A recently (re)read book about Big Data

Who cares about Big Data? We all should!

“Good does not come just from a course on ethics, but from instilling ethical principles in all we do. The ethical consequences should be the very first thought associated with every action we take with data, from its acquisition through its analysis and dissemination. ”
– Philip E. Bourne, founding dean of the University of Virginia’s new School of Data Science


My first awakening came when I attended a talk by Professor Siva Vaidhyanathan discussing his new book:

The Googlization of Everything (AND WHY WE SHOULD WORRY)

in the UVa Bookstore during the the Charlottesville Festival of the Book. I was at the time the webmaster for OLLI, a UVa Foundation, and as such, I regularly attended lunch meetings and classes intended to keep all the UVa webmasters up to speed on all the new technology tools. I thought I was going to hear about the great things in Google (and there are a lot) that we could all use to make our websites better and more easily found. I was absolutely stunned when he started to speak and he seemed to be warning us of all the possible dangers from the way Google was invading our lives and saving information about us. I truly thought that he was wrong – until I read his book.

Since Google’s beginning with their motto, “Don’t be evil,” I welcomed all the benefits not only for my job as a college webmaster, but also for my digital life in general. No longer did I have to spend hours every month resubmitting the Judson College website to all the search engines (and in the case of Yahoo, going through all the menus (similar to the phone menus that we all hate ) in order to get our college listed in the “right” place in their search results. Now Google did all that automatically. Also, early in its existence as a tech giant, Google allowed college webmasters to have an “official” account that allowed them to put an internal search button on the school website that actually indexed every word on the site. I enthusiastically jumped right in — leading immediately to a call to the college president’s office to explain “what this Google thing IS that you put on our home page.”

Websites are all about marketing, and our president checked daily to make sure that nothing was amiss that might deter even the most conservative parents (who were our target audience) to send their daughters to our women’s college located in a very rural area, thought by the unsuspecting to be far from any of the dangers of a city. After I explained the whole Google concept with emphasis on the “Don’t be evil” part, I received permission to leave the search window on the site. From that moment on, my personal life has become entirely intertwined with Google — with for me great benefits, but also a few risks.

I just learned that Google has a list of all my Amazon purchases these many years. Of course Amazon has it, but why does Google need it? Another startling thing: I was recently searching for the Japanese translation of a tutorial that I wrote for Adobe Fireworks. It is no longer live, as the software has been discontinued, but I was startled when a Google search on my name came up with this link: https://www.adobe.com/jp/devnet/author_bios/ruth_kastenmayer.html

Amazing! Now I am wondering – is it because I searched for it earlier, and now when I search on my name, it comes up – or is it the fact that that discontinued software is still popular in Japan? Some web designers are probably still using the even older version, Macromedia Fireworks (before Adobe bought Macromedia), so who knows! In any case, I am still completely attached to Google and just more aware of some of the downsides.

Facebook, however, is an entirely different story! In the future I will write about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s book, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy.