Sometimes greater good wins

Reubin Turner | Asst. City Editor
Reubin Turner | Asst. City Editor
By Reubin Turner
Assistant City Editor

Big brother is no longer watching you. He’s more concerned with what you tweet, post and google. Don’t believe me? Just ask the experts at the Centers for Disease Control.

In 2009, Nature, one of the leading scientific journals, published an article by Google researchers that gave many in and out of the scientific field goose bumps. In the article, they showed how they could track a flu epidemic using archived Google searches. The eerie part was that they were able to do it in real-time, compared to the CDC which had roughly a two week lag.

This is just one of countless examples in which ‘big data’ is changing the way we look at information, and the world.

How the hybridized science, which combines statistics and computers science, works is quite simple.

Keywords are often put in statistical-based algorithms to come up with results that sometimes, display useful relationships. These relationships can help answer tough questions from professionals in many fields.

Through search engines, social media outlets and other information-gathering venues, computer scientists and statisticians across the globe have been able to take the way users interact with such interfaces and attempt to answer questions.

The beauty of this process? It uses raw data — information gathered you when you’re not even aware. It hasn’t been ‘cleaned’ or adjusted for seasonality. From credit card purchases to Google searches, it’s all relative.

Scientists, researchers and economists have praised this evolving science, saying the impact it can have on their fields and, more importantly, humanity, are immeasurable.

There are some critics, however, who say this new way of gathering data is inhumane because it could lead to invasion of privacy for the general public.

Time magazine published an article on the issue and claimed that data science was incredibly intrusive, equating it to virtual profiling. There are even some skeptics who are calling for Congress to demand several of these data mining companies open their vaults and reveal just exactly what type of information they are collecting about us.

While I do agree that the multibillion-dollar industry could use more regulation (the field is still relatively new, and a vast understanding of the field is necessary before too many restrictions are placed), skeptics should keep in mind that throughout history, certain rights of society have been altered in order to promote the general welfare.

John Locke, one of the principal philosophers of the Enlightenment, has many ideas in which American democracy and republicanism are hinged. Chief among them are his ideas on social contracts.

Locke believed that sometimes, the rights of the individual can be altered in an effort to promote the general good. As long as the alteration of these rights were not abusive and were solely for the betterment of society, the contract would not be violated.

A federal judge in New York affirmed this sentiment by ruling the collection of phone records from the National Security Agency of Edward Snowden legal. Why? Because like James Madison when framing the Second Amendment, he understood that some rights are not unlimited.

This theory for the most part has shown true throughout American history. Limiting the rights to bear arms and free speech, for example, showcase how not all rights, including the right to privacy, are unlimited.

And if this means that the government and other research agencies will know that I searched for cookie dough Oreos on Amazon because I couldn’t find them at Wal-Mart, H-E-B or Target, so be it.

Because ultimately, an alteration on my right to privacy could help prevent the next epidemic or help determine what the new minimum wage could be.

Wow, who knew my search for Oreos could be so powerful.

Reubin Turner is a senior economics major from Edmond, Okla. He is the assistant city editor for the Lariat.