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.
Drawn from the experiences of U.S. ridehail, care, and cleaning platform workers, “Beyond Disruption” demonstrates how technology reshapes the future of labor.
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.”
points | 06.19.18
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
Searching for Alternative Facts is an ethnographic account drawn directly from Dr. Francesca Tripodi’s research within upper-middle class conservative Christian* communities in Virginia in 2017. Dr. Tripodi uses Christian practices of Biblical interpretation as a lens for understanding the relationship between so-called “alternative” or “fake news” sources and contemporary conservative political thought.
New Media & Society | 05.15.18
Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Julia Ticona and Research Analyst Alexandra Mateescu investigate the consequences of “visibility” in carework apps.
“Based on a discourse analysis of carework platforms and interviews with workers using them, we illustrate that these platforms seek to formalize employment relationships through technologies that increase visibility. We argue that carework platforms are “cultural entrepreneurs” that create and maintain cultural distinctions between populations of workers, and institutionalize those distinctions into platform features. Ultimately, the visibility created by platforms does not realize the formalization of employment relationships, but does serve the interests of platform companies and clients and exacerbate existing inequalities for workers.”
points | 05.11.18
On April 26-27, Data & Society hosted a multidisciplinary workshop on AI and Human Rights. In this Points piece, Data + Human Rights Research Lead Mark Latonero and Research Analyst Melanie Penagos summarize discussions from the day.
“Can the international human rights framework effectively inform, shape, and govern AI research, development, and deployment?”
primer | 05.11.18
Search plays a unique role in modern online information systems.
Unlike with social media, where users primarily consume algorithmically curated feeds of information, the typical approach to a search engine begins with a query or question in an effort to seek new information.
However, not all search queries are equal. There are many search terms for which the available relevant data is limited, non-existent, or deeply problematic.
We call these “data voids.”
Data Voids: Where Missing Data Can Easily Be Exploited explores different types of data voids; the challenges that search engines face when they encounter queries over spaces where data voids exist; and the ways data voids can be exploited by those with ideological, economic, or political agendas.
Michael Golebiewski, Microsoft Bing
danah boyd, Microsoft Research and Data & Society
3sat TV interviewed Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd at re:publica 2018 about gaining control of our data privacy. The video is in German.
After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, can internet data be used ethically for research? Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Kadija Ferryman and Elaine O. Nsoesie, PhD from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation recommend “proceeding with caution” when it comes to internet data and precision medicine.
“Despite the public attention and backlash stemming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal — which began with an academic inquiry and resulted in at least 87 million Facebook profiles being disclosed — researchers argue that Facebook and other social media data can be used to advance knowledge, as long as these data are accessed and used in a responsible way. We argue that data from internet-based applications can be a relevant resource for precision medicine studies, provided that these data are accessed and used with care and caution.”
For the book “New Technologies for Human Rights Law and Practice,” Data & Society Researcher Mark Latonero raises privacy concerns when big data analytics are used in a human rights context.
“This chapter argues that the use of big data analytics in human rights work creates inherent risks and tensions around privacy. The techniques that comprise big data collection and analysis can be applied without the knowledge, consent, or understanding of data subjects. Thus, the use of big data analytics to advance or protect human rights risks violating privacy rights and norms and may lead to individual harms. Indeed, data analytics in the human rights monitoring context has the potential to produce the same ethical dilemmas and anxieties as inappropriate state or corporate surveillance. Therefore, its use may be difficult to justify without sufficient safeguards. The chapter concludes with a call to develop guidelines for the use of big data analytics in human rights that can help preserve the integrity of human rights monitoring and advocacy.”
primer | 04.18.18
Algorithmic Accountability examines the process of assigning responsibility for harm when algorithmic decision-making results in discriminatory and inequitable outcomes.
The primer–originally prepared for the Progressive Congressional Caucus’ Tech Algorithm Briefing–explores the trade-offs debates about algorithms and accountability across several key ethical dimensions, including fairness and bias; opacity and transparency; and lack of standards for auditing.
For Data & Society Points, Visiting Scholar Anne Washington breaks down the numbers behind Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.
“How did the choices made by only 270,000 Facebook users affect millions of people? How is it possible that the estimate of those affected changed from 50 million to 87 million so quickly? As a professor of data policy, I am interested in how information flows within organizations. In the case of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, I was curious why this number was so inexact.”
For Slate, Data & Society Researcher Jacob Metcalf argues that we should be more concerned about behavioral models developed by entities like Cambridge Analytica, which can be traded between political entities, rather than the voter data itself.
” In other words, the one thing we can be sure of psychographic profiling is that it provided one more way to transfer knowledge and economic value between campaigns and organizations.”
MIT Technology Review | 04.09.18
In the wake of Cambridge Analytica, Data & Society Researcher Jacob Metcalf argues that the real risk is the behavioral models that have been developed from Facebook user’s data.
“But focusing solely on the purloined data is a mistake. Much more important are the behavioral models Cambridge Analytica built from the data. Even though the company claims to have deleted the data sets in 2015 in response to Facebook’s demands, those models live on, and can still be used to target highly specific groups of voters with messages designed to leverage their psychological traits. Although the stolen data sets represent a massive collection of individual privacy harms, the models are a collective harm, and far more pernicious.”
