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Gordon Hull
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Agreed that Frank Pasquale's work is great! (full disclosure: he's a coauthor on a recent paper about employee wellness programs) The stuff about algorithmic bias is really scary, and the work on it is starting to be really good. If you don't know them yet, try these papers: Solon Barocas and Andrew Selbst, 'Big Data's Disparate Impact," https://ssrn.com/abstract=2477899 Selbst, "Disparate Impact in Big Data Policing," https://ssrn.com/abstract=2819182 Margaret Hu, "Algorithmic Jim Crow," https://ssrn.com/abstract=3071791 There's also Cathy O'Neill's book, *Weapons of Math Destruction* and the Virginia Eubanks book, *Automating Inequality." I'll have to follow the subtitles (alas, I have no Italian) on Morozov - I generally like his work too.
I don't know how to change it in practice. I wish I did! As for your synopsis of the problem, yes - I thing you're right that the commodification of information is at the core of it. There's a lot of different versions of that thesis out there; I'm inclined to say the game is to get information which people either freely give up themselves, "agree" to give up, inadvertently give up (this is a special risk with big data, where data point x allows the algorithm to infer data point y; the link between the two is not always obvious), or have discovered even if they didn't give it up (turns out your privacy depends on what those in your social network do. The early, very primitive version of this was a study that said that your sexual orientation could be predicted by that of your FB friends, even if you never said what you were. That was like ten years ago, so I assume it's a lot more sophisticated now). Once the data is there, it winds up in the hands of data brokers. They are basically unregulated, and they won't be bound even by TOS between a user and a site like FB (since the data broker won't be bound by FB's data policies). They then process the data, sell it to advertisers, and so on. In one sense - and you're right to suggest this - it sounds sort of like what traditional marketers did. I remember when there was a huge scandal when people realized that grocery stores in affluent areas stocked a lot more produce than those in poor ones. The differences here is that it's absolutely pervasive, very very granular, and largely invisible to the consumer - you don't ever get to drive to the other grocery store. (Yes, I've got a fairly dark view of the world)
So that's the million dollar question. My hunch is that yes, this can influence off-screen behaviors, but that the psychographic stuff that Cambridge Analytica is peddling is probably overhyped. If we grant that you can get big-5 personality types from "likes," then you'd need to be able to go from those to political leaning. My sense is that there is literature to that effect - openness correlates with being liberal, etc. I don't know how good it is, and it sounds like there may be some issues with that literature. It seems to me that by the time you get to the idea that you're going to *change* somebody's vote, that's a lot of steps to get through, and I can't imagine that the result is that robust, especially since different people respond to different kinds of political ads. That's the case against, anyway. I think a more likely scenario is that the real goal was to drive turnout in selected groups. Facebook users can be nudged to vote at slightly higher rates: https://www.nature.com/news/facebook-experiment-boosts-us-voter-turnout-1.11401 (that's a link to the writeup - the actual study links at the end of it, but it's paywalled) You wouldn't be able to make a huge difference in turnout, but in a close election if you sent nudges to people whose political identity you were pretty sure of (the earlier of the two Kosinski studies says that's predictable with fairly high accuracy using likes), then you might generate enough more votes for your candidate to tip a close election. All of which is to say that I think there probably is a real-world impact here in that people's behavior can be subtly changed, either for voting or buying stuff. The amount of change is fairly low - but you don't need to change a lot of people's behavior for, say, an ad-targeting effort to be worth it. And all of this is at such massive scale that even a very low percentage adds up to a fair number of people.
By Gordon Hull One of the things that marketers like about big data is that they can personalize ads. That operation is getting increasingly sophisticated. We’ve known for a while that basic personality traits (like introversion/extraversion) can be predicted from Facebook likes. I missed this paper when it came out,... Continue reading
Sure - I don't mean to gloss the social context - I actually was hoping to push the argument that the social context is the problem, not lack of willpower. So by "rational" I just meant that the behavior makes sense in the context that the child has lived in, as something somebody who was trying to take care of themselves in that context could plausibly do.
