Assignment 7

1. What are the ethical issues identified in “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript? How might they best be addressed?”


2. Find and explain one other case of ethical issues arising from big data. What’s the case and what’s the ethical issue? (Pls give sources and links.)


500 words, due by noon Wednesday 19th here or on the forum.


11 thoughts on “Assignment 7

  1. Spencer Page says:

    The article entitled “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript” by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier, highlights various ethical issues associated with big data and its ties to education. Over the years, and through technology specifically, society is evolving on many levels. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that a student’s school records were kept as paper copies in file folders, and then sent to archive storage (or thrown out) when there was seemingly no further use for them. Today, this is no longer the case. A student’s transcripts and permanent records are now electronically stored, and worse than that, they are accessible today and forever more. Consider the far-reaching ramifications of this! A student may not be fully aware of what has been recorded in electronic format over the years. In fact, that student may never know, however outcomes in his/her life may be adversely affected by the ease of such data access. It is terrifying to imagine that University or College course outcomes, as well as the ability to gain employment in a specific industry of interest, may too be adversely affected by the accessibility of this data. For example, employers may be able to access a tremendous amount of information about a prospective hire, which could include previous grades and psychological assessments. This information, taken out of context or without the benefit of an explanation, could cause the employer to have a jaded view, which could be extremely damaging to the individual’s future. There is a very real (and unethical) breech of privacy and lack of data protection at play. While privacy policies do exist to a degree, full disclosure is still an issue, and more so, the actual understanding of what is stored, and how it may be used in the future, is likely still a mystery to most people. This issue, taken together with the privacy infringements that take place around social media, has the ability to put an individual in a very precarious position for future success. Another ethical issue that arises from the use of big data concerns the mining and extraction of information from electronic documents to help companies “build” customer profiles (or predict customer behavior) so that they can more accurately target their marketing initiatives. In their article entitled “Ethical issues in web data mining” authors Lita van Wei and Lamber Royakkers discuss the use of data mining to make future predictions as being a threat to one’s privacy and individuality. The internet can be seen as the largest database in the world with incredible amounts of data. When this data is taken and used in a manner that is unbeknownst to the individual, it raises serious ethical issues as this individual doesn’t get a say as to if, or how, this information is used or misused, and therefore in the wrong context, the use of this information could pose a threat.

    Van Wei, Lita. Royakkers, Lamber. “Ethical Issues in Web Data Mining”

  2. Lily K says:

    Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier’s article identifies several issues that are associated with the ethics of big data in relation to education. The first ethical issue is outlined by this ‘digital backpack’ that contains all of our past academic records. This constant accumulation of educational data could not only pose a significant danger to the improper release of private information, but it will also “shackle us to our past, denying us due credit for our ability to evolve, grow, and change”. The second ethical issue claims that it may restrict our “learning freedom” and more importantly, limit our opportunities in life. The collection of this information will be used to make predictions about our future, and although we may believe that these ‘opportunities’ have our best interest at heart, they may subtly direct us towards another path. While this type of system can create a difference in graduation rates and the ability to optimize learning, we must ask ourselves… is our desire for customized education truly worth the risk of potentially limiting our future goals?

    As a young student in high school, I recall a computer program by the name of ‘career cruising’ that allowed students to take part in a series of personality/interest questionnaires. Back in my day, the program would suggest a list of occupations that “best suited” your personality traits based off of the data collected from your responses. I remember getting career options such as a tow-truck driver, vending machine maintenance worker, an interior designer, an actress, and so forth. I’m not saying that these are poor choices for a potential career, however as a student in grade 9, it could have potentially persuaded me into choosing a career that was systematically selected based of my answers, as opposed to my own aspirations in life – and this is one of the fears associated with big data. Today, the program has diversified by allowing students to input their grades, potential courses, future goals, etc. Career cruising is not necessarily the best example of big data, but it certainly has the potential to do so.

