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Quantified Self: a craze for measurement

Society October 31st, 2013, Emmanuel Gadenne / Consultant in digital practices for Sopra Consulting

With the latest generation of connected objects, the collection of data related to our daily life has taken a new dimension. Covering surprisingly varied practices and objectives, from wellbeing to productivity and health, the notion of quantified self refers to the principles and tools developed to monitor, analyze and share these data. Another social thing? Call it a market.

With the introduction of Google Glass, an effort to create and market computerized eyewear, Google has captured the imagination of technologists, consumers and even sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live, while also raising a number of social and privacy issues. Experts at Wharton say that the Google Glass experiment will be important to watch from a business, marketing and cultural perspective, and they add that no one, including Google, has any clue how the search giant's efforts will play out.

IT for ID: India’s Biometrics Megaproject

Society January 31st, 2013, Nandan Nilekani / Head of the Unique Identification Authority of India

Launched in 2009, the Unique Identification Authority of India is a megaproject mixing the latest information technologies and basic development requirements. Its objective is both simple and ambitious: to provide a unique identity number to all residents in the country. Helping the poorest to access the modern economy and society is an emergency and a key to economic and social development. It is also a challenge, and not only a technical one.

Think Big: Challenges and Debates over the Big Data

Society November 16th, 2012, Henri Verdier / Managing Director, Etalab

Big Data are all over the news. Some fear a new Big Brother, others celebrate new, astonishing possibilities in fields like marketing, epidemiology, city management, and Chris Anderson prophesies a science without theory. Obviously we are on the verge of a revolution. But, by the way, what are we talking about?

The Allure of Big Data

Society November 16th, 2012, Jannis Kallinikos / Professor of Information Systems, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

A vivid public interest has recently arisen over the issue of Big Data and its social and economic implications. Statesmen and politicians, economists, businessmen, activists, scientists, even artists declare the timely nature and relevance of the phenomenon. Is there anything of real importance, beyond the obvious buzz? And why now at this historical moment? The answer most probably lies in the distinct habitat of the contemporary digital communicative ecosystem of which the Internet is an important part and the data availability it affords.

In 2011, Rodney Brossart, a farmer from Lakota (North Dakota) was arrested by the county police. Brossart, who was armed, was in a dispute with the authorities over the ownership of six cows and refused to turn over the animals that had meandered onto his ranch property. After his arrest, Brossart charged the police with violation of privacy. Indeed, the police team had arrested him helped with a “Predator” unmanned drone, provided by the Homeland Security Department. This observation vehicle had played a crucial role to locate the suspect inside his own house and assist the policemen during the assault. However, no trial court is ever likely to hear this case. The police officers involved had a warrant and could easily prove that they used the drone for surveillance purpose only, and not, as claimed by the suspect, to create a ground for prosecution after the facts. This was the very first encounter, and certainly not the last, between an “unmanned aerial vehicle” (UAV) and the US justice.

Does the Internet empower consumers? Or does it make them more vulnerable to manipulation? While both statements might be correct, the balance tilts definitely toward the latter, says Joseph Turow, a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School. The advertising industry has launched one of history's most massive stealth efforts in social profiling. The result is an increase in intrusive practices that are eroding publishing ethics. Does the solution lie in greater self-regulation or more aggressive oversight by the government?

The gap between the demands of markets and the ability of firms to meet those demands is costing firms profitability now and competitiveness in the future. Wharton School professor George S. Day and colleague David Reibstein talk about the growing flood of data, knowledge sharing technology, the socially networked and ever demanding consumer, and how some companies are successfully building their customer base.

The world is on the brink of yet another technological revolution: "the Internet of Things". Just as the networking of computers led to multiple changes in our lives, the growing networking of things - connecting cars, power grids, even toilets to the Internet - may lead to other profound adjustments. Many forecasters say these changes will make us healthier, wealthier, and safer. But as with any new technology, there are also risks.

In the age when the massive success of social network sites relies on users' willingness to freely disclose their personal data for profiling purposes, issues of user privacy and personal data protection are under the spotlight. This article addresses current developments in the field of decentralized social networking as a way of countering the trade-off between privacy and connectivity in social network services. We argue that such tools may constitute the first attempt to fully leverage the social opportunity of virtual networking tools.

Julian Assange, the Australian founder of WikiLeaks, the controversial website that has been posting classified government documents, is now being held without bail in the U.K. (since this article has been written, Julian Assange has been released on parole in return for a 283.000 euros bail), awaiting extradition to Sweden for questioning regarding an alleged rape. But sensational news aside, his site's recent release of confidential U.S. State Department cables has implications for businesses and corporations with sensitive information to shield, according to experts at Wharton and the University of Pennsylvania.

It is not just Hollywood celebrities whose lives are an open book. Everyone is now being watched, monitored, and analyzed more closely than ever before - and for all sorts of reasons, good and bad. Highway cameras keep track of who is speeding, corporate computers collect information on what we buy, and all sorts of surveillance tools help governments find out what their citizens are saying. Computer technology has become so intrusive, some experts argue, that the traditional notion of privacy has largely been gutted. But others insist that the use of data can be regulated and that a balance can be struck that protects privacy while still permitting the collection of appropriate kinds of information.

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