Jan 5, 2015

Data politics and the dark sides of data

A bit lengthy post about the dark sides of data discusses whether data and its vast amounts and ubiquitous collection mechanisms help to "tell the truth to power", i.e., to change the world for the better. Will picking up the traces and revealing wrongdoing fix the world? Most likely not, because it's not clear whether we will care or do anything because of data. Here is a great quote:

... lawyers cannot fix human rights abuses, scientists cannot fix global warming, whistle-blowers cannot fix secret services and activists cannot fix politics, and nobody really knows how global finances work - regardless of the data they have at hand...

The framework of countering power and problems with data need to be revised. It's not about quantity or even quality of data, but about using whatever little we know to address not only our understandings (i.e., our rational capacities), but also our feelings and beliefs. Here is what gets in the way (those dark sides that everyone should think about):

  • corporate infrastructure for data and its cultures that creates an illusion of free and neutral services (i.e., services that have no monetary and no political cost)
  • non-transparency of most digital data and lack of control over it, which prevents us from copying, deleting, or processing our own data
  • de-politicizing of digital data or constructing data as fuel for innovation and services rather than a ground for moral, ethical, and political decisions

The post is rather pessimistic, but changes do not happen at once, so we should probably keep trying.