Four Billion Little Brothers by Katie Shilton

In this trendy article by Katie Shilton, another use for the prevalance of cellular phones is proposed to help the scientific community. Shilton explains that there are nearly 4 billion mobile phone devices in the entire world, used by nearly every demographic, culture, and geographic region on the planet. Wilson proposes that if the date collected from cell phones regarding things like usage habits, human movements, etc, were collected from even a fraction of the cell phones currently being used, the usefulness to science would be incredible. A huge variety of topics in the field of human nature would benefit from having precise data from millions of people available to examine. However, the biggest obstacle the article presents combatting why this data collection would be impossible to ignore is that matter of privacy. Regardless of the nature of the data, including things as benign as the amount of steps a person walks everyday, if this date were to be collected without a person’s express consent, it would be a huge violation of human rights. Of course, if the participants were voluntary, the point would be moot. However, getting voluntary participation on the scale necessary for this observation to be useful would be impossible without an incentive of some sort.

I for one would happily provide my personal cell phone information to science, as I can’t imagine any aspect of my phone habits could ever come back to haunt me. However, I completely understand why it is necessary for people to volunteer to do this, as it doesn’t matter if in context, data collection seems harmless. On a global ethical scale, the collection of personal information from anyone without their consent is morally wrong.


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