Research at Data & Society is shaped by cross-cutting themes:

Vulnerabilities in socio-technical systems:

While calls for greater accountability mechanisms within socio-technical systems are widespread, these systems are increasingly subject to manipulation, such as from biased data that infuse algorithmic models. These conditions require an assessment of strategic manipulation, a broad imagination about the possibilities for encoding fairness and accountability into technical systems, and deep ethnographic research that describes and understands new social activity.

Systems of rights, equity, and governance in a networked world:

Rights and values provide legal and ethical frameworks to guide decision-making; inspire human-centric policy; and hold institutions, nation-states, and powerful individuals to account across jurisdictions. The use of rights and values as a source of governance and design inspiration for automated and data-centric technologies requires both re-examination and, potentially, a challenge to existing assumptions.

Intersections of humans and intelligent systems:

Conventional narratives around automated systems often assign power and agency to the machines. But humans remain significant actors—as designers, partners, users, or contraveners—in these systems. The nature and value of their contribution to the system’s function, as well as its real-life outcome, is often elided or invisible.


Current Initiatives

Media Manipulation

Joan Donovan, Alice E. Marwick, Becca Lewis, Caroline Jack, Francesca Tripodi, Mark Ackerman, Matt Goerzen, Robyn Caplan, Whitney Phillips, Jeanna Neefe Matthews, Rishab Nithyanand, Pete Krafft, Lauren Hanson, Patrick Davison, Leon Yin, Kinjal Dave

The Media Manipulation initiative works to provide news organizations, civil society, platforms, and policymakers with insights into new forms of media manipulation to ensure a close and informed relationship between technical research and socio-political outcomes. This requires assessing strategic manipulation, imagining the possibilities for encoding fairness and accountability into technical systems, and conducting ethnographic research to describe and understand new social activity.

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Related Projects

Algorithms and Publics

AI on the Ground

Madeleine Clare Elish, Mark Latonero, Andrew Selbst, Alexandra Mateescu, Elizabeth Anne Watkins

The AI on the Ground Initiative–an interdisciplinary team of researchers with experience in a range of fields including anthropology, law, science and technology studies, communication, engineering, design research, and human rights–develops robust analyses of AI systems that can effectively inform design, use, and governance.

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Related Projects

Intelligence & Autonomy

Social Instabilities in Labor Futures

Aiha Nguyen, Alexandra Mateescu, Alex Rosenblat, Julia Ticona

Technology is disrupting, destabilizing, and transforming many aspects of the labor force. The Social Instabilities in Labor Futures initiative 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.

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Health and Data

Kadija Ferryman, Mary Madden, Erin McAweeney, Alex Rosenblat, Mikaela Pitcan

Rapid technological innovation in health care, and the integration of digital data infrastructures in everyday life, has outpaced our understanding of how these developments affect human relationships, behaviors, and well-being. The Health and Data initiative produces empirical research about the unintended consequences of health data collection, equitable outcomes in data-centric approaches to health, and what constitutes healthy behavior in the context of technology use.

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Libraries and Privacy

Bonnie Tijerina

Libraries and Privacy is a suite of projects exploring the roles of libraries in supporting their communities with regard to data-centric technological development. Topics include privacy in libraries, facilitating safe research data sharing worldwide, and new roles for librarians as data scientists.

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Law & Ethics in Computational Social Science

Jake Metcalf, Bonnie Tijerina, Sorelle Friedler, Suresh Venkatasubramanian, Andrew Selbst

Machine learning raises novel challenges for ensuring non-discrimination, due process, and understandability in decision-making. This initiative uses computational approaches and quantitative and qualitative datasets to translate findings to policymakers, regulators, and advocates who seek to understand issues in data and AI ethics.

Related Projects

Fairness in Algorithmic Machine Translation

Supporting Ethics in Data Research

Enabling Connected Learning

Monica Bulger, Claire Fontaine, Kinjal Dave

What is the value of data in education and learning? The Enabling Connected Learning (ECL) initiative assesses how existing and proposed policies affect connected learning initiatives, and where and when education-related
data can and should be used.

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Data can provide real-time awareness about disaster, violence, or protest. Yet practitioners, researchers, and policymakers face unique challenges and opportunities when assessing technological benefit, risk, and harm. The Data, Human Rights, and Human Security initiative asks: How can these technologies be used responsibly to assist people in need, prevent abuse, and protect them from harm?

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Recent Work

How Youth Navigate the News Landscape

Claire Fontaine, Amanda Lenhart, Mary Madden

How young people are adapting to a changing media environment to access news they trust.

Reframing Privacy

danah boyd, Claire Fontaine, Karen Levy, Alice Marwick

The goal of this project is to better understand how privacy is understood in a networked society and the ways in which control is complicated by the networked nature of information. This project seeks to examine how a theory of networks can better elucidate social, cultural, and legal models of privacy and jurisprudence in a data-centric era.

Measuring Cyberstalking and Digital Domestic Abuse Across the Lifespan

Amanda Lenhart

Led by Amanda Lenhart and Michele Ybarra of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, this Data & Society project conducted a nationally representative landline and mobile phone survey of 3,000 Americans ages 15 years and older to quantify the prevalence of online harassment, cyberstalking, and digital domestic violence. Recognizing that witnessing abuse can also have a negative impact, the researchers further investigated the extent to which people witness others’ abusive behavior online. The project provides a better understanding of how abuse is perpetrated and experienced through technology.

Privacy and Low-SES Populations

Mary Madden

Making a fundamental contribution to understanding the everyday privacy- and security-related behaviors of low-SES adults.

Data & Civil Rights: A New Era of Policing and Justice

On October 30, 2014, Data & Society, the Leadership Conference, and New America teamed up to host the first Data & Civil Rights Conference to identify and discuss opportunities and challenges presented by “big data” in the realm of civil rights. This conference focused on examining existing civil rights issues and asking how the availability of data and the practices surrounding data analytics may alter the landscape, both productively and problematically.

Council for Big Data, Ethics, and Society

In collaboration with the National Science Foundation, the Council for Big Data, Ethics, and Society was started in 2014 to provide critical social and cultural perspectives on big data initiatives. The Council brings together researchers from diverse disciplines — from anthropology and philosophy to economics and law — to address issues such as security, privacy, equality, and access in order to help guard against the repetition of known mistakes and inadequate preparation. Through public commentary, events, white papers, and direct engagement with data analytics projects, the Council developed frameworks to help researchers, practitioners, and the public understand the social, ethical, legal, and policy issues that underpin the big data phenomenon.

Empowering the Next Generation of Civic Leaders

Noel Hidalgo

A program that combines didactic open data advocacy with local government use. This research explores how New York City's local communities can use civic data to improve local community outcomes.

Network Geography 101

Ingrid Burrington, Surya Mattu

Educational tools that teach people the systems and infrastructure that make the Internet possible.

What Lenders See

Martha Poon

This research seeks to enrich public debate about consumer credit by investigating the lenders’ perspective. It explains why today’s markets are ravenous for data, and why it seems like data-driven technology is the only means to achieving fair access to credit.

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