Tag Archives: technology

Data Mining: The New Gold Rush

Photo via Arbeck of WikiMedia Commons


Data and the insight it provides is power. Simply look at the rash of privacy breaches that struck the NSA, Target, iCloud, Samsung and the United States Postal Service to see what most organizations consider private. Data is growing exponentially, and now more than ever online users need to understand what happens to their data in order to avoid, as Dropbox CEO Drew Houston infamously put it, a “trade off between privacy and convenience.”

The Digital Universe is doubling in size every two years. By 2020 the amount of data will have increased from 4.4 trillion gigabytes in 2013, to 44 trillion gigabytes according to a 2014 study done by the International Data Corporation. In more human terms, today the average household creates enough data to fill 65 32gb iPhones per year. In 2020 this will increase to 318 iPhones, according to EMC – a corporation that offers data storage and analysis.

“The amount of data created in the past two years is more than the amount of data we’ve ever had… So there is a huge amount of data and a need for a way to sort through them,” says Hui Yang, an assistant professor in the Computer Science department at SF State.

The bulk of this data is metadata, or information generated when you use technology. It is everyday data collected from consumers’ activities and can contain information such as locations, IP addresses, web searches and other browser histories. By law, most metadata can be stored indefinitely and, through data mining – a field in computer science that analyzes the patterns and connections among data – can be used to classify anything from relationships between genes and diseases, to which internet users are more likely to buy a company’s product. Using this information for commercial purposes is where data mining gets a bad rep.

Although a currently relevant pop culture term, for decades “data mining” has played an intangible role in the growth and comprehension of the digital universe. It helps find patterns among vast amounts of data that human eyes cannot discover. And while data mining analyzes everything from medical data to business data to human rights, it is one of the tools used by data brokers – companies that collect, maintain, and sell data on millions of consumers generally without the consumer’s permission or knowledge.

The negative stigma that now surrounds any and all kinds of large data collection is a more recent development that is more apparent than the data being acquired, and can largely be attributed to the business built around selling people’s metadata.

According to last year’s report from the International Data Corporation, a market research and analysis firm, “In 2013, two-thirds of the digital universe bits were created or captured by consumers and workers, yet enterprises had liability or responsibility for 85% of the digital universe.”

Data brokers are among these enterprises.

Much of the personal information analyzed through data mining and collected by data brokers is demographic and transaction information about the user, the device, and the activities occurring in between. But credit card information, census data, and more public records are also included.

“This information makes clear that consumers going about their daily activities – from making purchases online and at brick-and-mortar stores, to using social media, to answering surveys to obtain coupons or prizes, to filing for a professional license – should expect that they are generating data that may well end up in the hands of data brokers… without their permission to construct detailed profiles on them reflecting judgments about their characteristics and predicted behaviors,” reads a 2014 Senate committee report.

Generally, analyzed metadata only aims to deduct codes and statistics like IP addresses, but when tracked across multiple platforms, the paper trail can become pretty direct.

Even then the Senate report goes on to say that, “Some privacy and information experts have expressed concerns that re-identification techniques may be used with such data, and questioned whether data that identifies specific computers and devices can truly be considered anonymous.”

Anonymous from who? When the Senate asked data brokers who buys their gathered information, companies across all platforms were named.

“12 of the top 15 credit card issuers; seven of the top 10 retail banks; eight of the top 10 telecom/media companies… three of the top 10 pharmaceutical manufacturers; five of the top 10 life/health insurance providers; nine of the top 10 property and casualty insurers,” reads the 2014 Senate report.

Some of the most known offenders: Yahoo, Twitter, Youtube, Google or DoubleClick, and AOL. But what’s surprising is the type of companies who buy and sell consumers metadata.

Just recently, the Associated Press reported the Affordable Care Act website, where Americans can sign up to receive health care, was sending users’ information to a number of third party companies.

So it seems that no matter how personal, some information is not private information, at least not to these companies. The lack of transparency about the amount and type of information gathered and analyzed is ultimately unknown to most users which makes opting out of having your data collected almost impossible.

But fear not, online user security is becoming more of an immediate concern. In February, President Obama announced new rules requiring intelligence analysts, like the NSA, to delete private information they may accidentally collect about Americans. The President also spoke at The White House Summit on Cybersecurity and Consumer Protection at Stanford University on February 13, discussing legislation intended to strengthen cybersecurity, an issue that he likened to “the wild wild west” according to the New York Times.

