Like much in today’s digital world, the promise and hope of using huge data sets to solve significant issues are all too tempered by the threats that same data can have depending on whose hands it is in and what they plan to do with it.
What follows are abstracts from just some of the articles the Journalist’s Resource has pulled together. Read through for more and to access links back to the originals.
danah boyd and Kate Crawford
Will large-scale analysis of DNA help cure diseases? Or will it usher in a new wave of medical inequality? Will data analytics help make people’s access to information more efficient and effective? Or will it be used to track protesters in the streets of major cities? Will it transform how we study human communication and culture, or narrow the palette of research options and alter what ‘research’ means? Some or all of the above?… Given the rise of Big Data as both a phenomenon and a methodological persuasion, we believe that it is time to start critically interrogating this phenomenon, its assumptions and its biases.
If … data isn’t sliced, diced and cubed to separate signal from noise, it can be useless. But, when made available to the public and combined with the network effect — defined by Reed’s Law, which asserts that the utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network — society has the potential to drive massive social, political and economic change.
David M. Berry
In cutting up the world [into data chunks], information about the world necessarily has to be discarded in order to store a representation within the computer. In other words, a computer requires that everything is transformed from the continuous flow of our everyday reality into a grid of numbers that can be stored as a representation of reality which can then be manipulated using algorithms. These subtractive methods of understanding reality (episteme) produce new knowledges and methods for the control of reality (techne). They do so through a digital mediation, which the digital humanities are starting to take seriously as they’re problematic.”
Big Data involves not only individuals’ digital footprints (data they themselves leave behind) but, perhaps more importantly, also individuals’ data shadows (information about them generated by others). And contrary to physical footprints and shadows, their digital counterparts are not ephemeral but persistent. This presents particular challenges for the right to be forgotten, which are discussed in the form of three key questions. Against whom can the right be invoked? When and why can the right be invoked? And how can the right be effected?”
Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie
While enthusiasts see great potential for using Big Data, privacy advocates are worried as more and more data is collected about people — both as they knowingly disclose such things as their postings through social media and as they unknowingly share digital details about themselves as they march through life. Not only do the advocates worry about profiling, they also worry that those who crunch Big Data with algorithms might draw the wrong conclusions about who someone is, how she might behave in the future, and how to apply the correlations that will emerge in the data analysis.