musings
sentiment analysis
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data science

Cambridge Analytica and the Case for Ethical Data Mining

8 mins


It was recently made public that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired by Trump’s 2016 election campaign, gained access to the private information of more than 50 million Facebook users. The data was collected through a personality survey app designed by Aleksandr Kogan, a psychology professor at Cambridge University. The app scraped private information not only from the users of the app, but even that of their Facebook friends. Using this data, the firm allegedly identified the personalities of American voters and influenced their behaviors.

Facebook, however, claims that this was not a data breach. In a press release suspending Cambridge Analytica’s presence from Facebook, VP Paul Grewal wrote

The claim that this is a data breach is completely false. Aleksandr Kogan requested and gained access to information from users who chose to sign up to his app, and everyone involved gave their consent. People knowingly provided their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked.

This raises several questions about the ethics of data mining and our willingness to share information in an increasingly online world. What does this mean for data scientists, whose very roles revolve around the collection and analysis of data? Moving forward in the wake of such events, it is interesting to consider how the reactions of various stakeholders will influence our society and affect how we view data.

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The Origins of the Octothorpe

5 mins

The ideas for my writing come from the strangest of places. This one began when I was searching for the syntactically correct way to comment out a block of code in Python. I came across this Stack Overflow link, which mentioned everything I expected it would, until I came across the following witty discussion on the # symbol. 

Actually, that symbol is called an octothorp (referring to #). Please stop using local slang terms — few Americans call it a hash, and few non-Americans call it a pound, but nobody ever refers to anything else when they say octothorp. Except the person who chooses to defy this definitive answer by using it to mean something else. — @ArtOfWarfare

That escalated quickly. The debate had shifted from programming syntactic sugar to etymology. Stack Overflow can indeed be quite entertaining when you’ve been staring at code all day. What really got me interested in this topic, however, was this guy’s reply.

@ArtOfWarfare is correct, ‘#’ is an octothorpe. And ‘*’ is a hexathorpe, ‘+’ is a quadrathorpe, and ‘-’ is a duothorpe. Philosophical question: what is a thorpe? — @Pierre

Which led me to question, where does the symbol really come from? And what in the world is a thorpe?

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Hello World

1 min

I’ve been meaning to get back into writing (I say that as if I used to write consistently, except I never did). So I guess it’s more accurate to say that I intend to get into the habit of writing. 

I’d like to think that I’m in the most exciting phase of my life thus far. Here are a few reasons why. 

  1. I am currently in the epicenter of innovation, living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area. A place where you see advertisements for startups while walking along the street. A place where the person walking next to you could be the founder of the next Google or Facebook.

  2. I’m fortunate enough to be a Fellow with True Ventures as part of the True Entrepreneurship Corps fellowship. Every Thursday, we’re treated to talks by innovators at the forefront of the tech industry. 

  3. I’m interning as a data scientist at a cutting edge health startup where I get to work with real data and solve real problems. I’m learning so much everyday by interacting with entrepreneurs and gaining valuable insight into how a startup functions. 

Over the summer, I hope to write about all of these things, along with random musings about the things I see and read, or the places I visit. I also hope to work on a couple of data analytics projects, the progress of which I will be tracking in blog posts over the course of the summer.