Tag Archives: big data

Race and Technology – JimCrow.com

Image from Ferris State University

Segregation lives online. During the Civil Rights era segregation, separate but equal, Jim Crow and racial separation was what the fight was all about. Racial equality and justice for all was the battle cry. The fight continues and the new battle field is the Internet.

Information is the currency of the digital age. We live in a world where the money comes from information that is created, accumulated then bought and sold. That information allows the user to discriminate willfully and without consequence. Old prejudices are finding new youth and vigor online. People of color are being harrassed in their own neighborhoods, kept out of other neighborhoods and jobs by racists using technology

Many communities have social sharing websites that is supposed to increase neighborhood cohesion and safety. But some neighbors are using it as channel for racist actions and ideas. Websites like Nextdoor.com have experienced racial profiling on their websites and seeing neighbors target neighbors for the color of their skin.

Nextdoor.com is a website that helps creates “private social networks for neighborhoods.” The website offers a free web platform on which members can post messages about almost anything to people who live in their immediate neighborhood. But too often the social sites are used as tools of suspicion and harrassment.

What has become common on Nextdoor.com are postings that openly label African-Americans and other people of color as suspicious for simply walking down the street, driving through the neighborhood, or knocking on a door. Users of Nextdoor.com have accused black municipal workers and others of being burglars. People have even posted pictures of black people seen in their neighborhood on the websites.

But it gets worse. Try finding a job in the age of the Internet. People with “black sounding” names  are 50 percent less likely to get a call back for a job compared to a white sounding name. In other words, Joel will get a job interview, Jamaal will not.

Having a black sounding name and being from the wrong neighborhood makes life even more difficult.  Studies indicate that if you live in a certain zip code (i.e,predminantly black) you could also find yourself not getting that call for a job internview. Data collection makes this possible.

Data collection and analysis can determine the make up of a zip code that includes racial make up, income, crime rates and a lot more. Its called demographics.

In 2013 a lawsuit was brought against the State of Nebraska accused the state of discriminating against its African-American employees. The lawsuit claimed that the state offered less health insurance coverage to state workers living in certain zip codes in and around Lincoln and Omaha; black neighborhoods. According to the lawsuit 96 percent of the state’s estimated 450 African-American employees lived in those zip codes.

Internet segregation is as ugly and obvious as it as ever been and the there seems to be no shame or restraint in its practice. We live in a social media, share it all environment and the biggest social media provider of all is Facebook. Facebook has millions upon millions of African-American users and yet Facebook is guilty of allowing its tools and programs to be used to discriminate against people of color.

Facebook’s technology makes it capable of hyper-targeting advetising. And this has created a way for racist to eleminate any possiblity of the “wrong”person” seeing any ad they want to publish. Facebook has profited from selling these racist ads. Facebook calls it “Ethnic Affinity” marketing. But there are other words for it. How about “red lining?”

Red lining is a practice that is used by lenders where they will not provide financial services to certain areas of a city. These are often black comunities where African-American businesses are choked off from loans and other financial services. Real estate red lining has been ruled illegal.  All people must be provided the same opportunity in housing and home financing. But that is not always the truth.

A recent report fom Vox.com shows how easy it is to discrminate against minorities in housing. Vox revealed exactly how Facebook’s targted advertising works to exclude people of color from housing opportunities. They did this by setting up a housing ad to eliminate African-Americans, Latinos and Asians from seeing the ad. This is illegal but still goes on today.

The problem is far deeper than you might imagine. Cities and municipalities also discriminate against people of color in housing as revealed by the Vox.com report.

Erin Boggs, Executive Director of the Open Communities Alliance revealed that there are towns that give affordable housing preference to people who already live there. The result is that if a town is mostly white it will likely stay that way.

This type of segregation eliminates blacks and other minorities from housing, jobs and other opportinitues with a single click of the mouse.

According to the Atlantic.com the Internet is as segregated as the real world. In the report it was revealed that people who visited non-racial websites tended to click on other non-racial websites while those that visited racially focused websites tended to visit other racially focused websites. This is commonly called self-segregation.

If you thought that Jim Crow was a dead and racial segregation was a thing of the past you haven’t been online lately.

Now you know.



RadioShack is Selling Your Information

Radio-Shack-Logo-297x300Remember RadioShack? At one time there was no better place to buy your electronics or electronic equipment. They had it all, from amplifiers to circuit boards. Ahh, those were the good old days.

Now the chain of electronic stores is slowly dying and has filed for bankruptcy. For years, RadioShack asked those strange questions like your name, address and phone number to buy batteries. Now, as part of bankruptcy proceedings, the electronics retailer has auctioned that data to the highest bidder. This database includes names, email addresses and phone numbers of almost anybody who has purchased something at RadioShack. By some estimates that adds up to about 100 million people.