Since 2009 and continuing into 2014, the Unites States Federal Trade Commission has recommended that Congress develop legislation that allows consumers to view the information data brokers hold about them. One of the few online consumer rights laws is California’s “Shine the Light” law, which requires companies doing business with Californians to allow customers to opt out of information sharing, or disclose how personal information will be shared.

Hence obscure and needlessly long privacy terms and agreements being more relevant than ever.

“Data mining is relatively new and it’s affecting everyone but it does not have many laws. It’s like a free market,” Yang says. ”People definitely feel like they are being watched, but if you look at privacy and then what people post, (privacy) needs a lot of work.”

To some extent, the fear about data mining can be attributed to a general lack of knowledge and regulation, fueled by headlines about the NSA. On the other hand, users are actively creating and allowing the collection and analysis of their information.

Last quarter Facebook reported an average of 890 million active daily users. A 2012 survey done by Pew Research Center shows that, “More than half of social networking site users (58 percent) say their main profile is set to private.” That still leaves the data of 42 percent of social media users unprotected.

Data is constantly being created, but in the current age it has also come to mean more to not only users but to the companies who consume the data. Data has become a panopticon, a platform on which we create our own images and through which others see our constant updates.

Ultimately, it is up to the user to manage what information they put online. Data mining and other computer sciences can be used by consumers as both an advantage and a disadvantage.

When data is pooled about locations and transactions, business with the companies who analyze this data can be much more personalized. Take Google Now as an example. If you input information such as the location of your home or work, your favorite sports teams, your most frequently made food or grocery orders, or even your airplane tickets and Google Now will provide “relative suggestions” on routes to work, restaurants and events in your area, provide updates on your favorite team, and remind you of when your flight is and when you should leave to arrive on time.

In this setting, what can be considered private information can be sacrificed for convenient personalization.

On the other hand, organizations like Stop Data Mining provide “opt out lists” with links to the opt out pages of companies that collect data. Or for a simpler solution, almost all major browsers contain a “Do Not Track” preference. There are other options to remove or manually manage “cookies” that collect metadata, alternative browsers like DuckDuckGo, which doesn’t collect or share personal information, and of course privacy settings on social media.

As the amount of data continues to grow exponentially, there will be a need for more ways to organize and sort it. What’s data mining’s future?

“More of it. More people from more backgrounds becoming data scientists. More tools for data scientists. More schools teaching data science. More products built on data understanding. Oh, and robots.” says Todd Holloway, a data analyst at Trulia and an organizer of the San Francisco Data Mining Group that teaches how to effectively use data mining to say, for example, win at fantasy football.

Whichever way you bend, know the power of the data you put out and the transparency that it carries.


Swift, Stuck in 1989

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.35.47 AM

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 9.36.00 AM


Well, Taylor Swift’s album 1989 has had the biggest sales week since 2002 which went to Britney Spears with Oops…I Did It Again. Seeing as how she pulled her album from music streaming sites such as Spotify, this should not come as a shock. Forcing people to buy the album in order to find out if they even like it is a surefire way to drive up record sales. Well-played Swift.

The “country” singer now turned “pop” singer is not the first or the only artist to pull their songs or full albums from Spotify claiming that they are not paid enough by the company when their songs are played from the site.

Swift has stated many times that she feels music should not be free and with the release of her new album 1989, she is finally making a stand. But is she taking a stand and fighting the noble fight or is she just fighting for more money?

The pop artist is well out of debt, I am sure, and yet she wants more compensation for her work. Musicians bare their soul in songs, they spend months away from their families while on tour, they push themselves to physical exhaustion; you cannot argue any of these things. What can be argued is that they are paid generously in return to the point where they can afford to let their fans experience their album before committing to purchasing it forever.

The world that we live in, right now, currently, at this point in time is a world crawling with technology and websites and electronics. This may not be good for artists but tough luck, it is a reality, wake up and smell the coffee – it is 2014! Musicians are acting like they are the only industry being struck by this turn to computers. As a journalist, it is almost insulting to write these words while I think about how many newspapers and magazines have gone under due to the tech-boom.

