Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Short Posts 4/18/18: On Sean Hannity, James Comey and The End Of Online Privacy

These are "breaking the silence" posts.  Sometimes the political events of the day or of the week are like a smorgasbord with too much hard-to-digest food, and then I am like Buridan's ass:  I cannot choose what to write about but dither in silence.

1.  What to say about the journalistic ethics of Sean Hannity, the Fox News pundit, who has pontificated on the witch-hunt against Donald Trump* and against Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, when we learn that Hannity himself is Cohen's client?

I guess he has no journalistic ethics, because an ethical journalist would have recused himself from covering issues with such personal connections.

The American politics now resembles the fights between fans of different sports teams:  It doesn't matter what the facts are, it doesn't matter what bad things your side may have done; all what matters is to win at any cost, and your side is always right, by definition. 

Well, that's what I see from the right-wing.  Not so sure about what the left-wing is doing when they are not carrying out circular firing squads or practicing being invertebrates.

2. And then Comey and his book.  Comey the Saint, Comey the Satan, Comey the Pure, Perfect and Perfidious. 

I do not care for Mr. Comey, for reasons that Hecate describes very well here, and I am pretty sure that whether the original impetus came from the New York's office of Trump-loving FBI boyz or from somewhere else in the organization, an important subconscious bias against women in power fueled much of the Hillary-hunt.

Which, by the way, is still continuing.  Hillary must be put into prison.  Well, our Dear Leader tweets about the need to jail all sorts of private people.  That's how he uses the bully pulpit the presidency offers:  To attack his private enemies in bouts of narcissistic rage.

3.  Here's a missive from our dystopian future:  Facebook was/is planning to help people with a new initiative to combine medical data with Facebook data:

Facebook's pitch, according to two people who heard it and one who is familiar with the project, was to combine what a health system knows about its patients (such as: person has heart disease, is age 50, takes 2 medications and made 3 trips to the hospital this year) with what Facebook knows (such as: user is age 50, married with 3 kids, English isn't a primary language, actively engages with the community by sending a lot of messages).
The project would then figure out if this combined information could improve patient care, initially with a focus on cardiovascular health. For instance, if Facebook could determine that an elderly patient doesn't have many nearby close friends or much community support, the health system might decide to send over a nurse to check in after a major surgery.
Health policy experts say that this health initiative would be problematic if Facebook did not think through the privacy implications.
"Consumers wouldn't have assumed their data would be used in this way," said Aneesh Chopra, president of a health software company specializing in patient data called CareJourney and the former White House chief technology officer.
"If Facebook moves ahead (with its plans), I would be wary of efforts that repurpose user data without explicit consent."

I find this proposal equally hilarious and enraging.  Sure, we all know by now that what Facebook makes its money from is the private information users put online and the private information of other users they interact with.  But to sell that information to doctors and hospitals, especially without explicit consent?  And information which is aimed at one's friends and acquaintances, not at one's health care providers?

The example in the above quote is an inane one, by the way.  The health care professionals are supposed to ask patients preparing for surgery if they have someone at home or someone who can come in for a few nights, or if they need a visiting nurse. 

That is my experience, in any case.  To try to figure out something like that from Facebook posts is a total crapshoot, because people don't always tell the truth in social media.  As someone recently said, people put their best face forward to their friends in Facebook and their worst face forward to strangers on Twitter.

I also immediately thought of someone who might post a picture of a bacon breakfast on Facebook, a few weeks after heart surgery, and then the avenging health care angels would swoop upon him or her.

Finally, the system is supposed to be anonymized.  But depending on the particular medical conditions and particular geographic areas it can be possible to identify specific individuals from such data.

All this is spying if there is no consent.

It's also an interesting example of the way information about us, the users of the Internet, has become one of the major commodities that are traded online, without any of the money flowing into our pockets.  So who has the property rights to that information?


*  I have met witches, and you, Donald Trump, are not one.  For one thing, witches have a lot of training and knowledge. 

Besides, the real witch-hunts were arranged against people with very little social and no political power:  Old women without relatives who had land the neighbors wanted and so on.