Friday, January 24, 2020

The System Knows Who You Are

True confession – give me an app that plays with interesting and personal data and I’ll play for a while. The amount of data available to us today is astounding and computer programming lets us do some really amazing things. Big data is all the rage. The US Social Security Administration has lots of data and it’s all more or less personal. So I guess is it not surprising that people do interesting things with it. For example, Guessing Names Based on What They Start With

It had some trouble with my name because even in the decade I was born in my name was not that common. As I added letters it was able to get it – not that surprising. Although for the decade my grandson was born it never did get it – Alfredo is a lot more common than Alfred. A sign of changing demographics which makes for an interesting topic of its own.

I’ve toyed with the idea of making this into a project for my students but I’m not sure I have the time. Basically because I would probably want to aggregate the raw data myself first and while I could write some code to do that I am not sure I want to. It still makes an interesting demo and I will probably use it that way when we talk about big data in my AP CS It’s a good example of how a system can make some assumptions based on limited information.

We like to think that we are pretty unique and in fact we really are. The fact that this name app can identify us is not really contrary to that. Yes, we have similarities with many people but we also have differences. This app made me think of an app I had students program a couple of times that uses demographic information from the school’s student information system (anonymized). I wrote about that a couple of years ago at Programming Projects Should Be Personal

That project took sex, birthday and zip code information to report on how many individuals in the school had that birthday and lived in that zip code? Could we combine the age guess and the name guess code to identify which student we were looking at? Maybe. Is that good or bad? Maybe. I can see this being a good discussion topic.

Increasingly companies collect more and more personal data about us. And they share this data with other companies. These app give a clue as to how identifiable we are even when we think we are not identifiable. It’s only going to get – is it getting better or worse? A lot depends on how it is used. Students need to understand the possibilities if they are going to understand the world around them. Let’s talk about it with them.


Garth said...

Did you see this?

Big Brother is here.

Alfred C Thompson II said...

Yes, I linked to it the other day in a blog post

Garth said...

Alzhiemers must be kicking in. I learned yesterday that University of Montana is using some kind of attendance app. One of the classes apparently has a 25% attendance grade based off the app. Should cause some interesting controversy regarding the obvious need to have to have a phone. I would have all sorts of fun with this. I love a good fight with people making requirements like this.