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Ethical Implications of Data Aggregation

Monday, Jul. 30, 2012

Search services like Google, AOL and Yahoo! compile vast amounts of data on the searches of all their visitors. These seemingly innocent little bits of data, when taken together, can be very revealing. From a person's search queries, one could infer, rightly or wrongly, medical and psychological issues, legal problems, employment status, personal interests, sexual activities and preferences, relationships, fantasies, economic circumstances, geographical location and a host of other characteristics.  Taken together they can suggest a fairly comprehensive portrait of a person, including that person's most intimate problems and vulnerabilities.

These are some of the ethical concerns raised by data aggregation, according to Michael McFarland, S.J., a visiting scholar at the Ethics Center this past year.  McFarland, a computer scientist and the former president of College of the Holy Cross, addresses these and other issues in an extended case study on Internet privacy.

Tags: IT and ethics, privacy