Natasha Singer (writing in the Times) about Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid and the guy who wrote this, whose new book: Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) just came out.
Mr. Rudder says he carefully considers the potential risks of OkCupid’s observational and product research on its members. But his dual role as the approver of company research and its chief interpreter is complicated.
“The people who are making the minimal risk decisions are the same people conducting the experiments,” he acknowledges. “It is a conflict of interest.”
Now Mr. Rudder is weighing the possibility of even greater research transparency. His book certainly urges companies to share more of their behavioral research findings with the public. But the outcry over his recent blog post suggests that many consumers are not aware of the extent to which companies already scrutinize and manipulate their online activities.
FJP: While the issues around social manipulation and the need for transparency make themselves pretty apparent, Rudder’s comment, quoted above, points to something perplexing. Maybe greater transparency about both data-gathering practices and interpretations of it (especially on networks where people have social and emotional investments) would increase our anxiety about what the data says about us. It echoes (in sentiment) something Kate Crawford wrote in The New Inquiry in May called The Anxieties of Big Data that’s also really worth reading. In it, she deconstructs the myth that more data means greater accuracy and also points this out:
If we take these twinned anxieties — those of the surveillers and the surveilled — and push them to their natural extension, we reach an epistemological end point: on one hand, the fear that there can never be enough data, and on the other, the fear that one is standing out in the data.
More Reading: A pretty interesting long-form profile on Rudder. A fantastic essay from danah boyd on ethics and oversight in data manipulation. And, from the FJP archives, a reading list on the social, cultural and political issues/possibilities surrounding big data.