And the winner is; Standard General . A hedge fund and RadioShack’s largest shareholder. But not so fast! Before Standard General can take possession of the data a bankruptcy court has to approve the sale. 

 The problem is that RadioShack has to overcome some legal hurdles before turning over customer data. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is opposing the sale of the data because it would be illegal under Texas law. Texas doesn’t permit companies to sell personal information if it violates that companies own privacy policies. This appears to be exactly what Radio Shack is doing. You can find signs in their stores that clearly state;”We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.” Paxton estimates that this data sale would affect 117 million people.

This case has created some strange bedfellows. AT&T has argued that it wants the data destroyed for its own competitive reasons. AT&T is opposed to the sale because it does not believe RadioShack is entitled to the personal information it collected from wireless sales. AT&T is primarily concerned that the mountain of data might fall into a competitors hands. According to Bloomberg one bidder for the data has suggested that RadioShack become co-branded as Sprint stores.

As with all cases like this the court will decide based on precedent or previous court rulings and this case has precedent that cuts both ways. In 2011, the Federal Trade Commissions decision permitted Borders Books to auction personal data under certain conditions. These are; the buyer has to be in the same business, have the same privacy policy and the data is sold alongside other assets. Standard General is planning to keep some RadioShack stores open and may argue that it’s putting the data to similar uses. 

But again; not so fast. A 2000 FTC lawsuit stopped a bankrupt Toysmart.com from selling its customer database. The database was eventually destroyed.

Breaking It Down

Everyone who has ever bought something from RadioShack needs to be aware of this. I see a problem when it comes to having my name, address and other information sold like any other asset of a bankrupt company and here’s why? First of all its my information and I’m not getting a cut of the pie. I personally think that a lot of information sales would cease if one nasty lawyer decided to file a class action lawsuit demanding a price for information sold from its original collector. The deal would work like this. If I decided to give you my information with the understanding that you have assured me that  you would not sell it then we have an agreement. That is what RadioShack did. Now RadioShack has decided to sell the information violating our agreement. So where is my share of the money? 

If your information is in RadioShack’s database, and there are plenty of black people who shop at “The Shack”, then you need to be concerned. If that data base is sold then you can expect to have an increase in direct mail advertisements, spam, cold calls and everything else that comes with loose information. I guarantee you that once Standard General takes possession of this database they will cut, slice and categorize the information and sell it in chunks to the highest bidder. You get annoyed, they get the cash.

Easy Ways to Protect Your Privacy

Teaching black people about the digital age is what this blog is all about. And black people need to understand what information collection is and stop surrendering so much of it. We ignore the incessant collection of personal information for the sake of convenience. In the end it doesn’t just demean us but all people. Information is the currency and the commodity of the digital age. The more you have the better off you will be. So whatever information you have left here is how to keep it and, in some cases, re-claim it.

First of all I could tell you to use a good password to protect your devices but that would be wrong. Use a good pass phrase. Most devices like your phone or tablet use just four characters to unlock it.That means its could take as little as 9,999 tries to unlock it. Don’t use your address or birthdate or any easy number to guess. Don’t use the pattern recognition thing either. My niece unlocked my phone on the first try just by looking for the greasy smear on the screen. It can be seen if you hold the devices at the right angle. Try using a picture choice instead. But use something.

Most black people don’t like you going behind their back to learn something about them. Its just not cool and very sneaky. So if you want to know who is looking you up then use Google Alert. This service allows you to keep track of when your name is searched online. Yeah, Google will sound the alarm if anyone searches your name. Go to http://www.google.com/alerts enter your name, and any variation of your name with quotation marks around it. But be prepared to get a lot of feedback because I’m sure you’re not the only person with your name in the county let alone the world. But if your name is unique then you got a chance. You can also do it for your children, your business or that new person you’re dating. This is especially helpful if you are job hunting. You will know if a potential employer is searching your name online.

Sign out of your online accounts when you are done. You know; the same online accounts that you are now using pass phrases instead of passwords; remember? That means email, social media, banking, shopping, everything! This will reduce the ability to track your web surfing. I hope you’re not using a public computer. If someone came along behind you they could get a look at your activity just by hitting the back button. Even if you’re using a friend’s computer sign out! Leave those accounts open and suffer the consequences. Did you know that the public library is a prime spot for identity theft?

Don’t share your email, phone number or zip code unless its ABSOLUTELY necessary! Why the hell do stores ask for your zip code or email address at the checkout counter? Because they are collecting information on you that’s why?  African-American consumers should refuse handing over anything except cash at the checkout. Like I said, stores are building a profile of you and what you buy. Don’t be so helpful. 