By Gordon Hull We’ve all heard of a version of the experiment: you set a kid down with a marshmallow, and tell him that if he can sit there and not eat it for a while, he can have two. Some kids can do it, and others can’t. A famous... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull In a recent paper, Karen Yeung introduces the concept of a ‘hypernudge’ as a way to capture the way Big Data intensifies design-based ‘nudges’ as a form of regulation. Yeung’s discussion draws partly from discussions of Internet regulation, partly from literature on design, and partly from legal... Continue reading
Yesterday was a big news day. The biggest story was probably our Tinpot Dictator’s decision to unilaterally violate the Iranian nuclear deal. In addition to alienating almost everyone not named Bibi Netanyahu or John Bolton, and making the world less safe, the main thing this proves is that Trump can’t... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull The Supreme Court issued a landmark patent ruling yesterday in Oil States v. Greene. The most recent major revision to the Patent statute specifies that the validity of patents – in terms of whether they meet conditions of patentability (utility, non-obviousness and novelty - the opinion does... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull A little more than a year ago, I floated a version of the thesis that Big Data functions as a form of capitalist accumulation by dispossession. “Accumulation by Dispossession” is David Harvey’s term for what Marx called “primitive accumulation,” and the basic idea is that capital has... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Surprise! Facebook is back in the news and the doghouse, this time for allowing vast amounts of user data to find its way to Cambridge Analytica, which then used it to try to elect Donald Trump. The only surprise is that anyone is surprised. I’ll review why... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull In the two previous posts, I first suggested that Thomas Merrill’s logical argument for why the right to exclude was the sine qua non of any conception of property was inconclusive. I then offered a brief reading of the Foucauldian distinction between juridical and biopower, applying it... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Last time, I suggested that Thomas Merrill’s logical argument for why the right to exclude was the sine qua non of any conception of property was inconclusive. With that space cleared, I want to focus on what I think a focus on the right to exclude does... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull In a 1998 paper, Thomas W. Merrill argues that the presence of the right to exclude others is the necessary and sufficient condition for the presence of a property right. In this, he views himself as arguing against a “nominalist” interpretation of the right. This nominalist interpretation,... Continue reading
I live in North Carolina, the state legislature for which has been basically bought by Art Pope, a smaller-scale Koch brother (the Koch brothers themselves, meanwhile, have been successfully buying the federal government). The NC legislature has done some truly staggering things, so I’m pretty jaded on the topic of... Continue reading
John Perry Barlow, Grateful Dead lyricist and one of the early advocates for a libertarian cyberspace free of governmental regulation, as well as founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), died yesterday. The EFF notice is here. Barlow is perhaps best known for his "Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace."... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Yesterday, a group of very rich and influential corporations – Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase – announced that they would be teaming up to form an independent healthcare company for their employees. From the NYT: “The alliance was a sign of just how frustrated American businesses... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull In “Intellectual Property’s Leviathan,” Amy Kapczynski argues that both advocates of strong IP protection, and critics from the creative-commons (CC) side tend to view the state in the same way: “both those who defend robust private IP law and their most prominent critics … typically describe the... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull As I suggested last time, the current neoliberal expansion of IP hinges on the acceptance of monopolies, and the relation between deadweight loss (as advanced by Arrow) and incentives theory (as advanced by Demsetz) is accordingly essential to understanding it. Here I want to expand on that... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull In rereading Philip Mirowski’s critique of Foucault on neoliberalism (as it’s presented in Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, his book on the 2008 financial crisis), I noticed a limit in Foucault’s analysis that I hadn’t really thought about before. Although Foucault correctly sees that... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Ajit Pai is the Marie Antoinette of the Trump Administration. How else can you explain his decision to do a little skit last week, in which he pretends that his chairmanship of the FCC is a part of a plot by his former employer, Verizon, to ensure... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull As part of its war on all things done during the Obama administration, the Trump administration is planning to do away with Net Neutrality rules. Those rules, announced in early 2015, established that Internet Service Providers must treat all traffic across their networks equally. Absent such rules,... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull It has seemed to me for a long time that one helpful theoretical lens through which to look at neoliberalism is to understand it as a phase (or perhaps a dispositive) of biopower. This is because neoliberalism does not generally rely on juridical rules (or tried to... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Over at Larval Subjects, Levi Bryant has a nice post on how Marx’s distinction between C-M-C and M-C-M’ helps to explain an otherwise puzzling ideological construction. Marx’s distinction, arrived at in chapter 4 of Capital, is about how commodities circulate. In the C-M-C formula, we consider someone... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull I have been circling around the relation between Marx and Foucault for a while, and thinking in particular about the ways that they can be viewed as productively engaged, particularly at the intersection of primitive accumulation and subjectification (e.g., here, here and here) This of course flies... Continue reading