The Big Brother-Researcher
A short article in last weekend’s edition of Haaretz’ daily Israeli newspaper was entitled “The Big Sisters”. The article mentions two complaints of an Israeli customer against two telephone companies (in Hebrew, the word “company” is feminine, and this is why they were referred as “sisters” and not “brothers”); the two cases have nothing to do with each other, and only by chance they happenned to the same woman:
- An Israeli student got a few calls to her cellular from a Jordan-based colleague, while the latter was travelling to Jerusalem through the West Bank; a few hours later, the cellular company representative called the Israeli’s mother (who’s the registrant of the phone), trying to understand her relation to the Occupied Territories.
- A representative of an Israeli International Calls Provider called that very same mother and suggested her a special discount plan for Vienna and New York; the reason for this special offer (as the representative told her): that lady had increasingly dialed numbers in these destinations during the weeks beforehand.
We might say that these two companies had used the technology in a wise way, and for the benefits of their customers (and this is clear from their response to the journalist): In the first case, the company just made sure the phone had not been stolen from its customer; in the second case, the customer had been offered with a plan to reduce the amount of money she pays to the company.
Well, what’s wrong with that? It is the customer’s reaction to the two companies-initiated calls: I’ve been tracked!
Now, let’s think about a totally different scenario, in which a student is using the imaginary ICanLearnAnyWhere Ubiquitous GPS-enabled Learning System. During his ubiquitous History class while travelling over the world, this student gets a pop-up message saying: “Welcome to Paris! Do you want to read about the history of Eiffel Tower?” What will this student feel at that very moment?
And, let’s think about a second imaginary scenario: After extensively using a High-School Mathematics VITS (Very Intelligent Tutoring System) for two weeks, one student gets the following message from the system: “Hey, we see that you are very good in Fractions, however you probably need some more practice in finding LCM; do you want to review the basics of finding LCM?”.
What will those students feel? Will they feel like they’re truly being helped by the advanced technology, or will they feel as being tracked? Will the answer to this question be different if a short notice had been presented at the beginning of the ubiquitous/VITS course, saying: “Your actions are being tracked for the benefit of helping you utilizing the system and earning higher score”? Maybe, on the other hand, such a notice will do more harm and will increase the dropping rate?
Above all, and since we know that these scenarios – both in commerce and learning – are everyday practice already, the big question is this: What is the golden path between privacy and data mining?