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Gordon Hull
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By Gordon Hull In what seems like a distant, more innocent time in surveillance (viz. 2003), Andy Clark was able to use as an example in his Natural Born Cyborgs an implanted tracking chip for pets. Does your cat tend to wander off? Now you can know where Whiskers is... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull In Sleights of Reason, Mary Beth Mader makes the point that there is an ontological distinction between the members of a normalized “population” and the individuals they represent. Mader is talking about statistics and bell curves; as she summarizes the part of her argument that’s relevant here,... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull I'm happy to announce (shamelessly!) that my article, "The Banality of Cynicism: Foucault and Limits of Authentic Parrhesia" is now out in Foucault Studies (open access). The abstract is: Foucault’s discussion of parrhēsia – frank speech – in his last two Collège de France lecture courses has... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull It’s not news that Facebook generates a lot of privacy concerns. But it’s nonetheless worth keeping up a little, just to indicate how seriously we need to be concerned about the connection between Facebook and data analytics. We’ve known for a while that automated analysis of Facebook... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull I mean the title of this post literally. A recent study that surveyed global neurological disease incidence concluded that neurological disorders now are the leading global cause of disability, and that their rates are rapidly rising. A substantial portion of this is due to increasing rates of... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Foucault’s use of Nietzsche to make the distinction between history and genealogy in “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History” is well-known. What is less well-known, I think (perhaps I am projecting again, but I had forgotten this passage until I saw a note I’d made to it the other day),... Continue reading
Thanks for the link! I was hoping that this would prompt someone who had done more work on it than me to chime in...
By Gordon Hull I’m teaching a Foucault seminar this term, and one of the things I’m trying to do is get better on the doxography of his essays. That led me to a discovery about “What is an Author” that I’m going to share on the (hopefully not hubristic) assumption... Continue reading
Thanks, and I wholeheartedly recommend her book for those who don't know it (it's called Automating Inequality. It's an easy read, and a depressing one. Rebecca Tushnet does a great summary here: https://cyber.jotwell.com/the-difference-engine-perpetuating-poverty-through-algorithms/
Big data can - and very often is - used to discriminate. It was only a matter of time before health insurers started using it to predict who might be more likely to get sick, and to charge them more (yes, they've figured out how to circumvent the ACA). ProPublica... Continue reading
Yeah, I don't think Hayek is right about much, but he's hugely important and should be taken seriously, even if it's only as an application of the dictum to "read your enemies."
By Gordon Hull As Foucault emphasizes in Birth of Biopolitics, one of the signal moves in American neoliberalism is the extension of economic analysis into all aspects of life. As he puts it, the American neoliberals “try to use the market economy and the typical analyses of the market economy... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull The current issue of Foucault Studies contains the first English translation of a lecture Foucault gave in Japan in 1978. This “Analytic Philosophy of Politics” is essential reading if you have an interest in the transition between Foucault’s “power” and “ethics” work and/or his later understanding of... Continue reading
By Gordon Hull Santa Claus knows when you’ve been sleeping, knows when you’re awake, and knows if you’ve been bad or good. Your phone knows all of that too, because it knows exactly where you are. It then sends all that information to your carrier, which keeps it in its... Continue reading
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