Chancey Fleet, a Brooklyn-based accessibility advocate, coordinates technology education programs at the New York Public Library’s Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library. Chancey was recognized as a 2017 “Library Journal” Mover and Shaker. She writes and presents to disability rights groups, policy-makers, and professionals about the intersections of disability and technology. During her fellowship at Data & Society, she worked to advance public understanding of and explore best practices for visual interpreter services as well as other technologies for accessibility whose implications resonate with the broader global conversations about digital equity, data ethics, and privacy. She proudly serves as the Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind of New York.
Anthropologist Mary L. Gray shares her latest book, “Ghost Work: How to Stop Silicon Valley from Building a New Global Underclass,” a collaboration with computer scientist Siddharth Suri. “Ghost Work” is a necessary and revelatory exposé of the invisible human workforce that powers the web—and that foreshadows the true future of work.
Hidden beneath the surface of the web, lost in our wrong-headed debates about AI, a new menace is looming. This book unveils how services delivered by companies like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Uber can only function smoothly thanks to the judgment and experience of a vast, invisible human labor force. These people doing “ghost work” make the internet seem smart. They perform high-tech piecework: flagging X-rated content, proofreading, designing engine parts, and much more. An estimated 8 percent of Americans have worked at least once in this “ghost economy,” and that number is growing. They usually earn less than legal minimums for traditional work, they have no health benefits, and they can be fired at any time for any reason, or none.
There are no labor laws to govern this kind of work, and these latter-day assembly lines draw in—and all too often overwork and underpay—a surprisingly diverse range of workers: harried young mothers, professionals forced into early retirement, recent grads who can’t get a toehold on the traditional employment ladder, and minorities shut out of the jobs they want. Gray and Suri also show how ghost workers, employers, and society at large can ensure that this new kind of work creates opportunity—rather than misery—for those who do it.
Amara.org co-founder Dean Jansen joins Mary in a conversation moderated by Data & Society’s Director of Research Sareeta Amrute.
Shoshana Zuboff–Surveillance capitalism arrived on the scene with democracy already on the ropes, its early life sheltered and nourished by neoliberalism’s claims to freedom that set it at a distance from the lives of people. Surveillance capitalists quickly learned to exploit the gathering momentum aimed at hollowing out democracy’s meaning and muscle. Despite the democratic promise of its rhetoric and capabilities, it contributed to a new Gilded Age of extreme wealth inequality, as well as to once-unimaginable new forms of economic exclusivity and new sources of social inequality that separate “the tuners” from “the tuned.”
Among the many insults to democracy and democratic institutions imposed by this coup des gens, Zuboff counts the unauthorized expropriation of private human experience; the hijack of the division of learning in society; the structural independence from people; the top-down imposition of the hive collective; the rise of instrumentarian power and radical indifference that together sustain its extractive logic; the construction, ownership, and operation of the means of behavior modification that is Big Other; the abrogation of the natural right to the future tense and the natural right to sanctuary; the degradation of the self-determining individual as the crucible of democratic life; and the insistence on psychic numbing as the answer to its illegitimate quid pro quo.
This event is hosted by Data & Society’s AI on the Ground Research Lead Madeleine Clare Elish.
An Xiao Mina presents a global exploration of internet memes as agents of pop culture, politics, protest, and propaganda on- and offline. Based on her new book, Memes to Movements: How the World’s Most Viral Media is Changing Social Protest and Power (Beacon Press, January 2019), Mina uses social media-driven movements to unpack the mechanics of memes and how they operate to reinforce, amplify, and shape today’s politics.
Crucially, Mina reveals how, in parts of the world where public dissent is downright dangerous, memes can belie contentious political opinions that would incur drastic consequences if expressed outright. She finds that the “silly” stuff of meme culture—the photo remixes, the selfies, the YouTube songs, and the pun-tastic hashtags—are fundamentally intertwined with how we find and affirm one another, direct attention to human rights and social justice issues, build narratives, and make culture.
Joining her in conversation is Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd.
Historian Louis Hyman on the surprising origins of the “gig economy.” Hyman is joined in conversation by Data & Society’s Labor Engagement Lead Aiha Nguyen and Researcher Alex Rosenblat.
Hyman’s latest book “Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary” tracks the transformation of an ethos that favored long-term investment in work (and workers) to one promoting short-term returns. A series of deliberate decisions preceded the digital revolution, setting off the collapse of the postwar institutions that insulated us from volatility including big unions, big corporations, and powerful regulators.
Through the experiences of those on the inside–consultants and executives, temps and office workers, line workers and migrant laborers–Temp shows how the American Dream was unmade.
Data & Society welcomes The Workers Lab Co-Founder and CEO Carmen Rojas; Entrepreneur and Author Rachel Schneider; and Professor, Researcher, and Activist Tamara K. Nopper to discuss the intersection of fintech and credit and benefit systems for low-wage workers with Data & Society Labor Engagement Lead Aiha Nguyen.
Rojas and Schneider both focus on the financial challenges facing precarious low-wage workers–including “gig” workers–and how these workers might need different benefits than have traditionally been provided, like retirement. Nopper offers insight into the world of credit scoring and data, analyzing how fintech “innovation” intersects with race, class, and gender wealth gaps. Nguyen is an organizer who works to bridge research and practice, expanding understanding of technological systems’ impact on work. Together, they discuss questions such as:
How will current and projected income volatility in the gig economy change available workplace benefits?
What role could fintech play on the future of work? Can workers be a part of shaping that future?
