Tim Berners-Lee is an evangelist for the step towards Web 3.0 – the Semantic Web, where he says it is no longer about putting in a search term and getting a list of documents and web links that might have the answer, it will be about getting your question answered. He has discussed the positive benefits of this new web where access to Raw data (his term) provides opportunities to recombine and use it in positive ways. His examples, provided during a Ted Talks, include setting up safer bicycle routes, demonstrating racism in access to water in an American suburb and mapping refugee camps in Haiti. It’s about taking one set of data and mashing it with other data to create new information.
However, with everything that is good, there is also a dark side. This was illustrated in a COMM 506 class where the example was of an IPhone App that used the same process to create something that has a much more disturbing result. The Girls Around Me app was designed to help guys meet attractive women (and apparently avoid ugly ones). The developers took data from Facebook and mashed it with data from FourSquare to create an app that not only lets men (or maybe gay women) find out what clubs women have checked into, but also see what they look like and learn a little something about who they are, their interests etc. This provides great “data” for conversation openers and social capital builders should these men/gay women/dangerous stalkers want to make a connection.
As someone mentioned in our class, the data itself is neither good nor bad, and the mash-up itself breaks no laws; it is how the data could be used that is the problem. Is this the same argument that gun lobbyists make? It’s not guns that kill people…
It’s the proverbial yin/yang situation, where what is good in one instance is completely the opposite in another or as a proverb illustrates…
Hold fast to the words of your ancestors.
Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them.