The Atlantic

'The Cloud' and Other Dangerous Metaphors

Contemporary ideas about data and privacy are tied up inextricably with language choices.
Source: Nick Merritt/Flickr

The collection of personal data is now ubiquitous, and people are starting to pay attention. But data-collection policies have been built primarily on what we technically can do, rather than what we should do.

The gulf between can and should has led to controversies about the sharing of student data and debate about a massive emotional contagion experiment conducted on the News Feeds of close to 700,000 users on Facebook. Researchers of all stripes are scrambling to find a clear way forward in uncharted ethical territory.

Underlying the discussion has been a tangle of big, thorny questions: What policies should govern the use of online data collection, use, and manipulation by companies? Do massive online

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