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ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAT*) | 12.05.18

Fairness and Abstraction in Sociotechnical Systems

Andrew D. Selbst, danah boyd, Sorelle Friedler, Suresh Venkatasubramanian, Janet Vertesi

In this paper, authors identify the challenges to integrating fairness into machine learning based systems and suggest next steps.

“In this paper, however, we contend that these concepts render technical interventions ineffective, inaccurate, and sometimes dangerously misguided when they enter the societal context that surrounds decision-making systems. We outline this mismatch with five “traps” that fair-ML work can fall into even as it attempts to be more context-aware in comparison to traditional data science. We draw on studies of sociotechnical systems in Science and Technology Studies to explain why such traps occur and how to avoid them. Finally, we suggest ways in which technical designers can mitigate the traps through a refocusing of design in terms of process rather than solutions, and by drawing abstraction boundaries to include social actors rather than purely technical ones.”


Criminal Justice and Behavior | 11.23.18

Layers of Bias: A Unified Approach for Understanding Problems With Risk Assessment

Laurel Eckhouse, Kristian Lum, Cynthia Conti-Cook, Julie Ciccolini

Data & Society Fellow Cynthia Conti-Cook and co-authors assess the bias involved in risk assessment tools.

“In the top layer, we identify challenges to fairness within the risk-assessment models themselves. We explain types of statistical fairness and the tradeoffs between them. The second layer covers biases embedded in data. Using data from a racially biased criminal justice system can lead to unmeasurable biases in both risk scores and outcome measures. The final layer engages conceptual problems with risk models: Is it fair to make criminal justice decisions about individuals based on groups?”


Data & Society 2015-2016 Fellow Wilneida Negron connects her past social work to her current work as a political scientist and technologist.

“We are at the cusp of a new wave of technological thinking, one defined by a new mantra that is the opposite of Zuckerberg’s: ‘Move carefully and purposely, and embrace complexity.’ As part of this wave, a new, inclusive, and intersectional generation of people are using technology for the public interest. This new wave will help us prepare for a future where technical expertise coexists with empathy, humility, and perseverance.”


As AI becomes integrated into different facets of our lives, Data & Society Researcher Kadija Ferryman joins Robert A. Winn in considering what this means for the field of health.

“How can we bring together the excitement for the possibilities of AI in medicine with the sobering reality of stubborn health disparities that remain despite technological advances?”


In Content or Context Moderation? by Robyn Caplan illustrates the organizational contexts of three types of content moderation strategies by drawing from interviews with 10 major digital platforms.


report | 11.05.18

Data Craft

Amelia Acker

Data Craft analyzes how bad actors manipulate metadata to create effective disinformation campaigns and provides tips for researchers and technology companies trying to spot this “data craft.”


Data & Society Health + Data Lead Mary Madden considers what patient privacy means in the current age of technology.

“In the era of data-driven medicine, systems for handling data need to avoid anything that feels like manipulation—whether it’s subtle or overt. At a minimum, the process of obtaining consent should be separated from the process of obtaining care.”


report | 10.17.18

Weaponizing the Digital Influence Machine

Anthony Nadler, Matthew Crain, and Joan Donovan

Weaponizing the Digital Influence Machine: The Political Perils of Online Ad Tech identifies the technologies, conditions, and tactics that enable today’s digital advertising infrastructure to be weaponized by political and anti-democratic actors.


The New York Times | 10.12.18

When Your Boss Is an Algorithm

Alex Rosenblat

Building off the research for her book Uberland: How Algorithms are Rewriting the Rules of Work, Data & Society Researcher Alex Rosenblat explains algorithmic management in the gig-economy.

“Data and algorithms are presented as objective, neutral, even benevolent: Algorithms gave us super-convenient food delivery services and personalized movie recommendations. But Uber and other ride-hailing apps have taken the way Silicon Valley uses algorithms and applied it to work, and that’s not always a good thing.”


In Governing Artificial Intelligence: Upholding Human Rights & Dignity, Mark Latonero shows how human rights can serve as a “North Star” to guide the development and governance of artificial intelligence.

The report draws the connections between AI and human rights; reframes recent AI-related controversies through a human rights lens; and reviews current stakeholder efforts at the intersection of AI and human rights.


report | 09.18.18

Alternative Influence

Rebecca Lewis

Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTube presents data from approximately 65 political influencers across 81 channels to identify the “Alternative Influence Network (AIN)”; an alternative media system that adopts the techniques of brand influencers to build audiences and “sell” them political ideology.


