We are generating data literally wherever we go and whatever we do—and not only about all our digital and mobile actions, like searches, purchases, preferences, and interests. In the Internet of Things, we leave behind a broad trace of all kinds of data that is often far more telling than results of classic social, psychological, or medical research, and we can hardly prevent this data from being accidentally collected, while passing by a WiFi router, for instance. Since a multitude of dimensions are tracked, the resulting profiles are so unique that they can no longer be anonymized. Persisting images of ourselves are created that we cannot control.
However, most people do not want to refuse the comfort and opportunities of our data-driven economy (benefits include online shopping, distributed energy production, and precision medicine, to name a few). Data sharing can create huge economic and social value. For example, compared to the average samples of a few hundred participants, real data could support medical research in an unprecedented way. Thus data sharing should be made attractive, but in order to do so, people must have confidence that their goodwill is not turned against them.
Joerg Blumtritt and Heather Dewey-Hagborg show how to deal with data in an ethical way that has sound economic value, covering three main threads.
The first level in implementing data ethics is about shaping applications. Privacy by design is already a well-established concept, but it must be extended to data ethics by design, incorporating built-in prevention of potential discrimination, misclassification, and assaultive abuse. The design follows the simple patterns of data courtesy—being kind with people and avoiding presumptions. Such design can also be cast into law. In Europe, health insurance companies are legally prevented from using gender to determine pricing; likewise, it is illegal to include data from social media profiles to calculate credit risks.
Second, and even more important, we must be empowered to make use of our data ourselves. We should own our data and decide about its proliferation and use. Data should be as open as possible and shared as simply as possible. Collecting data has to be done in a fair way. Of course, no one can care about their data explicitly all the time. Thus, we need algorithmic agents to deal with this task on our behalf.
Third, we need to work even harder to maintain a just and liberal democratic system that offers legal remedies to everyone and enforces good conduct. Malign political leadership on digital steroids might be much worse than those in predigital times. At the same time, big data promises nothing less than a smart society with distributed, noncentralized infrastructure that could offer much more freedom to people. Even more than our data-driven economy, we should actively shape our data-driven public.
Joerg Blumtritt is the founder and CEO of Datarella, a computational social science startup delivering mobile analytics, self-tracking solutions, and data science consulting. After graduating from university with a thesis on machine learning, Joerg worked as a researcher in behavioral sciences, focused on nonverbal communication. His projects have been funded by an EU commission, the German federal government, and the Max Planck Society. He subsequently ran marketing and research teams for TV networks ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL II and magazine publisher Hubert Burda Media. As European operations officer at Tremor Media, Joerg was in charge of building the New York-based video advertising network’s European enterprises. More recently, he was managing director of MediaCom Germany. Joerg is the founder and chairman of the German Social Media Association (AG Social Media) and the coauthor of the Slow Media Manifesto. Joerg blogs about big data and the future of social research at Beautifuldata.net and about the Quantified Self at Datarella.com.
Heather Dewey-Hagborg is a NYC-based transdisciplinary artist and educator interested in art as research and critical practice; she is currently an assistant professor of art and technology studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Heather has shown work internationally at events and venues including the World Economic Forum, Ars Electronica in Linz, the Shenzhen Urbanism and Architecture Bienniale, Poland Mediations Bienniale, Article Biennial in Norway, the Science Gallery Dublin, Transmediale in Berlin, Fotomuseum Winterthur, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art in Germany, Museum Boijmans, Van Abbemuseum, and MU Art Space in the Netherlands and has exhibited nationally at PS1 Moma, the New Museum, Eyebeam, the New York Public Library, and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, among many others. In addition to her individual work, Heather has collaborated with the collective Future Archaeology, with video artist Adriana Varella, and with artists Thomas Dexter, Aurelia Moser, Allison Burtch, and Adam Harvey.
Heather’s work has been featured in print in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Paper magazine, Arts Asia Pacific, the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, Newsweek, New Scientist, Popular Science, Il Sole 24 Ore, Science magazine, and C Magazine, as well as on the cover of Government Technology; on television on CNN, Dan Rather Reports, the BBC World Service, ZDF in Germany, and Fuji and Freed Television in Japan, Channel One, RTR and Lenta in Russia, Norwegian Broadcasting; on the radio on Public Radio’s Science Friday, Studio 360, and CBS News; and online in the New York Times Magazine, TED, the Guardian, the New Inquiry, Reuters, the New York Post, NPR, Wired, Smithsonian, Le Monde, Haaretz, The Creators Project, neural.it, Art Ukraine, designboom, Capital New York, Artlog, Rhizome, Fast Company, The Verge, Motherboard, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, Gizmodo, and the Daily Beast, among many others. Heather has given workshops and talks at museums, schools, conferences, and festivals, including MoMA, TEDxVienna, SxSW, Eyeo, the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, the Media Lab, the Woodrow Wilson Policy Center, Bio-IT World, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board, and LISA. Heather has received grants, residencies, or awards from Creative Capital, Eyebeam, MOMA PS1, Ars Electronica, Vida Art and Artificial Life Competition, Clocktower Gallery, Jaaga, I-Park, Sculpture Space, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, CEPA Gallery, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Heather holds a BA in information arts from Bennington College, a master’s degree from the Interactive Telecommunications program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and a PhD in electronic arts from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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