It would be one thing if Swift was fighting Spotify because she felt it hurt her relationship with her fans or it hurt her ability to write songs that connect to people but the fact is, she is fighting for more money. She is not fighting for fame, because she has that; she is not fighting for recognition or kudos, because she has those as well. She is fighting for money, which she also has, but apparently the cut given to her just is not enough.

There is no way that any artist will ever be able to stop the illegal downloading of their music, plain and simple. They should, instead, continue what they are doing and let the benefits they get be enough. If the music created is moving enough, fans will buy tickets to the tour and support careers in that way. Until our society turns its back on technology, this is a reality that musicians are going to have to come to terms with.

Is Texting Slowly Taking Over?

A sweet conversation gone wrong. (Janelle Moncada/Xpress Magazine)

Have you ever walked onto BART or MUNI and noticed that one person smiling at his or her phone? Or for that matter, have you noticed how most people are quickly typing away on their phones, probably sending a quick text to whoever they are communicating with? Perhaps it could be their significant other?

Since the first SMS (short message service) message was sent in 1992, texting has become a more popular way of staying in touch with people and their partners.

In a 2011 study about the usage of text messages between individuals in romantic relationships, the common reason why couples use this form of media to connect with their partners is to express affection.

The process of texting keeps getting easier and easier. It is constantly evolving with new smartphones and updates that are being released. For example, the recent update for the iPhone, iOS 8, allows a person to text without having to quit the application that they are in. This makes multi-tasking all the more simple.

However, while texting is made easier, does it also help improve the relationship between two people?

Texting is a popular outlet for speaking to others. It is not uncommon in this day and age for distance to affect those who are in romantic relationships. In order to keep in contact, texting is the easiest source for staying close.

According to the Pew Research Internet Project, sending and receiving text messages is high at 81 percent.

Researchers state that “it is likely that technology has increased the ease with which affection can be expressed.” Sending a quick text, such as “I miss you,” before a class or after a meeting can easily bring affection and love toward each partner.

Strong communication is important, especially for those who want to keep the relationship going. It builds trust and respect for one another. In addition, it creates a connection between two people as the expression for one another can easily be said within one short text.

“Because of my texts, I was able to stay in contact with my girlfriend,” says Orr Kotzky, a student from Irvine Community College. “It’s simple, but it takes practice. It was pretty much how we talked everyday and it probably saved our relationship.”

For Kotzky, staying in touch with his girlfriend when she was in northern California for the summer was essential. He was able to connect and understand their relationship in a different way. For example, by being able to communicate with her via text, he was capable of learning how to decipher texts that came off as sarcasm.

However, while there are many advantages to texting, there are also the disadvantages — one of which is the potential “misunderstanding” of a text.

The misinterpretation of a text can occur because the receiver is only reading the text. A form of miscommunication can occur from the lack of tone and facial expression that the person would receive when talking to the sender in person. In other words, the message could be interpreted in a negative manner when the sender meant it in an entirely different way.

In Kotzky’s case, he explained that his girlfriend is very sarcastic. During the first couple weeks of being separated, he would read some of his girlfriend’s texts and get a bit irritated. He took her messages in an unfavorable manner when his girlfriend meant the total opposite. His girlfriend then would have to tell him that she was simply joking. Because he only read her text, he was not able to hear the tone of her voice which could signify her sarcasm.

Regardless of this particular disadvantage, the art of texting  somehow still plays an important role on connecting people with their partners. The advancement of texting will continue to grow, especially in today’s society.

Contacting close loved ones was a bit hard back in the day; however, with the advancement of texting and other forms of communication, keeping contact with others is becoming extremely easy.

But the question is, is technology starting to slowly take over how we form relationships with one another?

It is, as it seems that texting is having an affect on relationships and not just technology. Texting is a platform of communication that can be either good or bad.

With texting made easier and continuing to grow, it is quite easy to keep in touch with significant others. Though, it may not be a good way to continue the development of a growing relationship with them.

Texting is a good way to express one’s feelings in just a few words and it is good for sending quick updates. For the more serious matters, however, it may be best to contact the individual in person or even over the phone. Hearing their tone of voice or seeing their facial expression is key in order to understand what they mean.

Despite whether or not the text seen on the screen of a cell phone actually mean something, it is really up to the person receiving it to decipher the understanding of it.


Are you overly attached to technology?