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication | 04.06.18
Data & Society and the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s “Refugee Connectivity: A Survey of Mobile Phones, Mental Health, and Privacy at a Syrian Refugee Camp in Greece” provides new evidence of the critical role internet connectivity and mobile devices play in the lives and wellbeing of this population. Findings are based on a survey of 135 adults amongst the 750 residents at Ritsona Refugee Camp in Greece.
Fast Company | 03.29.18
Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Julia Ticona and Data & Society Research Analyst Alexandra Mateescu co-authored an op-ed for Fast Company about the safety of workers who rely on digital platforms to stay employed.
“For the past year, we’ve been interviewing nannies, babysitters, elder care workers, and housecleaners across the U.S. who use platforms like Handy, TaskRabbit, and the in-home care provider platform Care.com to do care and cleaning work, in an effort to better understand how platforms are shaping domestic work. Along the way, we have found that, in many cases, the aggregation of individual data leads not to more accountability and justice, but rather forces workers to make trade-offs between visibility and vulnerability.”
Social Media + Society | 03.20.18
Data & Human Rights Research Lead Mark Latonero investigates the impact of digitally networked technologies on the safe passage of refugees and migrants.
“…in making their way to safe spaces, refugees rely not only on a physical but increasingly also digital infrastructure of movement. Social media, mobile devices, and similar digitally networked technologies comprise this infrastructure of ‘digital passages’—sociotechnical spaces of flows in which refugees, smugglers, governments, and corporations interact with each other and with new technologies.”
Slate | 03.18.18
Data & Society Researcher Jacob Metcalf co-authored an op-ed in Slate discussing how giving researchers more access to Facebook users’ data could prevent unethical data mining.
“This case raises numerous complicated ethical and political issues, but as data ethicists, one issue stands out to us: Both Facebook and its users are exposed to the downstream consequences of unethical research practices precisely because like other major platforms, the social network does not proactively facilitate ethical research practices in exchange for access to data that users have consented to share.”
D&S Founder danah boyd and Researcher Robyn Caplan contributed to the book “Trump and the Media,” which examines the role the media played in the election of Donald Trump.
Other contributors include: Mike Ananny, Chris W. Anderson, Rodney Benson, Pablo J. Boczkowski, Michael X. Delli Carpini, Josh Cowls, Susan J. Douglas, Keith N. Hampton, Dave Karpf, Daniel Kreiss, Seth C. Lewis, Zoey Lichtenheld, Andrew L. Mendelson, Gina Neff, Zizi Papacharissi, Katy E. Pearce, Victor Pickard, Sue Robinson, Adrienne Russell, Ralph Schroeder, Michael Schudson, Julia Sonnevend, Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt, Tina Tucker, Fred Turner, Nikki Usher, Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Silvio Waisbord, Barbie Zelizer.
Read and/or watch Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd’s keynote talk at SXSW EDU 2018.
“I get that many progressive communities are panicked about conservative media, but we live in a polarized society and I worry about how people judge those they don’t understand or respect. It also seems to me that the narrow version of media literacy that I hear as the “solution” is supposed to magically solve our political divide. It won’t. More importantly, as I’m watching social media and news media get weaponized, I’m deeply concerned that the well-intended interventions I hear people propose will backfire, because I’m fairly certain that the crass versions of critical thinking already have.”
New report finds providing school choice data to parents does not equalize educational opportunity, but rather replicates and perpetuates existing inequalities.
Data & Society Researcher Dr. Claire Fontaine and Research Assistant Kinjal Dave performed a qualitative, semi-structured, interview-based study with a socio-economically, racially, and geographically diverse group of 30 New York City parents and guardians between May and November 2017. Interviews focused on experiences of school choice; and data and information sources.
Slate | 03.02.18
Data & Society Researcher Alex Rosenblat unveils the impact of Uber’s new driving limit policy.
“These moves from Uber and Lyft seem to align with their gig-economy model of employment, which structures work as an individual pursuit and individual liability. But even this sell is misleading. While, for many drivers, the idea of being independent at work is very appealing, their ability to make entrepreneurial decisions is consistently constrained by the ride-hail apps’ nudges and other algorithmic management, rules, external costs, and wage cuts.”
Data & Society INFRA Lead Ingrid Burrington reflects on her visit to Spaceport America.
“It’s a quintessential American desert trope: the future as rehearsal rather than reality. Many promises for technologies of future urbanism start as desert prototypes.”
working paper | 03.02.18
This paper is a response to calls for explainable machines by Data & Society Postdoctoral Scholar Andrew Selbst and Affiliate Solon Barocas.
“We argue that calls for explainable machines have failed to recognize the connection between intuition and evaluation and the limitations of such an approach. A belief in the value of explanation for justification assumes that if only a model is explained, problems will reveal themselves intuitively. Machine learning, however, can uncover relationships that are both non-intuitive and legitimate, frustrating this mode of normative assessment. If justification requires understanding why the model’s rules are what they are, we should seek explanations of the process behind a model’s development and use, not just explanations of the model itself.”
The rollout of Electronic Visit Verification (EVV) for Medicaid recipients has serious privacy implications, argues Data & Society Researcher Jacob Metcalf.
“So why should we be worried about rules that require caregivers to provide an electronic verification of the labor provided to clients? Because without careful controls and ethical design thinking, surveillance of caregiver labor is also functionally surveillance of care recipients, especially when family members are employed as caregivers.”