Use encryption on your computer. By encrypting your computer no one can access your files without a pass phrase.  Let’s be real you could have malware on your computer that allows someone to access to it. It happens. If you have a Mac go to your settings, select “Security and Privacy,” then “FileVault,” click the “Turn on FileVault” option. You’re encrypted! For you PC owners use Bitlocker.

If you use Gmail then you want to use Two Step Authentication. This process turns your phone into a security assistant. If you want to access your Gmail account from a new or different device you will need a special code that arrives in your phone as a text message. So even if someone gets your password there is no way they’ll able to use it to sign into your Gmail account. Google claims millions of people use it and “thousands more enroll each day.” You’d be smart to be one of those people.

If you don’t want anyone to know what you’re buying pay cash. Yes, cash is king! Even in a digital economy it’s still accepted worldwide and no one can trace it back to you.  So when it comes to the sensitive  or embarrassing items just pay cash and no one will know and no embarrassing ads will show up at your home in your email.

Don’t be stupid on social media. Make sure your settings only allow your friends to see your posts. Don’t like anything. Trust me, they are doing fine without your help. Don’t friend the friend of a friend. Keep strangers out of your life until they prove they are worthy. Don’t use your picture or your children’s picture on the page. Ask your friends not to tag you in pictures. And be cautious about what you do post. I like to post things two weeks after they happened.

Clean up your browser history and those unwanted cookies at least monthly. You can set your browser so that it erases your history after every session. Simply to the  go to the “privacy” setting in your browser’s  options and set it to clear browser history and cookies when you close it. That’s how you cut down online tracking. You can also use the add on called TACO. This also helps to reduce online tracking. Anyone can look at a computer and check the browser history to see what websites you been to. Keep that in mind when someone is using your computer. Most websites use cookies to track you. Delete them frequently. They tell anyone who looks where you been as well. I am a big fan of keeping my computer clean and secure. See my post here.

Make use of an IP masker. Tor browser is an excellent way to hide your online movements. You can download Tor or use another browser add-on  like HideMyAss.com. The objective is to prevent companies and other information collectors from following you around the web. Its really creepy to know that somebody somewhere has a lists of all the websites you visit and what you’re looking at. But, yes someone does.

Keeping your information yours is extremely important for black people. We have a problem because we don’t know how this information is used. And we know its sometimes used against us. Information collection has become a huge industry; an unregulated industry. So these companies are watching you and everything you do with impunity. Are you gonna play along?

Now you know.

Data Collection; What Do They Know About You?

about-the-datacom-logo-illustrationOk black folks wake up! We live in an age of relentless information collection. Everything you do has been recorded and digitized somewhere by somebody. This information is collected for one simple reason; to know who you are, what you do, and whats happening in your life. Big data is in your business. Nothing is private anymore.

Let me give you an example; like most people, African-Americans are creatures of habit. We do the same thing, go to the same places day after day. So lets use your local pharmacy as an example. Everything you purchased at that pharmacy in the last 10 years has probably been recorded. I mean everything. What you purchased, what time you purchased it, who was on duty,  what credit card you paid with. Did you use a coupon a store savings card? Did you need a prescription filled? Its all there. They probably had you on camera too.

So its all recorded. Now what does that mean? Well if you want to buy health insurance the insurance company will know if you are lying if you say you don’t smoke. They already know you do. They know where you bought your cigarettes and what brand you smoke. They know what prescription you had filled. They can check to see if you use any other over the counter remedies. They know a lot about you before they ask a single question.

Lets take it a step further; your credit or debit card or your store savings or loyalty card. How often do you use it ?A lot! So now the record tells all about what liquor you drink and how much. What beer or wine you like. What foods you eat and where you eat out. What gas you buy, where you get your car worked on and where you went and hotel you stayed in on your last vacation.

Let me get really intimate. Women, they know what feminine hygiene products you use and if you have difficult periods. They know if you’re on the pill. Men if you have a woman on the side the data will tell the story. Are you using  Viagra? That’s out there too.

Black folks! Are you getting the picture?

All that information is accumulated and stored and sold back and forth between companies. It used to be that you had no way of knowing what they knew about you, how they got the information or even to see what it is. That just changed.

Acxiom, the largest of the data brokers, is allowing the general public to get a glimpse of the information they are collecting. The company announced last year that they launched  a web portal to allow consumers to see what data they have collected on them.

African-American consumers can enroll  at aboutthedata.com and check out broad categories of data that Acxiom has collected about them from both offline and online sources. This includes shopping habits and money  spent,  interests such as a music aficionado or amateur chef, your Internet connection, your education and political party affiliation and marital status. Consumers can make any  changes they wish or just opt out completely.

