This past summer, I flew back and forth between China and the US a lot, which meant I had to book plane tickets a number of times. During this process, I used a Chinese travel website called Ctrip, which my family has always liked and trusted. It is also the largest online travel agency in China. However, this time my experience was not so pleasant. The price for the tickets that I was looking at kept going up every time I returned from looking up similar tickets on other websites, which could be interpreted as normal since that price might go up as the date approached. The part that took me by surprise though was when I tried to log in using a different account and look at the same tickets on the same date, I found that the prices differed. I don’t recall the exact price gap but I just remember that it was enough for me to be upset and intrigued by it at the same time. After a brief search online, I found that there were already news reports accusing this company of manipulating their customers through the use of “big data.” This discovery deeply interested me. I could not help but started to wonder about questions like “How exactly are they using the data they collect to achieve their goal? How are other Internet companies like Netflix and Google using their data? What are the ethical implications of this? What impact does this have on our society as a whole?”
It so happens that I am starting my computer science independent research this fall. I therefore decided that it would be a perfect opportunity to begin to answer some of those questions I mentioned above.
When I turned in my proposal before summer, my plan was to have two stages of my project. In the first stage, I will finish and perfect the study hall sign-in website that I have been working on since last fall/winter. I will then test it on a small-scale and hopefully launch it for the use of the whole boarding population at Westtown. The second stage would be to conduct analysis on the data collected through this process and look for patterns. The questions regarding “big data” correspond with the second stage of my research and will expand the scope of my research to outside of Westtown to the greater society.
I have also realized that there might not be a whole lot of exciting things going on during the initial stage of my project on a bi-weekly basis when I am finishing up the website. I hope that by including some information about the broader implications of data science in between blogs about my website it would make my blogs more interesting to read.
More to come on the specifics of the study hall sign-in website that I mentioned in my future blogs.
Here’s a link to an article on the IEEE magazine about the impact of big data on society. It poses some interesting questions that are worth considering.
“Big Data Streaming Processing.” Big Data Streaming Processing, Avata Intelligence, 18 Oct. 2016, avataai.com/big-data-streaming-processing/.