    In class we discussed the case of Target, and the company’s use of big data to market pregnancy friendly products to the house of a secretly pregnant teenage girl. One of the rising ethical issues regarding big data is the invasion of privacy, and more specifically as illustrated in the Target example… the consumers right to keep certain aspects of their lives private. Another example of an ethical case arising from big data is a Hong Kong-based start-up company called Lenddo. Lenddo provides financial services to individuals based on an assessment of their online social networks. The company wants granted access to their clients Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, Yahoo, and Windows Live account because they strongly believe that in the age of the internet, their client should be able to establish their reputation and identity through their social networks. Essentially, Lenddo gathers information about your potential credit score, by analyzing your friends. This is when one would want to reflect about the saying “you are the company you keep”, because in the case of Lenddo, that is literally what they mean. Therefore, if your best Facebook friends had previously taken out a loan and paid it back, then chances are that you would also do the same. There are countless reasons as to why a company such as Lenddo can be deemed as unethical, but quite frankly, I find the foundation of the whole company to be unethical! Personally, I am unaware of my Facebook friend’s financial histories (and as it should be, seeing as how that is a rather personal matter), therefore my chances of receiving a loan should not be threatened as a result of their actions. Lenddo also reserves the right to publicly announce your loan status to your friends, family and community if you fail to repay in time (which I believe would go against most company norms, in terms of confidentiality purposes). In addition, Lenddo should not be snooping around for financial information without the consent of my social networking friends in the first place!


  3. Brittany H says:

    Big data is the ability to collect, store, and process large quantities of data, which has become a norm for business, schools, and other social institutions. The article “How Big Data will Haunt you Forever: your high school transcript” by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, discusses two main issues that arise as a result from big data; permanence of the past, and prediction of the future. The authors relate these issues specifically to big data used in school systems.

    The first problem, permanence of the past, explains the effects of data having limitless storage. The authors give an example of high school transcripts and how big data has changed their use. Prior to the development of modern technology, school records were kept in filing systems, and were rarely used before being thrown out. Now, this data can be stored forever, and is assessable at any moment. This poses a unique problem, that our past is forever attached to us. This may inhibit others from being able see the growth and change in a person. Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier believe that big data “shackles us to our past.”

    The second problem of big data is that it is used in order to make predictions about our future. This may restrict a person from many opportunities in life since inferences are made about future performance based on past performance. Ultimately, this caps the potential of a person based on how the big data accessed reflects their capabilities.

    An example of an ethical issue arising from big data is when it is collected from large retailers. Companies such as Walmart and Target save information of what a person buys when they visit their store, and what time of year items are purchased. This is an ethical issue because consent of the purchaser is not given, and often people are unaware that this data is being saved at all. Big data allows companies to better market their products and sell them more efficiently. This inadvertently manipulates the consumer by using their information for companies to make a greater profit. For example, Vera Bradley sent targeted emails of promotions based on a data that tracked consumers past purchases. This allowed the company to send 63% fewer emails, yet generate 101% more consumer clicks.

    Ultimately, big data allows retailers to achieve two objectives. First, they deliver a smarter shopping experience, and second, they build smarter merchandising and supply networks. Companies are capitalizing on big data in order to remain competitive in an industry and drive sales volume. The manipulation of retail channels and the increasing reliance on big data is a cause of concern for consumers. The amount of information that is saved and used without consumers knowing can be used in any context by retailers, and poses potential threats to consumers if it is used in a manipulative way.

    Thau, Barbara. “How Big Data Helps Stores Like Macy’s And Kohl’s Track You Like Never Before.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 24 Jan. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2014.

  4. Eric Pattara says:

    Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier Identify in their article, “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript” the ethics associated with the notion of big data, which is important that is collected, processed, and kept digitally recorded indefinitely. Such data can include personal transcripts or medical records, which would normally be trivially considered to be confidential, leading the prospect of big data as a means by which to violate their privacy. The idea of keeping record of a student’s complete academic history is identified in the article as the digital backpack, and while it could seem like a good idea to keep record of a student’s history, it fails to identify specific circumstances that could have been taking place at the time of poor performance or that could have led to the dropping of a course where it would be neglected from records in most circumstances. Additionally, having this academic information on file would make it accessible to anyone, including potential employers, which could severely limit an individual’s options for a career in life.

