media: Too Much Data

Dr. Larry Burriss
Dr. Larry Burriss
Credit mtsu.edu

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  Two things seem to have gotten people really stirred up about privacy lately:  the revelations that the National Security Agency has a massive program of data mining, and the fact that so many companies are collecting an inordinate amount of data about each of us.  But somehow not very many people seem to have put these two concerns together.
    Think about this:  If our service providers, on-line retailers and social media sites didn’t collect, and store, so much information about us, then assorted government agencies wouldn’t have as much data to collect.
    Why, for example, does my service provider need to know my address, phone number and date of birth?  I’ve been on-line for more than 20 years, and never once has a service provider called me on the phone, mailed me anything or sent me a birthday card.
    So if all of that information about me weren’t in a file somewhere, the government wouldn’t be looking through all of those databases.
    Now, think about this:  what do the names Max, Buddy, Molly, Maggie and Jake have in common?  You know all of those security questions that help you recover lost passwords?  The ones that ask for your pet’s name?  Well, if you tell me your pet’s name is one of those five, there is a good chance I now know you have a dog for a pet, because those are the top five dog names.
    Certainly the government probably doesn’t care if I have a dog or a cat.  But it does illustrate how much information we give away every day, just because someone asks for it.  And it also illustrates how very different databases can be used to generate new information about us.
    So remember this:  when you answer most of those questions, you don’t have to tell the truth.  So when a service provider wants to know the name of your favorite book, you could just but a string of numbers and letters, and the system would never know the difference. 
    To paraphrase Cassius talking to Brutus, we only have ourselves to blame for the fix we find ourselves in.
    I’m Larry Burriss.