Passengers on the 28 Muni inbound. (Olympia Zampathas/ Xpress Magazine)
Passengers on the 28 Muni inbound. (Olympia Zampathas/ Xpress Magazine)

The next time you are sitting in a classroom or stuck on an overcrowded Muni vehicle, silently cursing it for threatening to make you late to class yet again, take a look around. How many people are staring at a laptop or, more likely, a smartphone? Chances are, it will be several of them. Technology use is pervasive among college students, and that can have its pluses and minuses.

Many students utilize technology to do their schoolwork—to access documents provided by teachers, to do research, to write papers, and so on. To most, the right technological device is essential to getting work done. Eighty-five percent of students surveyed for the 2012 EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology rated a laptop as very or extremely important to academic success, making it the highest ranking device. Only 37 percent rated a smartphone the same. Three out of four college students say they could not study without technology, according to this infographic released by OnlineEducation.net in 2011. That tidbit might be best taken with a grain of salt because a site dedicated to online-only colleges would probably be inclined to pump up technology’s importance, but there is no denying the valuable role technology often plays when doing your homework. After all, when used properly, the Internet can provide a wealth of information much faster than it could be accessed by any other method.

Technology use can also be a major hindrance to students, however. All the quality information the Internet can provide is useless if it is lost among page after page of outdated, misleading, or just plain wrong “information” turned up by your favorite search engine. The Web is also, of course, full of time-wasters. Fall into the black hole of Facebook or BuzzFeed, and the hours you had meant to spend working on a research paper have vanished.

Research continues to shed light on the harmful effects on people who rely too heavily on technology, particularly college students. A survey of five hundred and thirty-six undergraduate students found that as their use of technology increased, their anxiety levels went up and their academic performance, as measured by GPA, went down according to the 2013 article, “The relationship between cell phone use, academic performance, anxiety, and Satisfaction with Life in college students,” published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior last year. In a study published in the same journal in August, one hundred and sixty-three American college students were required to spend set stretches of time without using their smartphones. Half of the group were made to surrender their phones for the duration of the study; the rest were allowed to keep them but had to turn them off and put them away. The researchers found that those who self-identified as moderate or heavy users of technology “felt significantly more anxious over time.”

A new term has been coined to describe the problematic attachment many have to technology: “Nomophobia” is the strong and irrational fear of being apart from your phone. The website Nomophobia.com offers a test titled “Are you a nomophobe?”

Technology plays a significant role in most students’ lives. Sometimes it is an asset as it helps you find information and get your work done faster. Using it too much, though, can prevent you from accomplishing anything and have harmful psychological effects. Go ahead and use your favorite devices for work and play, just try to not get too attached.

Kickstart Your Art

Written by Leigh Walker
It’s another day at Calen Perkins and Andrzej “Zej” Kozlowski’s home recording studio in San Francisco. Acoustic and electric guitars line the walls, none are tuned and many sit neglected, collecting dust. The duo sit quietly on the floor brainstorming what the next step will be in their career. Perkins twiddles his thumbs and thinks, but Kozlowski has an idea – though he isn’t sure if it will actually work. Many of their friends use a website to get their projects going: Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a website for anyone who wants to create a project, self-promote, and raise funds. Based in New York City, Kickstarter consists of a team of thirty-six people. The website allows anyone around the world to pledge the amount of money they need for a project, try to get patrons to back it up with monetary donations, and hopefully earn enough money to create their project.

Perkins and Kozlowski are indie folk musicians attempting to use Kickstarter to raise money to record their first full length album.

“We have played a lot together over the last two years and now want to really record a good album,” Perkins says. “We chose to use Kickstarter because it seemed like the best way to raise money for our album. It’s a really easy-to-use format, and they give you lots of tips and guidance along the way to run a successful campaign and hit your goal.”

Continue reading Kickstart Your Art

Touchscreen Fever: The hottest new phones to use in school


It is 2011 now, and time to ditch that old phone. Heck, these days, if it still has keys, you are effectively in the dark ages. Touch screens are the norm now, don’t think you can look cool texting with a full keyboard. That’s so 2009.

But where to start? Sure, the iPhone 4 may be the most recognizable these days, but it is far from the only slick phone on the market. So browse through our top choices, check with your carrier, and pick the one that’s right for you.

