Data: Faceless but not Unbiased

Here’s an interesting think piece from Frank Pasquale in Aeon on the nature and role of data in society today.

Regulators want to avoid the irrational or subconscious biases of human decision-makers, but of course human decision-makers devised the algorithms, inflected the data, and influenced its analysis. No ‘code layer’ can create a ‘plug and play’ level playing field. Policy, human judgment, and law will always be needed. Algorithms will never offer an escape from society. . . .

An inference . . . may not be worth much on its own. But once people are so identified, it could easily be combined and recombined with other lists – say, of plus-sized shoppers, or frequent buyers of fast food – that solidify the inference. A new algorithm from Facebook instantly classifies individuals in photographs based on body type or posture. The holy grail of algorithmic reputation is the most complete possible database of each individual, unifying credit, telecom, location, retail and dozens of other data streams into a digital doppelganger.

However certain they may be about our height, or weight, or health status, it suits data gatherers to keep the classifications murky. A person could, in principle, launch a defamation lawsuit against a data broker that falsely asserted the individual concerned was diabetic. But if the broker instead chooses a fuzzier classification, such as ‘member of a diabetic-concerned household’, it looks a lot more like an opinion than a fact to courts. Opinions are much harder to prove defamatory – how might you demonstrate beyond a doubt that your household is not in some way ‘diabetic-concerned’? But the softer classification may lead to exactly the same disadvantageous outcomes as the harder, more factual one.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s