CHAPTER 7

Big Data: Big Issues and Big Problems

What hath God wrought.

—First message in American Morse code sent by Samuel F. B. Morse to officially open the Baltimore-Washington telegraph line, May 24, 1844, quoting Numbers, 23:23

In May 2012 Google once again found itself in a heap of trouble. After a few years of successfully getting away with it, the U.S. government discovered that the company’s Street View software had been furtively collecting data on open Wi-Fi networks. (Yes, many people never bother to lock down their wireless routers.) In a Wired piece on the matter, David Kravets reported that a “Federal Communications Commission (FCC) document “showed for the first time that the software in Google’s Street View mapping cars was ‘intended’ to collect Wi-Fi payload data, and that engineers had even transferred the data to an Oregon Storage facility. Google tried to keep that and other damning aspects of the Street View debacle from public review, the FCC said.”15 True ignorance is one thing. Outright deception and mendacity is another. As Kravets reports, this was a far cry from saying, “Hells bells, Margaret. We didn’t know we were gathering this information.” That Google denied it was surreptitiously collecting this data seems to be yet another violation of its own “Don’t be evil” credo.

As the case studies and examples in this book have manifested, the potential of Big Data is both vast and unprecedented. Up until now, we have barely touched upon fundamental ethical ...

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