We all need to be data literate

This article from Harvard Business Review doesn’t mention schools once, but I think it fits perfectly well in that setting.

The democratization of data science
Intelligent people find new uses for data science every day. Still, despite the explosion of interest in the data collected by just about every sector of American business — from financial companies and health care firms to management consultancies and the government — many organizations continue to relegate data-science knowledge to a small number of employees.

That’s a mistake — and in the long run, it’s unsustainable.

It goes on to outline the three steps necessary to create a more data literate organisation; share data tools, spread data skills, and spread data responsibility. Couldn’t agree more. It’s well worth a read.

Facebook gets away with it

Facebook fined for data breaches in Cambridge Analytica scandal
Facebook is to be fined £500,000, the maximum amount possible, for its part in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the information commissioner has announced.

But talk about good timing.

In the first quarter of 2018, Facebook took £500,000 in revenue every five and a half minutes. Because of the timing of the breaches, the ICO said it was unable to levy the penalties introduced by the European General Data Protection (GDPR), which caps fines at the higher level of €20m (£17m) or 4% of global turnover – in Facebook’s case, $1.9bn (£1.4bn). The £500,000 cap was set by the Data Protection Act 1998.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, explains her real goal with this fine is to “effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”

“Most of us have some understanding of the behavioural targeting that commercial entities have used for quite some time,” Denham said, “to sell us holidays, to sell us trainers, to be able to target us and follow us around the web.”

“But very few people have an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.

“This is a time when people are sitting up and saying ‘we need a pause here, and we need to be sure we are comfortable with the way personal data is used in our democratic process’.”

I think we’re still some way off that; people just seem not to be bothered.

Facebook’s rise in profits, users shows resilience after scandals
Facebook Inc (FB.O) shares rose on Wednesday after the social network reported a surprisingly strong 63 percent rise in profit and an increase in users, with no sign that business was hurt by a scandal over the mishandling of personal data.

But maybe I shouldn’t be so pessimistic.

The digital privacy wins keep coming
Progress can be difficult to measure; it often comes in drips and drops, or not at all for long stretches of time. But in recent weeks, privacy advocates have seen torrential gains, at a rate perhaps not matched since Edward Snowden revealed how the National Security Agency spied on millions of US citizens in 2013. A confluence of factors—generational, judicial, societal—have created momentum where previously there was none. The trick now is to sustain it.

Let’s hope.

100,000 happy moments

Nathan Yau has a fascinating look at what makes us happy.

What makes people the most happy
What made you happy in the past 24 hours? Researchers asked 10,000 people this question. More specifically, the collaboration between the University of Tokyo, MIT, and Recruit Institute of Technology asked participants on Mechanical Turk to list 10 happy moments. This generated a corpus of 100,000 happy moments called HappyDB.

With how things are these days, I was happy to read over and analyze such a happy dataset.

Goats, DVDs and other formats

Here’s an interesting look at Netflix’s ARRM robot, or ‘Automated Rental Return Machine’, built to squeeze out as much profit margin as possible from its shrinking DVDs-by-post business. It’s an ingenious response to this latest shift in format.

Automating the end of movies on physical discs
The real shame will happen when movies stop coming out on DVDs and Blu-Rays altogether. That’s not because they were such a lovable way to package films (they have their pluses and minuses); it’s because with the loss of each media format, we also lose some titles forever.

Speaking of changes with storage and archive processes, I was looking back at this post from 2014, about how the printing of the new High Speed Two bill will require several thousand goats to create the necessary amount of vellum.

It turns out the following year, the Commons Select Committee agreed to a move away from vellum to high quality archive paper, a much cheaper option.

Report: The use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament
The Committee was convinced by the arguments put to it by the Chairman of Committees and has therefore agreed this short report recommending to the House of Commons that, in future, high quality archive paper should be used and not vellum to record Acts of Parliament.

But then in 2016 they changed their mind again, with the Cabinet Office deciding to “provide the money from its own budget for the thousand-year-old tradition to continue.”

Why is the UK still printing its laws on vellum?
After a reprieve, the UK is to continue printing and storing its laws on vellum, made from calf or goat-skin. But shouldn’t these traditions give way to digital storage, asks Chris Stokel-Walker.

That’s such a tricky question, though. It’s tempting to think digital is always best with these matters, but I wonder. Storage formats come and go so quickly, just look at Netflix’s DVDs.

“In many circles there’s still a real discomfort around digital archiving, and a lack of belief that digital can survive into the future,” explains Jenny Mitcham, digital archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York.

The whole concept of digital storage is a relatively new innovation, and the path by which it could survive through the years is not clear.

(And has anyone compared vellum rot with link rot, I wonder?)

Weeks, years, aeons

I have a birthday coming up in a few days and I was going back over this post that links to a Wait But Why article on how to see all the weeks in your life in one go.

Your life in weeks
Sometimes life seems really short, and other times it seems impossibly long. But this chart helps to emphasize that it’s most certainly finite. Those are your weeks and they’re all you’ve got.

