It’s All About the Statistics

Hubby is a high school math teacher. His big thing is getting his students to understand the basics of statistics. Just the basics. The idea of bell curves, mean, median and mode, plotting data onto graphs, using graphing equations.

Why put such emphasis on statistics in high school, especially a New York City inner city school? I never learned statistics in high school. Granted, that was over 30 years ago, and computers were still in their infancy. We’d barely gotten past punch cards.

“It’s all about the statistics,” he tells me. “Data drives everything, and these kids need to at least get a smidgen of the importance of statistical data in their lives.”

Data does drive everything these days, and the scandal out of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is just a tip of what is happening in many many companies out there that collect and sort data for different uses.

It’s where these companies are getting their data and how it’s being used that frightens us. They are mining our social media accounts, digging deep into who we are in our online lives. And then they are using that data in many ways. Packaging it in summaries to companies trying to sell us new products. Wrapping it into new forms to show the media outlets who we might vote for. Manipulating it to help a company create a new product. Twisting it and separating out bits to sell to other companies so they can send out spam emails, junk mailings, robo-calls.

One of my favorite ways that these companies sneak up on us is in those online quizzes. Want to know what food you should eat with what movie? Take a quiz. Oh, and check out the question that asks what type of paint you would use to paint your living room. What kind of question is that among the queries on your favorite pizza toppings and favorite actors?

Answer: it’s a marketing question, hidden in that oh-so-innocuous quiz. Somewhere out there is a company that’s paid money to find out what type of paint you have used or will consider using, and taking note of who you are in the process, mining your personal information from whatever social media account you took the quiz from.

Now, data taken like this is supposed to be anonymous and destroyed after being used. But companies that mine the data don’t always do this, nor do companies who pay for the data. Personal information mined in such ways is still out there, in many hands. Addresses. Phone numbers. Age. Political affiliation(s). Gender. Race. Religion. What you ate for dinner last night.

It’s this aspect of statistics and data that really frightens people. If companies like Cambridge Analytica can give what they mine to governments who are looking to ban, change or revoke rights, then we have a problem. A serious problem.

Hubby shrugs as we talk about this. “It’s still all about statistics. Today’s children are growing into a world where everything they do, everything they post, everything they say will be weighed, measured and used somewhere.”

I sigh. There’s no such thing as privacy. Even this blog is probably being mined somehow.

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