IPhone 4G. (Verizon, AT&T)
The latest and greatest version of the phone that started it all. High definition video, cameras on the front and back, a built in flashlight/flash, and an extremely high resolution screen are a few of the new additions to the already solid iPhone line. While this fourth-generation (4G, get it?) version is more evolution than revolution, there’s a reason that this is widely considered the phone to beat. Early reports of reception problems during calls did little to stop the sales of this phone, but ask friends or neighbors about their experiences first just to be sure.

IPhone 3GS (AT&T)
While nobody likes having a phone that’s not the latest and greatest, the basement-bargain prices for the 3GS make this one-generation outdated phone a solid option on a student’s budget. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of the 4G model, your $50 still gets you Apple’s latest operating system, built-in iPod, camera, and, most importantly to the trendy, it’s an iPhone, albeit a slightly outdated one.

Blackberry Torch 9800 (AT&T)
Blackberry is the company that got the ball rolling when it comes to smartphones, and this new model is squarely aimed at those who want a modern phone while still staying true to the traditional Blackberry. The Torch offers both a slide out keyboard and touchscreen, but while it runs Blackberry’s latest 6.0 operating system, it still doesn’t feel quite as slick as Google’s Android or Apple’s operating systems.

HTC Evo Shift/Inspire (Sprint/AT&T)
A real iPhone 4 rival, the Evo Shift/Inspire (different names for essentially the same phone depending on the network) offers the biggest screen of any phone, allowing for easier web surfing or movie viewing. Of course, the flip side of such a big screen is that the phone itself is a touch larger than others—not a bad thing, but make sure that it feels right in your hands before laying down the money. Another plus for the Shift is that it also offers a slide out, full keyboard for those who haven’t quite gotten the touchscreen thing down yet. The phone uses Google’s Android operating system, which offers the only app store to even come close to rivaling Apple’s. As a bonus, Android’s operating system is open-source, meaning that unlike Apple’s software, anyone can create programs and applications for Android—but check with your carrier first, says longtime cell phone salesman Daniel Heath. Some service providers only allow the use of authorized apps anyway, making open source software irrelevant to most consumers.

Samsung Galaxy S (T-Mobile)
T-Mobile’s iPhone rival is a solid phone, but its features still leave it ever-so-slightly behind the latest crop of top phones. Like pretty much every real rival to the iPhone, the Galaxy uses Google’s Android software. But unlike the iPhone 4, the Galaxy is missing a flash for its camera, although it does have both front- and back-facing lenses to allow for video calls—something T-Mobile has made a big deal about in their national advertising campaign, although admittedly, the carrier is still working out the kinks in the system.

T-Mobile MyTouch (T-Mobile)
The other iPhone-rivaling device in the T-Mobile stable, the MyTouch is now in its second generation, and offers the same features as the Galaxy S listed above—although there have been reports of some glitches with video calling on the MyTouch. A major bonus is the stainless steel parts, which give the phone a heftier feel than some of its rivals. While feel is a very subjective measure, the higher weight of the phone improves the feeling of build quality and durability.

Motorala i1 (Nextel)
Nextel is a little late for the party when it comes to state-of-the-art touch phones, but the i1 is still a solid offering. While the phone does use Android software, it only runs an early version, reportedly not as fast as the latter software. But the big selling point for Nextel is the company’s push-to-talk, Direct Connect network. This allows users to talk with each other at the push of a button, like a walkie-talkie. So for those seeking push-to-talk and a slick touch screen smartphone, this is your only option. Ultimately, though, push-to-talk is probably more relevant to contractors and truckers than it is to most college students.

Motorola Atrix (AT&T)
AT&T works hard to have the latest and greatest phones, and the Atrix is not exception. While it offers most of the usual smartphone features, the Atrix’s big claim to fame is its computer dock. It looks like a laptop, features a full keyboard, and has an 11.5 inch display. The computer dock itself has no memory—everything is stored on the phone, so when you are ready to go, you can just yank the phone off the dock and everything goes with you. While it is not a cheap option, it is a cool feature that is worth looking into, especially if you are not someone who needs a full laptop, but you want something more practical than a normal smartphone to carry around.

So there you have it. See? You don’t necessarily need an iPhone after all to have the satisfaction of whipping out your phone and googling the answer to your professor’s questions, or to settle that debate at the pub. Just make sure to weigh all your options and choose carefully—phones are enormously expensive without a contract renewal, and most carriers only allow you to renew every one or two years. So whatever you may choose, be happy with it. These days, your smartphone is more like an extension of yourself.