    An issue associated with big data is its use as a societal predictor. There can be a number of ways in which this is interpreted. A simple example could be something like advertisements. It was discussed in class, but everyday mediums of social media, such as Facebook, learn the habits of a computer user and gear their advertising towards them based on it, so if someone’s a fan of a band, there might be a banner for their upcoming concert on the user’s homepage. A more extreme look at this issue could be the use of information such as heath records, academic history, and employment records to analyze people in ways that could be perceived as good (i.e. identifying jobs that may be optimal for someone like them) or completely and absurdly cruel, such as using this information and highlighting indicators for violent personality types (based on mental health, etc.).

    Of course, to a degree, big data exists, but not so much in the extreme scales mentioned earlier, and the responsibility of addressing issues associated with them probably lies in governing bodies. In some respects, governments are responsible for this, however, due to varying laws between countries and the overlap which occurs online and in reality (i.e. international schooling), I would imagine that it would be difficult to do so, meaning that an understanding of this issue should be met, as to allow people to keep their information secure.

    Outside of this article, another issue with big data lies in data mining, which allows for key pieces of information to be obtained from messy data (everything that can be grabbed, unfiltered), allowing for databases to be formulated in an attempt to categorize individuals based on their use of language, google searches, and purchases. This would be useful for companies to use to target individuals, using the mined data to their advantage. In the article, “Data Mining: Where Legality and Ethics Rarely Meet,” Kelly Shermach also mentions that mortgages and insurance rates can be influenced by big data, deeming people risks for information that may not be completely accurate.

  5. Jitesh Vyas says:

    Schönberger and Cukier write about Big Data in relation to education systems. In grade 9 I distinctively remember a stern warning from our principal: “your permanent records will be held on file for up to 5 years after graduation so make good decisions in your next 4 years!” Five years is not too much compared to the average longevity of a career, but it can be tolling on the administration if they have to manage 9 years’ worth of student files. I think they only discard files after because they don’t have enough room for filing cabinets. With the adoption of newer technology however, computer memory is ideal as it is easily expandable, compact and easy to organize all the same. The writers address this ethical issue of big data’s role with permanent records. Two in particular, parents are concerned about student privacy protection and tracking students from a young age. The emergence of big data brings along with it hardware that makes tracking every student possible, even more than just 9 years’ worth of students. Being tracked is definitely a big ethical concern, especially considering that students are young, and as the saying goes ‘kids will be kids’; they will make mistakes and that’s a good way to learn. Unfortunately, a single mistake could be costly as it could be held on a transcript which could become accessible at a very far off point in someone’s career. I think it’s inevitable that all schools in due time will adopt the technology. Nevertheless, the question comes back to: how and when to implement the use of technology in matters regarding a child’s development through school. In my idealistic viewpoint, it’s important to track successes, and that should be the majority of tracking, and behavioural issues should be noted, but very sparingly. Judging the severity of the actions will be of utmost importance and administration should be more cautious of putting incidents on record because. They need to empathize with a student’s lifelong prospects rather than make decisions based on what happened during a lunch break one day.

    Currently, big data is increasing in popularity with the business world. I was invited to a conference on Big Data at Ernst and Young and a topic being discussed was quantum computing. Ernst and Young reports show that the #2 ranking concern with big data after privacy is that data gets too big to be processed or used, rendering it irrelevant. To combat this, increased efforts have been made by Google and NASA, in conjunction with DWAVE from Canada to build and research with quantum computers. Quantum computing is the next big thing with technology as it brings a quantum leap of power and speed to computers. The ethical issue here is that quantum computing can make classical cryptography irrelevant. Until more sophisticated cryptography is made, quantum computers should not be put into the hands of consumers as the world can become very defenceless to hacking.

    And a report from Ernst and Young on Big Data, unfortunately couldn’t find it online but have a paperback version!

  6. Sam Horton says:

    In the article “How Big Data Will Haunt You Forever: Your High School Transcript”, Professor Viktor Mayer- Schonberger and data editor Kenneth Cukier discuss the implications of such date being widely used and assimilated within our society. Ethical issues around big data are fairly new in contemporary society because of what they can now use it for, and the types of trends they can now predict. Such big data collectors posit that collecting such date on students for example, which would include their grades, reputation of school they attended, and other variables, will be able to predict their most successful path in life academically. Of course, such a practice would be unethical in that it would force individuals into a role of society they may not want to be in. Breaking away from “big data” therefore in the future could potentially force our society into a strict, big data driven society, where each individuals skills and performance would direct them into a path that isn’t their own. As quoted in the article “…People have fretted over the consequences of academically “tracking” students, which potentially narrows their opportunities in life.” As people become more aware of the dangers of such big data use, there may be some out there whom find benefits in such a use such as particular governments. As quote from the article, “We may think it has our best interests at heart—providing us with a comfortable educational trajectory. But that may actually be the problem. Perhaps we should be pushed to succeed against the odds rather than feel content to advance along a smoother track.” What is trying to be said here is that past data shouldn’t be held against what we want to do in life, what we try to do in life, and what our dreams our.

