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Re: [betaNYC] A Day in the Life of a New York City Taxi

From: Steven A.
Sent on: Wednesday, July 16, 2014 8:17 AM
Just because you can do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.  Yes you can tweet all kinds of details about people without their permission, and it is up to the individual in a free society to determine their responsibility to their own values and to their fellow citizens.  But a government has broader powers and responsibilities and we citizens have the right to expect our government will publish data that benefits us all without being at the expense of a few.

Privacy protection in the age of pervasive state surveillance is not hyperbole and we should never make public policy decisions based on the technical skills of journalists.  

This is an important debate and it should continue.  I'd be grateful if you could schedule a Wednesday BetaNYC meetup on this topic.

Best Regards,


Motto: "Do First, Think, Do it Again"

From: Chris Whong <[address removed]>
To: [address removed]
Date: 07/15/2014 10:25 PM
Subject: Re: [betaNYC] A Day in the Life of a New York City Taxi


Sorry for late response, was AFK most of the evening.  Describing the de-anonymization of these taxi trips as a "Privacy Fiasco" is nothing short of hyperbole, and makes for sensational news pieces and slippery slope "what-ifs" in the comments section.  As Jacob and Andrew have pointed out, the real issue is whether it should have been anonymized in the first place, not that it was de-anonymized.  I suspect that the reporters wouldn't have given a damn if there wasn't any techy talk of MD5 algorithms and lookup tables.

Most open data-minded people I've spoken with over the past few weeks consider this a critical lesson about anonymization on a public dataset where the consequences of deanonymization are negligible, and I am inclined to agree.  Better hack licenses and driver names, which are already public and downloadable in plain text, than social security numbers.  

To put it another way, would I be violating the driver's privacy if I tweeted all of the details of my taxi trip as it happened, including the driver's name, photo and license number?  Does my right to know who he/she is only apply to me as a passenger, right then and there during my ride, or does everyone have a right to know, all the time?  The data are just this information times 173 million with a 6-month delay, collected using our tax dollars, and extremely useful for studying the transportation ecosystem AND the effectiveness of the current regulatory setup.   


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