Big Data: Will We Be Judged By The Tin Man?

Big Data: Will We Be Judged By The Tin Man?

Big data, the enhanced ability to collect, store and analyze previously unimaginable quantities of data in tremendous speed and with negligible costs, delivers immense benefits in marketing efficiency, healthcare, environmental protection, national security and more. While some privacy advocates may dispute the merits of sophisticated behavioral marketing practices or debate the usefulness of certain data sets to efforts to identify potential terrorists, few remain indifferent to the transformative value of big data analysis for government, science and society at large. At the same time, even big data evangelists should recognize the potentially ominous social ramifications of a surveillance society governed by heartless algorithmic machines.

In Judged by the Tin Man: Individual Rights in the Age of Big Data, Omer Tene and I present some of the privacy and non-privacy risks of big data as well as directions for potential solutions. In a previous paper, we argued that the central tenets of the current privacy framework – the principles of data minimization and purpose limitation – are severely strained by the big data technological and business reality. Here, we assess some of the other problems raised by pervasive big data analysis. In their book, “A Legal Theory for Autonomous Artificial Agents,” Samir Chopra and Larry White note that “as we increasingly interact with these artificial agents in unsupervised settings, with no human mediators, their seeming autonomy and increasingly sophisticated functionality and behavior raise legal and philosophical questions.”

In this article we argue that the focus on the machine is a distraction from the debate surrounding data-driven ethical dilemmas, such as privacy, fairness and discrimination. The machine may exacerbate, enable, or simply draw attention to the ethical challenges, but it is humans who must be held accountable. Instead of vilifying machine-based data analysis and imposing heavy-handed regulation, which in the process will undoubtedly curtail highly beneficial activities, policymakers should seek to devise agreed-upon guidelines for ethical data analysis and profiling. Such guidelines would address the use of legal and technical mechanisms to obfuscate data; criteria for calling out unethical, if not illegal, behavior; categories of privacy and non-privacy harms; and strategies for empowering individuals through access to data in intelligible form.

Many of the leading academics in the U.S. will be convening on September 10 in Washington to debate strategies to reconcile Big Data and Privacy. Wish us luck!

-Jules Polonetsky.  First published as a LinkedIn influencer post.  Photo: Michal Zacharzewski, SXC

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Sep
23
Tue
Mapping Issues with the Web: An ... @ Tow Center for Digital Journalism/Columbia Journalism School
Mapping Issues with the Web: An ... @ Tow Center for Digital Journalism/Columbia Journalism School
Sep 23 @ 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm
On the occasion of Bruno Latour’s visit to Columbia University, this presentation will show participants how to operationalize his seminal Actor-Network Theory using digital data and methods in the service of social and cultural research.
Sep
26
Fri
Yale Day of Data @ Yale University
Yale Day of Data @ Yale University
Sep 26 @ 8:30 am – 5:00 pm
This day-long event will focus on data science and partnerships across industry, academia, and government initiatives. The day will also include presentations by eight Yale faculty and researchers on issues specific to research data management,[...]
Oct
11
Sat
City by Numbers: Big Data and th... @ Pratt Institute
City by Numbers: Big Data and th... @ Pratt Institute
Oct 11 @ 9:30 am – 6:00 pm
Big Data—the exponential growth and availability of information—is one of the defining phenomena of our time. It affects us all on different levels – with far-reaching social, environmental, and governmental significance. To help make sense[...]
Oct
21
Tue
Consumer Action’s 43rd Annual Aw... @ Google
Consumer Action’s 43rd Annual Aw... @ Google
Oct 21 @ 6:00 pm – Oct 21 @ 8:00 pm
To mark its 43rd anniversary, Consumer Action’s Annual Awards Reception on October 21, 2014, will celebrate the theme of “Train the Trainer.” Through the power of individual and small group trainings, Consumer Action each year is[...]
Oct
29
Wed
Big Data and Privacy: Navigating... @ Schulze Hall
Big Data and Privacy: Navigating... @ Schulze Hall
Oct 29 @ 4:00 pm – 7:00 pm
The rapid emergence of “big data” has created many benefits and risks for businesses today. As data is collected, stored, analyzed, and deployed for various business purposes, it is particularly important to develop responsible data[...]
Jan
28
Wed
all-day Data Privacy Day
Data Privacy Day
Jan 28 all-day
“Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008, as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. The Day commemorates the 1981 signing of Convention 108, the first[...]

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