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Is there no where to hide?

By Snugboy in Culture
Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 10:17:47 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

This article raises some inetersting questions. "A Cornell University sociologist has transformed the small world concept of 'six degrees of separation' into a scientific sampling method for finding and studying 'hidden populations,' from drug users to jazz musicians."

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comments (24)
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There are many times in life that it is preferable to get lost in a crowd. Large groups of people and so called “Invisible Nations” offer the average citizen to enjoy life, or voice an opinion with out fear. That is why this article disturbed me. This variation on “Six Degrees of Separation” sounds an awful lot like profiling.
Depending on who you ask, profiling can be good or bad. To authorities, it is seen as valid way to find criminals soon after or even before they strike. To others profiling means discrimination, violated personal rights, and false suspicion. The question is, is this concept of association the beginning of a system that could get out of hand?
Imagine you have a relative who is a drug user. Because you are related to that person, you could be marked in some federal database as someone who is involved with drugs. Say you try to get a job and a background check finds that flag, or you get pulled over for speeding and a quick look in a database by the officer finds the same thing? This practice has already been touched on in the cyberworld, in the form of the cookies debate and the 1x1 pixel issue. Both of these can be used to track and profile a users habits. Now we are looking at the meatspace equivalent of this, with the user’s life habits being tracked and classified.

Is this a problem, does anyone else see the danger in this type of thing. Or is this already happening, but this is just a more ruthlessly efficient method of doing it? Or is it something I should just shut up about?


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Is profiling a problem?
o Yes, profiling is dangerous 55%
o No, profiling is useful 6%
o Maybe, I don't know enough 20%
o I hated that show 17%

Votes: 109
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o article
o Also by Snugboy

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Is there no where to hide? | 23 comments (11 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
Dangerous in the wrong hands (4.00 / 4) (#1)
by dreamfish on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 01:43:10 PM EST

From the article:

As we gather information during the sampling process of referrals, we look at the degree to which people tend to recruit those similar to them

This sort of thinking plays straight into the hands of (religious) right types who believe that gays go around 'recruiting' others to their 'cause'. I believe the prof. is confusing the idea of communities where like-minded people come together, especially when looking for 'safety in numbers' when faced with an intolerant society.

"Like-Minded" people come together (none / 0) (#21)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 09:21:23 AM EST

People, and animals, will congregate with similar others, whether or not the surrounding society is tolerant or not.

A few years ago there was a fascinating study where some scientists went around spray painting geese blue. (They used a harmless dye - honest!)

Anyway, they took a single flock of geese and painted some of the adults blue. The dynamics of the flock didn't change that year. But the offspring of the blue geese wouldn't mate with normal un-painted geese - they strongly preferred to mate with blue geese. At this point, the scientists painted those offspring blue, as well. By the next generation, the flock had self-segregated into two flocks, blue and white.

People who think "clown" is an insult have never met any.
[ Parent ]
huh..? (2.33 / 3) (#2)
by lucid on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 01:50:02 PM EST

i read the article.. 'federal database' was mentioned zero times. i read the article twice, and all i could figure out is that they were studying jazz musicians for some reason. 'a valid way to find criminals before they strike?' IANAL, but i think criminality is more a behavior, and less a profession, unlike in The Sims. this submission reminds me of the militia-types in Blues Brothers 2000. -1

Read between the lines (2.00 / 1) (#5)
by Snugboy on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 02:52:16 PM EST

'federal database' was mentioned zero times

Just because the possible uses of this method are not mentioned in the article doesn't mean that the uses are not there. This submission is meant to be an analysis of a potential abuse of this method.

'a valid way to find criminals before they strike?' IANAL, but i think criminality is more a behavior, and less a profession

For some being a criminal is a profession, albiet not one that is advoctaed by guidance counselors. Profiling is used by law enforcment to catch criminals, and the highway patrol of many states comes to mind. Many times minorities are pulled over far more than caucasians, because minorities are profiled as having a higher likelihood of having commited crimes. This is unfair and this example draws strong analogies to the posted article's method.

Part of intellegent conversation is the ability to read something and form a hypothesis that is not directly stated

[ Parent ]

Other dangers (3.80 / 5) (#3)
by spaceghoti on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 01:52:56 PM EST

People are talking about the dangers of genetic profiling, giving people like religious groups and insurance companies reasons to discriminate based on genetic history and propensity for medical problems and the like.

