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.
Tamara K. Nopper’s talk at Future Perfect explains how credit agencies such as FICO use narratives of credit as personal responsibility to justify increased data surveillance of consumers. Reasoning that sources of “alternative data” such as social network usage are a response to discriminatory practices, these agencies are selling financial freedom at the cost of racial injustice.
Future Perfect is a gathering at Data & Society that brings together individuals from a variety of world-building disciplines (from art and fiction to architecture and science) to explore the uses, abuses, and paradoxes of speculative futures.
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.
In “Algorithms of Oppression”, Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the idea that search engines like Google offer an equal playing field for all forms of ideas, identities, and activities. Data discrimination is a real social problem; Noble argues that the combination of private interests in promoting certain sites, along with the monopoly status of a relatively small number of Internet search engines, leads to a biased set of search algorithms that privilege whiteness and discriminate against people of color, specifically women of color.
Through an analysis of textual and media searches as well as extensive research on paid online advertising, Noble exposes a culture of racism and sexism in the way discoverability is created online. As search engines and their related companies grow in importance—operating as a source for email, a major vehicle for primary and secondary school learning, and beyond—understanding and reversing these disquieting trends and discriminatory practices is of utmost importance.
Cambridge Analytica and their parent company SCL Group hit the headlines recently when, after their work on the Trump campaign, reporting exposed misuse of Facebook data linked them to ‘Brexit’, unethical conduct in international elections, and revealed their relationship to defense contracting.
Dr. Emma Briant has spent over a decade researching SCL and Cambridge Analytica. She drew on substantial contacts she developed in her work on defense propaganda (Propaganda and Counter-terrorism: Strategies for Global Change, Manchester University Press, 2015) to research an upcoming book, What’s Wrong with the Democrats? Media Bias, Inequality, and the Rise of Donald Trump (co-authored with George Washington University professor Robert M. Entman) and academic publications on the EU referendum.
In this talk, Briant discusses her analysis of the company’s activities in each of these areas, how she gained such unique access to key executives who worked on the campaigns, as well as the implications of the key evidence she recently submitted to several public inquiries in the UK.
Real Talk about Fake News | Nabiha Syed in conversation with Claire Wardle and Joan Donovan: “Fake news” isn’t exactly new: Tabloids have long hawked alien baby photos and Elvis sightings. Many have thus argued that fake news—propaganda, misinformation, and conspiracy theories—have always existed, and therefore requires no new consideration.
When we agonize over the fake news phenomenon, though, we are not talking about these kinds of fabricated stories. What we are really focusing on is why we have been suddenly inundated by false information—purposefully deployed—that spreads so quickly and persuades so effectively. This is a different conception of fake news, and it presents a question about how information operates at scale in the internet era.
In this Databite talk, Nabiha Syed explores how existing First Amendment theories fail to adequately explain our digital information economy, and how that theoretical incoherence leaves users and social media platforms ill-equipped to deal with “fake news” and other “bad” speech online. Nabiha also offers several factors to be considered in any systemic theory that can help move us beyond the troubled status quo.
Virginia Eubanks speaks about her most recent book Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. Eubanks systematically shows the impacts of data mining, policy algorithms, and predictive risk models on poor and working-class people in America. The book is full of heart-wrenching and eye-opening stories, from a woman in Indiana whose benefits are literally cut off as she lays dying to a family in Pennsylvania in daily fear of losing their daughter because they fit a certain statistical profile.
The U.S. has always used its most cutting-edge science and technology to contain, investigate, discipline and punish the destitute. Like the county poorhouse and scientific charity before them, digital tracking and automated decision-making hide poverty from the middle-class public and give the nation the ethical distance it needs to make inhuman choices: which families get food and which starve, who has housing and who remains homeless, and which families are broken up by the state. In the process, they weaken democracy and betray our most cherished national values.
K Sabeel Rahman-The informational, economic, and political influence of the dominant tech platforms — Google, Facebook, and Amazon in particular — has become a central topic of debate. K. Sabeel Rahman argues that these firms are best understood as the core infrastructure of our 21st century economy and public sphere. The infrastructural power of these firms raises a range of policy questions. What exactly about these firms (e.g., their accumulation of data, their gatekeeping functions, their control over vital public and economic functions like retail delivery or online speech) is “infrastructural?” How should these infrastructural functions be governed and regulated, in light of both their economic and political influence?
Andrew Guthrie Ferguson discusses his book, The Rise of Big Data Policing, that critically examines data-driven surveillance technologies and their legal impact on everyday policing. Andrew Guthrie Ferguson is professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law. He is a national expert on predictive policing, big data surveillance, and the fourth amendment.
WTF? can be an expression of amazement or an expression of dismay. In today’s economy, we have far too much dismay along with our amazement, and technology bears some of the blame. In this combination of memoir, business strategy guide, and call to action, Tim O’Reilly, Silicon Valley’s leading intellectual and the founder of O’Reilly Media, explores the upside and the potential downsides of today’s WTF? technologies.
Kate Klonick talks about her recent article, “The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech”, which provides one of the first analysis of what private online platforms are actually doing to moderate speech under a regulatory and First Amendment framework. It argues that to best understand online speech, we must abandon traditional doctrinal and regulatory analogies, and understand these private content platforms as systems of governance operating outside the boundaries of the First Amendment. Kate is currently a doctoral candidate at Yale Law School.