On September 13th, Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd gave the keynote speech at the Online News Association Conference. Read the transcript of her talk on Points.

“Now, more than ever, we need a press driven by ideals determined to amplify what is most important for enabling an informed citizenry.”


points | 09.10.18

Technology’s Impact on Infrastructure is a Health Concern

Mikaela Pitcan, Alex Rosenblat, Mary Madden, Kadija Ferryman

Increasingly, technology’s impact on infrastructure is becoming a health concern. In this Points piece, Data & Society Researchers Mikaela Pitcan, Alex Rosenblat, Mary Madden, and Kadija Ferryman tease out why this intersection warrants further research.

“However, there is an urgent need to understand the interdependencies between technology, infrastructure and health, and how these relationships affect Americans’ ability to live the healthiest lives possible. How can we support design, decision-making, and governance of our infrastructures in order to ensure more equitable health outcomes for all Americans?”


2017-2018 Fellow Jeanna Matthews and Research Analyst Kinjal Dave respond to Deji Olukotun’s story about an algorithmic tennis match.

 “The answer can’t be derived from the past alone: It depends on what we collectively decide about the future, about what justice looks like, about leveling the playing field in sports and in life. As in Olukotun’s story, humans and computers will be working together to pick winners and losers. We need to collectively decide on and enforce the rules they will follow. We need the ability to understand, challenge, and audit the decisions. A level playing field won’t be the future unless we insist on it.”


Drawing on conclusions from the Data & Society report Beyond Disruption, Researcher Alexandra Mateescu discusses surveillance of domestic care workers online.

“Online marketplaces may not be the root cause of individual employers’ biases, but their design is not neutral. They are built with a particular archetype of what an “entrepreneurial” domestic worker looks like—one who feels at home in the world of apps, social media, and online self-branding—and ultimately replicates and can even exacerbate many of the divisions that came with our predigital workplaces. As platform companies gain growing power over the hiring processes of a whole industry, they will need to actively work against the embedded inequalities in the markets they now mediate.”


For the New York Daily News, Data & Society Media Manipulation Researcher Lead Joan Donovan and Research Analyst Brian Friedberg critique Facebook’s stance on hate speech on their platform.

“Through coordination and exploitation, a vocal minority posits itself as a majority, amplifying their messaging with fake accounts and bots to hide their identities. In his implicit defense of conspiracy content on Facebook, Zuckerberg misunderstands the relationship between words and actions. He suggests that it is impossible to assess intent in online conversation.”


This report by Data & Society Researcher Bonnie Tijerina and Michael Zimmer is the culmination of gatherings that brought together different privacy practitioners to discuss digital privacy for libraries.

“While the recent surge in privacy-related activities within the library community is welcome, we see a gap in the conversations we are having about privacy and our digital presence – a knowledge gap, a lack of shared vocabulary, disparate skill sets, and varied understanding. This gap prevents inclusion across the profession and lacks clarity for those responsible for building tools and licensing products.”


conference | 08.18.18

Future Perfect 2018

Curated by Ingrid Burrington

On Friday, June 8, the second-annual Future Perfect gathering at Data & Society brought 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.


How can we trace the spread of disinformation by tracking metadata? Data & Society Research Affiliate Amelia Acker explains.

“One way of more fully understanding the data craftwork of disinformation on social media platforms is by reading the metadata just as closely as the algorithms do.”


In an op-ed for The New York Times, Data & Society Researcher Alex Rosenblat shatters the narrative that Uber encapsulates the entire gig-economy.

“But this industry has, until recently, operated largely informally, with jobs secured by word-of-mouth. That’s changing, as employers are increasingly turning to Uber-like services to find nannies, housecleaners and other care workers. These new gig economy companies, while making it easier for some people to find short-term work, have created hardships for others, and may leave many experienced care workers behind.”


points | 06.27.18

5 Star Service: A curated reading list

Alexandra Mateescu, Julia Ticona

In this reading list, Data & Society Researcher Alexandra Mateescu and Postdoctoral Scholar Julia Ticona provide a pathway for deeper investigations into themes such as gender inequality and algorithmic visibility in the gig economy.

