“Sizing up Big Data” by Steve Lohr begins by discussing a man named Jeffrey who has been “on the frontiers of the data economy.” Jeffrey, after graduating from Harvard, initially got a job with Facebook where he worked with social network data for the site. Jeffrey soon left Facebook and began to work for another company. Next, he worked as an assistant professor at Mount Sinai. Throughout these jobs, Jeffrey was working with types of data to try and make things easier for different companies and searching for technological and medical breakthroughs, especially at his current job at Mount Sinai. The article goes on to make the point that no matter what field one is in, that field is “being transformed by data-driven discovery and decision-making.” Pioneer Internet companies like Facebook and Google started this trend and now data tools and techniques are used for very diverse tasks, such as predicting crime in a certain area to injecting intelligence into machines. The name given to this new wave of using data is called “Big Data.” It “embraces technology, decision-making, and public policy.” All the major technology companies are now pursuing this type of business. There is a high demand for people with data skills, like Jeffrey. Big Data is a vague term that means three things. It is a “bundle of technologies,” a “potential revolution in measurement,” and “a point of view, or philosophy, about how decisions will be–and perhaps should be–made in the future.”


The surveillance Big Data uses begins to create problems when it intrudes upon the issues of privacy and security. An example of this is a recent issue that occurred with the National Security Agency who were “secretly stockpiling telephone call logs of Americans and poring through e-mail and other data from major Internet companies.” This makes one think that Big Data could possibly be using surveillance with websites young people frequently use to pass on information, like Facebook. It just so happens that this fear is entirely true. The digital object that will be discussed and compared to the article by Lohr is the YouTube video, “Facebook: A Surveillance Tool.” This video was chosen because it makes a very good point related to Big Data and surveillance. Plus, everyone knows what Facebook is and most people have one, so the video is very relatable for others to watch and learn from.

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The video begins with a reporter talking about how the CIA uses Facebook for surveillance. A Department of Homeland Security report is mentioned in the video and the report mentions that Facebook has replaced every other CIA information gathering program. Deputy CIA director, Christopher Sartinsky, comments that “after years of secretly monitoring the public,” the CIA was astounded that so many people willingly use Facebook now to add hundreds of pictures of themselves, statuses saying what they are doing that very moment, home address, phone number, personal email address, and other personal information the CIA can easily gain now without searching. The Facebook program saves the CIA money because they do not have to look so hard for information now. “It is truly a dream come true for the CIA,” says Sartinsky. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, is now the CIA agent and director of the CIA’s Facebook Program. He runs the day to day Facebook operations for the agency. Zuckerberg commented that “Facebook is the single most powerful tool for population control ever created.” The CIA uses Facebook for example, to search ‘friend networks’ of suspected dissidents. They will search through the friends of the person they are suspicious of by using the ‘friend’ section on Facebook, which quickly and easily supplies them with a list of everyone the suspect is currently friends with on Facebook. Jason Copeland, a Senior Political Analyst, comments that the “CIA has been so thorough in convincing the nation that constantly sharing information about everything you’re doing is somehow desirable instead of deeply unsettling.” This way, the CIA can continue to use people’s information they willingly share online.

An example of how the CIA uses Facebook to quickly gain information now is the ‘calendar feature’ on Facebook which lets everyone know where one will be in advance. Without this, the CIA would have to do tons of investigating to figure out where the suspect could be headed next. People can be invited to ‘events’ on Facebook and then can RSVP to the ones they would like to attend. The CIA simply looks to see which events the suspect will be attending in the future, then sends out agents to attend as well. Facebook is becoming so dangerous that the New York Times put out an article discussing the fact that Al Qaeda has possibly been using an application on Facebook called “Foursquare” which shows popular places people typically go. He could possibly be trying to see what the most highly populated places are so that he can bomb them.

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The surveillance Big Data uses brings to the forefront the fact that no one really has any privacy anymore. One can argue that maybe people should not put such personal information on the internet. Others would argue that we live in a free country and have the right to share whatever information we want without worrying who is stalking our pictures or personal information. The truth of the matter is that anything that is on the internet is liable to be seen by anyone and each of us has to make the decision on whether or not to share certain pieces of information about ourselves.

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