Who needs genetics when profiling like this can summarize everyone into stereotypes? Wanna know if someone is, could be or sympathizes with the homosexual community? Check his profiling. Will this woman slave herself to the companymaternity leave? Check her profile.

Information is good, but information that tries to lump people together in neat little categories can't be trusted not to be misused.

"Humor. It is a difficult concept. It is not logical." -Saavik, ST: Wrath of Khan

Permissible? (4.50 / 4) (#12)
by interiot on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 03:29:44 PM EST

Is it even permissible as a research method?

The idea is basically that... if you can't sample your target population, then sample their friends to get the dirt on the target.

Isn't there some scientific code of ethics rule that says that you shouldn't do research on a person without their knowledge of the research? Perhaps it's okay if the data is aggregated...?

Another one of these... (1.50 / 2) (#14)
by ksandstr on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 04:12:51 PM EST

It seems to me that this kind of companies (you know, the kind that offer silver bullets for law and corporate enforcement, and also cure for cancer if you want to pay $3M extra and take a treatment that lasts for 40 years...) spring up just so that they can squeeze the extra money off stupid cops while causing a great deal of harm and annoyance to those that are flagged as naughty by the profiling system.

I think there's a law against discrimination based on such stuff in Finland, but I'm not sure.

Real-Life Profiling (4.20 / 5) (#15)
by Devil Ducky on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 04:32:44 PM EST

We profile people all of the time, everytime we stereotype. Stereotyping is given a negative connotation that it doesn't fully deserve. Stereotyping is best used when the "answer" it gives you is not acted upon or taken to be a fact.

So often people do match the better stereotypes. I am not speaking of the ones along the line of how high you can jump based on the color of your skin, I'm talking about the ones like: Geeks are male. It is not true, but it is a fairly accurate representation. People are going to scream that it's not accurate, after all something like 2% of geeks are female... 2% proves my point.

The way to use profiling/stereotypes is to say:
  1. Kevin Bacon is an actor.
  2. Actors act.
  3. Actors Hang Out with other Actors.
  4. Actors get paid to act (not always true)
  5. Actors prefer to be called "Actor" rather than "Lying Sociopath"
Therefore: Kevin Bacon probably acts, hangs out with other Actors, gets paid, and doesn't like to be called a Sociopath.

Devil Ducky

Immune to the Forces of Duct Tape
Day trading at it's Funnest
probably vs. certainly (5.00 / 1) (#16)
by ZanThrax on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 05:02:11 PM EST

Everything you say is correct. When a group of people (being several people who have one or more attributes in common) can be shown to tend towards another attribute, then it is fair to believe that a random member of that group is more likely to have the second attribute than a random member of the population at large. (in the group "geeks", most members also have the attribute "male", therefore it is safe to believe that a random "geek" is more likely to be "male" than not)

This does not, however, make it reasonable, or ethical, or (one would hope) legal to act on this tendancy, or to assume that it applies to a given member of said group. Cops should not beable to stop random latinos or blacks on the assumption that a random latino or black is more likely to be criminals than any other random citizen.

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

scientists and responsibility (3.75 / 4) (#18)
by madams on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 05:27:49 PM EST

Should scientists be held responsible for how their discoveries and methodologies are used?

While it is certainly possible that this method could be used in some Big Brother like conspiracy, it's not the scientists fault if this method is used against you.

You must remember that Prof. Heckathorn (who divised the method) is a sociology researcher who speicalizes in AIDS prevention research and policy analysis.

More specifically, his method is "a form of incentive-driven chain-referral sampling in combination with simulation and analytic methods to draw statistically representative samples of hidden populations such as jazz musicians, active drug injectors, and the homeless."

So this is simply a technique for doing research on these "hidden populations".

This is about sociology, not some conspiracy against you

Mark Adams
"But pay no attention to anonymous charges, for they are a bad precedent and are not worthy of our age." - Trajan's reply to Pliny the Younger, 112 A.D.

No Sweat (4.00 / 3) (#22)
by r0cket on Thu Nov 09, 2000 at 11:11:35 AM EST

From what I gathered in the article this technique does not lead to identification of any single individual (other than the one you started out with). I don't think this raises any privacy concerns, since the researcher is left only with aggregate statistical data. From the article: "a scientifically valid, representative sample of populations." In fact, I think this may be a Good Thing (tm) in that it will give us a better understanding of peole who are often under represented and overlooked by the rest of society.

Is there no where to hide? | 23 comments (11 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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