“This list is meant for readers of Beyond Disruption who want to dig more deeply into some of the key areas explored in its pages. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive, but rather give readers a jumping off point for their own investigations.”


report | 06.27.18

Beyond Disruption

Julia Ticona, Alexandra Mateescu, Alex Rosenblat

Drawn from the experiences of U.S. ridehail, care, and cleaning platform workers, “Beyond Disruption” demonstrates how technology reshapes the future of labor.


Data & Society INFRA Lead Ingrid Burrington traces the history of Silicon Valley and its residents.

“Now San Jose has an opportunity to lift up these workers placed at the bottom of the tech industry as much as the wealthy heroes at its top. If Google makes good on the “deep listening” it has promised, and if San Jose residents continue to challenge the company’s vague promises, the Diridon project might stand a chance of putting forth a genuinely visionary alternative to the current way of life in the Santa Clara Valley and the founder-centric, organized-labor-allergic ideology of Silicon Valley. If it does, San Jose might yet justify its claim to be the center of Silicon Valley—if not as its capital, at least as its heart.”


For Points, Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Caroline Jack reviews the history of advertising imaginaries.

“The question of what protections ads themselves deserve, and to what degree people deserve to be protected from ads, is ripe for reconsideration.”


In this Medium post, Founder and President danah boyd reflects on the current state of journalism and offers next steps.

“Contemporary propaganda isn’t about convincing someone to believe something, but convincing them to doubt what they think they know.”


Data & Society Research Analyst Melanie Penagos summarizes three blogposts that came as a result of Data & Society’s AI & Human Rights Workshop in April 2018.

“Following Data & Society’s AI & Human Rights Workshop in April, several participants continued to reflect on the convening and comment on the key issues that were discussed. The following is a summary of articles written by workshop attendees Bendert Zevenbergen, Elizabeth Eagen, and Aubra Anthony.”


How will the introduction of AI into the field of medicine affect the doctor-patient relationship? Data & Society Fellow Claudia Haupt identifies some legal questions we should be asking.

“I contend that AI will not entirely replace human doctors (for now) due to unresolved issues in transposing diagnostics to a non-human context, including both limits on the technical capability of existing AI and open questions regarding legal frameworks such as professional duty and informed consent.”


How do people decide what to trust? Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Francesca Tripodi shares insights from her research into conservative news practices.

“While not all Christians are conservative nor all conservatives religious, there is a clear connection between how the process of scriptural inference trickles down into conservative methods of inquiry. Favoring the original text of the Constitution is closely tied to the practices of ‘constitutional conservatism,’ and currently members in all three branches of the U.S. government rely on practices of scriptural inference to make important political decisions.”



The Guardian | 06.01.18

The Case for Quarantining Extremist Ideas

danah boyd, Joan Donovan

Data & Society President and Founder danah boyd and Media Manipulation Research Lead Joan Donovan challenge newsrooms to practice “strategic silence” to avoid amplifying extremist messaging.

“Editors used to engage in strategic silence – set agendas, omit extremist ideas and manage voices – without knowing they were doing so. Yet the online context has enhanced extremists’ abilities to create controversies, prompting newsrooms to justify covering their spectacles. Because competition for audience is increasingly fierce and financially consequential, longstanding newsroom norms have come undone. We believe that journalists do not rebuild reputation through a race to the bottom. Rather, we think that it’s imperative that newsrooms actively take the high ground and re-embrace strategic silence in order to defy extremists’ platforms for spreading hate.”


magazine article | 05.24.18

Effortless Slippage

Ingrid Burrington

In e-flux, Data & Society INFRA Lead Ingrid Burrington contemplates the maps of the internet.

“The historical maps made of the internet—and, later, the maps of the world made by the internet—are both reflection and instrument of the ideologies and entanglements of the networked world. They are one way we might navigate the premise of the networked citizen and her obligations to her fellow travelers in the networked landscape.”


report | 05.22.18

The Oxygen of Amplification

Whitney Phillips

The Oxygen of Amplification draws on in-depth interviews by scholar Whitney Phillips to showcase how news media was hijacked from 2016-2018 to amplify the messages of hate groups.

Offering extremely candid comments from mainstream journalists, the report provides a snapshot of an industry caught between the pressure to deliver page views, the impulse to cover manipulators and “trolls,” and the disgust (expressed in interviewees’ own words) of accidentally propagating extremist ideology.


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