    Other issues that arise from big data can be issues related to consumerism. In the article “The Very Public Issue of Data Privacy” , the use of big data to serve consumers is discussed, and an issue is raised, as quotes “As privacy becomes a bigger deal for consumers, there are steps businesses can take to avoid entering into Orwellian territory.” This destructive tendency to the well being of society, or an “Orwellian” society is than therefore positioned to be caused by such big data databases. Privacy on consumers is not protected to the degree to which it should be, in turn such marketing issues arise such as direct marketing, where the consumer receives specifically targeted marketing ads for products that they have shown any interest in at all through big data collections. Such issues like these could potentially lead to almost forceful purchases due to the bombardment of advertisements. Of course from a business perspective such activities would maximize profits and sales, but from a consumer stand point, such activities make It that much easier for corporations to burn a hole in their wallets. The ethical issues are clear in that the exploitation of consumer data can be used to cause serious harm to the our societies functionality.


    “The Very Public Issue Of Data Privacy.” Search Business Analytics . N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. .

    Schonberger , Victor , and Kenneth Cukier . “How Big Data Will Haunt You Forever: Your High School Transcript.” Quartz. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. .

  7. Jonathan Ing says:

    The article “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript” raises ethical issues around the collection of students’ data in educational contexts. The first issue is that it makes the past easily accessible, making it difficult to escape from our past actions, even if we have changed vastly since then. For example, the clubs in which we participated, the grades we received in each course and the amount of sick days we took would all be accessible to a future employer, making it easier for them to discriminate against us somehow. The first safeguard against this issue is in limiting the collection of the data itself. Each type of data collected by the school (e.g., grades, extracurriculars, courses) should allow students to opt-in for its benefits, so those who are unwilling to take on the risk do not bear the end consequences. After this, I believe privacy and encryption of these records should be emphasized by the institution who owns them so that these advanced statistics do not fall into the hands of those who would use it to wrongly discriminate. Finally, transparency of data usage should be emphasized so that students are aware of who is using it and how they use it. This way, the students will be able to clearly see benefits and downsides to make an informed opt-in decision and the users of the data will be held accountable for their potentially unethical actions.

    The second issue raised is that big data predicts the path that would be best for our schooling and consequently, can lock us into this comfortable path instead of allowing us to pursue our success independently. The issue here is that big data is boiling students down into just numbers instead of seeing the students as unique beings with unique aspirations in life. However, I do not see this as a major issue because the students are still in charge of making their own decisions, even with the help of big data. If one strongly believes in a dream they wish to pursue in school, then they could just ignore the academic counseling of big data and proceed, albeit at their own risk. Moreover, some students who may be lost in their education can use big data to find their calling in school and this effect will boost overall graduation rates, which is a positive good for society.

    In a case of big data and marketing analytics gone wrong, OfficeMax recently sent out a mailing to a customer, addressing him with the title “Daughter Killed in Car Crash”, bringing mental anguish upon him and his wife. The customer in question had no idea that this data was being collected and does not know how they use this type of data. Though big data analytics have clear advantages to corporations for marketing purposes, they should not be immune to following the same ethical principles as the educational big data collectors. OfficeMax violated the privacy of their customers by not being transparent, as they failed to notify their customers about what they collect and how they use it. As a result, customers were not able to make informed decisions on whether they want this data to be collected. Another issue is the fact that they are secretly using such sensitive information to increase company profits, which seems unethically exploitative.


