Big Data – bringing “Minority Report” closer to reality

I read an interesting article about the usage of big data and fighting crime – click here for piece. The basic premise is that law enforcement agencies are taping into the mountains of data that is out there to start determining where crimes might occur. Using predictive analytics coupled with the mountains of available data allows for an improved ability to understand where and even when crimes might occur. The article points out some measurable improvements of using some versions of the predictive solutions:

“the intermediate results look quite impressive. In Los Angeles, five LAPD divisions that use it in patrolling territory populated by roughly 1.3m people have seen crime decline by 13%. The city of Santa Cruz, which now also uses PredPol, has seen its burglaries decline by nearly 30%. Similar uplifting statistics can be found in many other police departments across America.”

Impressive to say the least, even if it remains early. There is even more discussion of how law enforcement could leverage sites such as Facebook to track and anticipate users who might have a higher probability of committing a crime.

Showing up based on your Facebook posts

Showing up based on your Facebook posts

“The police are also finding powerful allies in Silicon Valley. Companies such as Facebook have begun using algorithms and historical data to predict which of their users might commit crimes using their services. Here is how it works: Facebook’s own predictive systems can flag certain users as suspicious by studying certain behavioural cues: the user only writes messages to others under 18; most of the user’s contacts are female; the user is typing keywords like “sex” or “date.” Staffers can then examine each case and report users to the police as necessary. Facebook’s concern with its own brand here is straightforward: no one should think that the platform is harbouring criminals.”

So think twice when you drunk post on Facebook!

So what does this mean for us and our privacy? While there are some positives, what about the potential down side? Remember the movie – Minority Report? Tom Cruise and his police team would be able to anticipate crimes before they happened and arrest the future criminal…before they actually committed the crime. How would one feel to have big data “predict” that you are about to do something against the law…before you even do it. Is it worth to have a percentage of citizens be mislabeled to have a larger percentage of future crimes nipped in the bud? And what happens if big data predicts a crime and law enforcement does not act upon it…and it does happen?

It creates some very interesting issues. I think that this is an another example of Big Data and the potential it might hold, but also the dangers associated with advances in technology.

Another reason to be careful about what you post on Facebook!


1 Comment

Filed under Current Events, Technology

One response to “Big Data – bringing “Minority Report” closer to reality

  1. cheryl dieter

    I think this control gone pathological


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