Acxiom CEO Scott Howe said in a statement; “After 40 plus years of advocating for the responsible use of consumer data, we’re now taking our first step in establishing a direct relationship with consumers and plan to grow the site and its capabilities over time.”

Rachel Thomas, VP of Government Affairs for the Direct Marketing Association also spoke about the new portal; “Acxiom’s consumer portal will help consumers understand and demystify what data brokers are all about.” The Direct Marketing Association lobbyists have worked to educate lawmakers and take the mystery out of the data industry.

Acxiom and the DMA understand that the collection of information, consumer privacy, has become a serious and growing issue. Congress has begun to investigate the industry and may feel compelled to act by introducing legislation to control the information industry. This new portal is designed to keep new regulation at bay.

Breaking It Down

Black people are running around with those store savings cards and loyalty cards getting nice discounts on their purchases. What you’re really doing is selling information to data collectors. You sold them your grocery list for 10% off the price of the groceries. You sell them the right to get a look at what you bought any time you use that store card or your credit card.

Data collectors use numerous ways to get information about you. The watch your Facebook, page for example.  What black people need to understand is that there is no privacy so you need to limit what you share. Check out the aboutthedata.com website and see what they know. I’d advise you opt out. Just to annoy them.  And because it really is no use. You may be able to opt out of Acxiom’s data. But there is a lot more information and a lot more companies that are not telling you anything about what they know about you.

Now you know.

Congress Begins to Focus on Data Privacy

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Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The law is often the last to catch on to what’s happening and the crooks know it. After numerous data breaches and an epidemic of identity theft and cyber-crime our elected representatives are finally getting the message. The cyber world is being overrun by criminals.

In January of this year the Personal Data Privacy Bill was re-introduced to Congress by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT.) the bill will mandate that corporations that keep records of personal information set up data security and privacy programs. It would set a national standard for notification of data breaches. Currently nearly every state has its own set of rules and regulations about when and how data breaches are revealed. The bill was first introduced in 2005.

In February Attorney General Eric Holder called on Congress to create a “strong national standard” when it comes to reporting data breaches.

As a result Congress has begun to more closely scrutinize data brokers. Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have constructed a bill requiring increased transparency and accountability in private data collection and sales.  The Senators described data collection as a “shadow industry” with “very little scrutiny and oversight.”

But those honorable gentlemen on Capitol Hill can’t even agree on who should handle the problem. Currently there are at least three different committees considering bills that will regulate the handling of sensitive information in private industry.  The following bills have been introduced over the last year: Data Security and Breach Notification Act, Toomey (R-PA); Personal Data Privacy and Security Act, Leahy (D-VT); Data Security Act, Carper (D-DE) and Blunt (R-MO); Data Security and Breach Notification Act, Rockefeller (D-WV); and Personal Data Protection and Breach Accountability Act, Blumenthal (D-CT). And as you know cooperation is a dirty word in Washington these days.

 Breakin’ It Down

Our elected leadership knows there is a problem. But they have no idea how to deal with it. Various factors come into play when it comes to data privacy not the least of which is money. Most major corporations collect data on their customers. And they don’t like to be told how they can use it or what to do if it becomes compromised. Basically they don’t like the government in their business. Too many elected officials accept money from lobbyist for the data collectors so they are hesitant to really tackle the problem.

But when big stores like Target get hit with a data breach and that information becomes products for sale in the criminal under-world the voting public can get pretty angry. Congress feels the heat.

If you’re expecting a bill to hit President Obama’s desk this year you might not be disappointed but that bill is probably going to be watered down in favor of the data collectors.

A lot of companies and associations that represent the data collection industry want to rely on self-regulation. Really? I for one do not believe you can expect any money making enterprise to exercise self-restraint in the face of profit. Information collection is a multi-billion dollar industry and growing like crazy.

So here is my compromise; remove the legal blockades that prevent consumers from suing when their data is lost. Right now it almost impossible to sue any company for losing your data. Change the laws and open up individual and class action suits when a company loses control of data. Hit the big data collectors in the wallet.

I strongly believe if companies that collect data are made to pay settlements and damages the same as they would for defective product things will change. We cannot continue to have our data collected and then handled sloppily.

Yeah we sell our data in the form of loyalty cards and discounts. But data is collected in almost every facet of life including medical data and financial data. We give it away and even broadcast a lot of our personal data. And that is another problem. But that is our own fault. However companies that profit from data collection must be held accountable. They must be punished for losing control of data that could compromise the lives and livelihoods of consumers. I’d say we will allow you to self-regulate if you accept the financial repercussions of your sloppiness.