I’ve found it very useful to go back to my own version of this, to remind myself of where I’ve been and how fleeting situations are sometimes. But I hadn’t realised there was another article there that gives you a much broader — but still very relatable — perspective on time.

Putting time in perspective
Humans are good at a lot of things, but putting time in perspective is not one of them. It’s not our fault—the spans of time in human history, and even more so in natural history, are so vast compared to the span of our life and recent history that it’s almost impossible to get a handle on it. …

To try to grasp some perspective, I mapped out the history of time as a series of growing timelines—each timeline contains all the previous timelines.

You move quickly through the last day, week and year, through timelines of a 30 year old and a 90 year old, all the way back to when humans diverged from apes, and the ages of the Earth and Sun.

weeks-years-2

History is much closer than you think.

Trump’s version of a paperless office?

This shouldn’t surprise us, I suppose.

Meet the guys who tape Trump’s papers back together
Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Makes me wonder if that Trump Kim document is worth the paper it’s written on.

University data breach

With GDPR still getting attention, here’s news that the Information Commissioner has fined the University of Greenwich over a significant data breach that happened in 2016.

Greenwich University fined £120,000 for data breach
The fine was for a security breach in which the personal data of 19,500 students was placed online. The data included names, addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers, signatures and – in some cases – physical and mental health problems. It was uploaded onto a microsite for a training conference in 2004, which was then not secured or closed down.

The Information Commissioner said Greenwich was the first university to receive a fine under the Data Protection Act of 1998 and described the breach as “serious”.

[…]

In a statement, the university said it would not appeal against the decision.

It said it had carried out “an unprecedented overhaul” of its data protection and security systems since the discovery of the breach in 2016, and it had invested in both technology and staff.

So the personal data was added to a website in 2004 and left there for 12 years until the breach was discovered?

The University of Greenwich fined £120,000 by Information Commissioner for “serious” security breach
The investigation centred on a microsite developed by an academic and a student in the then devolved University’s Computing and Mathematics School, to facilitate a training conference in 2004.

After the event, the site was not subsequently closed down or secured and was compromised in 2013. In 2016 multiple attackers exploited the vulnerability of the site allowing them to access other areas of the web server.

A timely warning for others, I guess. Under GDPR, these fines could be significantly higher.

Happy GDPR Day!

Remember though, 25 May is just the beginning, not the deadline. Don’t panic.

US sites block users in Europe: Why are they ghosting EU? It’s not you, it’s GDPR
Visitors in the bloc trying to load articles from the Tribune, or stablemates the Los Angeles Times – the fifth-biggest daily – and the Orlando Sentinel are shown the same error message from publisher Tronc.

“Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries,” it reads. “We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.”

The finger is pointed at the General Data Protection Regulation, which, although it is only just being enforced today, was adopted on 14 April 2016 – meaning organisations have had more than two years to prepare.

Help, my lightbulbs are dead! How GDPR became bigger than Beyonce
But the potential of huge fines hasn’t been the only reason for GDPR mania. There’s also a growing market of people working in data protection and offering dubious services related to GDPR. In the UK there are more than 100 registered companies with the GDPR acronym in their titles – and the vast majority of these were formed after the regulation was approved in 2016. Their purpose? To offer advice on how companies can get their data in order and create products that can help organise information.

[…]

In a post on LinkedIn, George Parapadakis who formerly worked at IBM, wrote that technology wouldn’t solve GDPR issues. “The nonsense that I read on a daily basis, defies belief,” Parapadakis wrote. Turner adds: “Don’t get me wrong, we’re all in it to pay the mortgage but I think as the panic has increased, there is something of a feeding frenzy of, ’Let’s see how much we can get before the momentum goes out of the market.’” This may have peaked when GDPR became more popular than Beyonce.

Another day, another GDPR e-mail

GDPR finally comes into force on Friday, and there seems to be no let up in the privacy notice update e-mails we’re all getting. This raised a smile though.

Most GDPR emails unnecessary and some illegal, say experts
What’s more, Vitale said, if the business really does lack the necessary consent to communicate with you, it probably lacks the consent even to email to ask you to give it that consent.

“In many cases the sender will be breaching another set of regulations, the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which makes it an offence to email someone to ask them for consent to send them marketing by email.”

I wonder if we’ll still receive these e-mails after 25 May. If we do, are the companies that send them admitting they weren’t compliant initially? I’m sure the ICO won’t be too concerned, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Last-minute frenzy of GDPR emails unleashes ‘torrent’ of spam – and memes
The whole process has inspired the internet to rope in everyone from Julian Assange to Donald Trump to Prince William in an attempt to illustrate their frustration at the electronic onslaught.

Relaxed data

Data is such a funny word. It’s a plural, strictly. Part of me wants to use it that way, and show off, but a larger part of me always feels too self-conscious to do that. Thankfully, as Nathan Yau from FlowingData has discovered, the ‘rules’ around its use have been ‘officially’ relaxed.

Data is, sometimes
If you read data as singular then write it as such. For example, we already allow singular for ‘big data’. And we should for personal data too. An easy rule would be that if it can be used as a synonym for information then it should probably be singular — and if we are using it as economic data and mean figures, then we should stick to plural.