  8. Aaron Rush says:

    Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier discuss in the article, “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript” the delicate issue of big data, and the ethics associated with it. It discusses how your high school transcript is kept forever in an online database. The data can be your high school transcript, or it can be something worse, such as medical data which is meant to be private, this raises some privacy concerns. All this data being stored gives users the ability to violate other peoples privacy. The article discusses something called a “digital backpack”, which is explained as a students full history, good or bad, kept forever.
    The digital backpack can be very detrimental to students, as it does not take into account extenuating circumstances such as a death in one’s family that caused their marks to drop. For students who took it upon themselves to improve, it is an issue for them as well, as it keeps a record of there poor grades in the past. There are other issues that could effect a student as well, that can’t possible be documented in this digital backpack, in turn, ending up detrimental to the student moving forward. This could later on in one’s life cause them to have less options career wise, as well as have a huge impact on their life as a whole.
    A hot area for discussion on data mining today is talking about the United States government’s secret program to mine the phone data of users without their consent arguing it is for national security. This never came to light until Edward Snowden am American computer specialist and CIA operative stole documents from the place in which he worked, released these documents to the public, and then fled the country. It is now a question of has the United States government gone to far, is what they did really wrong, or were they only trying to protect their citizens from terrorism. It’s an ethical debate that is currently being had by people all over the world.
    On Monday December 13th of 2013, there was an article on CNN where it was brought before a judge whether what the United States was doing is legal or not in terms of collecting all these cell phone records. On Monday December 13th of 2013, a federal judge states that this secret program the United States government has to collect phone records was unconstitutional.

    A federal judge said Monday that he believes the government’s once-secret collection of domestic phone records is unconstitutional, setting up likely appeals and further challenges to the data mining revealed by classified leaker Edward Snowden. This issue of mining cell phone records goes much further, as it has come to light everything the government has been monitoring. Not only that, but what should be done about Edward Snowden who is now on the run, is he a hero, or traitor. This is a clear issue of data mining that has effected not only citizens of the United States, but the world, and will be hotly debated for years to come as more information comes to light.


  9. Aaron Macrae says:

    Big data is the collection and storing of large amounts of individual data that in most cases are personal information. This data is analyzed and used for a number of different purposes. Big data is most well known when being used in the educational system. Big data stores information about anything and everything regarding a student’s educational career. This information can be used to streamline education systems, presenting students in which areas they can improve, and suggest future paths of action. Big data has been implemented in 6 state universities in the United States and over the past two years has increased pass rates from 64% to 75% and cut dropout rates in half at Arizona State University.

    In the article “How big data will haunt you forever: your high school transcript”, Viktor Mayor-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier raise certain ethical issues that are posed by the use of big data in education. One obvious issue students and parents are concerned with is the permanent nature of big data means that a students past is almost impossible to escape, and may cause problems for the students in the future. With everything being recorded for students, from how many sick days they had, to pages of textbooks read, to the student’s active participation in a class. As young students develop and grow as individuals these big data systems only hold students back by letting future employers have access to all of this data from the past. For example, a student’s political activism that took places 20 years earlier might be accessible to an employer who could use it as an excuse to reject them as a potential recruit. The permanence of big data makes it harder to escape the past and undermines and denies credit for the very real human quality of evolution and change. Students will certainly mature as a person and not be the exact same individual as they were 20 years ago, so why let corporations have such access to old data that is inaccurate to representing of the person in the present?

    Another issue presented in this article is that in trying to streamline education performances, the use of big data analysis may limit the future of students. Big data programs try to direct students down a path that they are most likely to succeed in. While in doing so they may put students off doing course they are genuinely more interested in, but which they are less likely to do very well in. If students enjoy something they are much more likely to push themselves to overcome unlikely situations and follow their dreams of what they truly desire and love. Big data in my opinion will close off or limit future education opportunities for students. This could diminish the aspirations and dreams of individuals.

    I believe big data is ultimately a bad thing for our education system, and should not be implemented in anymore-educational institutions. Yes there are obvious benefits for big data to guide students into classes and jobs they might be successful in but choice is initially being taken away. This ‘guided paths’ will be taken by many students because they will know if they take this path they will become successful, not happy but successful. Students will no longer go into careers that will excite them and make them happy on an everyday basis but instead will be taken over by money and the mind set of success. After all these systems are implemented to be able to assess a more refined population (Davis, 2012), a population that is suitable for a successful standard of living. People will choose success over happiness and for that reason I think this is wrong.

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