What data will low-income working families need to share in order to have access to capital–and will it be worth it?
Dr. Carmen Rojas is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Workers Lab, an organization that invests in experiments and innovation to build power for working people in the 21st century. For more than 20 years, Carmen has worked with foundations, financial institutions, and non-profits to improve the lives of working people across the United States. Carmen currently sits on the boards of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Neighborhood Funders Group, General Service Foundation, JOLT, Certification Associates, and on the Advisory Boards of Fund Good Jobs and Floodgate Academy. Carmen holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley and was a Fulbright Scholar in 2007.
Rachel Schneider is the Omidyar Network Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program and co-author of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty. Rachel’s research has been featured in the nation’s top publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and many others. Though she began her career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch & Co., Rachel credits her commitment to the potential for innovative finance to solve major social problems from her days as a VISTA Volunteer (now AmeriCorps). She holds a J.D./M.B.A. from the University of Chicago, and a B.A. from UC Berkeley.
Tamara K. Nopper has a PhD in Sociology and her teaching and research focuses on the intersection of economic, racial, and gender inequality, with a particular emphasis on entrepreneurship, banking, globalization, urban development, and money and surveillance. Her publications have examined immigrant entrepreneurship, minority business development, the globalization of ethnic banking, and Asian American communities. Her current work looks at Korean immigrant entrepreneurship and post-Civil Rights era minority politics.
Data & Society welcomes Mike Ananny and Tarleton Gillespie for a conversation with Kate Klonick about the underlying decisions that impact the public’s access to media systems and internet platforms.
In “Networked Press Freedom: Creating Infrastructures for a Public Right to Hear,” Mike Ananny offers a new way to think about freedom of the press in a time when media systems are in fundamental flux. Seeing press freedom as essential for democratic self-governance, Ananny explores what publics need, what kind of free press they should demand, and how today’s press freedom emerges from intertwined collections of humans and machines. His book proposes what robust, self-governing publics need to demand of technologists and journalists alike.
Tarleton Gillespie’s “Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media” investigates how social media platforms police what we post online—and the way these decisions shape public discourse, cultural production, and the fabric of society. Gillespie provides an overview of current social media practices and explains the underlying rationales for how, when, and why “content moderators” censor or promote user-posted content. The book then flips the way we think about moderation, to argue that content moderation is not ancillary to what platforms do, it is essential, definitional, constitutional. And given that, the very fact of moderation should change how we understand what platforms are.
Mike Ananny is an associate professor of communication and journalism in the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California (USC), a faculty affiliate with USC’s Science, Technology, and Society initiative, and a 2018-19 Berggruen Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
Tarleton Gillespie is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England and an affiliated associate professor at Cornell University. He co-founded the blog Culture Digitally. His previous book is the award-winning “Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture.”
Kate Klonick is an assistant professor at law at St. John’s University Law School and an affiliate at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, Data & Society, and New America. Her work on networked technologies’ effect on the areas of social norm enforcement, torts, property, intellectual property, artificial intelligence, robotics, freedom of expression, and governance has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, Maryland Law Review, New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, The Guardian and numerous other publications.
Journalist Sarah Kessler discusses her new book “Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work.” Kessler shares her analysis of the perils and promises of the platform gig economy in conversation with Data & Society’s Alex Rosenblat, researcher and author of the forthcoming book “Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work” (October 23, 2018) and Aiha Nguyen, Social Instabilities in Labor Futures Engagement Lead.
One in three American workers is now a freelancer. This “gig economy”―one that provides neither the guarantee of steady hours nor benefits―emerged out of the digital era and has revolutionized the way we do business. High-profile tech start-ups such as Uber and Airbnb are constantly making headlines for the “disruption” they cause to the industries they overturn.
But “disruption” introduces new challenges to employees and job-seekers who seek to navigate platform policies, ensure workplace safety, and hedge against instability. Join us for a timely discussion on the quest to find meaningful, well-paid work as technology increasingly destabilizes and transforms the future of labor.
Sarah Kessler is a journalist based in New York City. She is the author of Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work and an editor at Quartz. Previously, she covered the gig economy as a senior writer at Fast Company and managed startup coverage at Mashable. Her reporting has been cited by The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and NPR.
The Future of Labor research initiative at Data & Society seeks to better understand emergent disruptions in the labor force as a result of data-centric technological development, with a special focus on structural inequalities. Its team recently released the report Beyond Disruption: How Tech Shapes Labor Across Domestic Work & Ridehailing–as featured in the New York Times, NPR All Things Considered, and The Nation.
Claudia Haupt discusses competing frameworks for regulating speech on the web. Claudia Haupt is a 2017-18 Data & Society Fellow and a resident fellow with the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. She previously taught at Columbia Law School and George Washington University Law School. Prior to that, she clerked at the Regional Court of Appeals of Cologne and practiced law at the Cologne office of the law firm of Graf von Westphalen, with a focus on information technology law.
Matthew L. Jones speaks about key illiteracies surrounding metadata, the hacking of our court system, and the possibility of ethics at scale. Jones is a 2017-2018 Data & Society Fellow who studies the history of science and technology, with a focus on early modern Europe and on recent information technologies. He is completing a book on computing and state surveillance of communications and is working on a historical and ethnographic account of big data, its relation to statistics and machine learning, and its growth as a fundamental new form of technical expertise. Jones is currently a James R. Barker Professor of Contemporary Civilization at Columbia University’s Department of History.