Algorithms try to channel us into repeating our lives

Molly Sauter (previously) describes in gorgeous, evocative terms how the algorithms in our life try to funnel us into acting the way we always have, or, failing that, like everyone else does. Read the rest

Business is booming for the surveillance state

Surveillance companies like Axon hope to turn every law enforcement officer into a data-gathering drone for a bodycam surveillance database they privately control. Now ShotSpotter, a listening technology that triangulates gunfire in "urban, high-crime areas," announced a planned IPO. Read the rest

The next iteration of Alexa is designed to watch you while you get dressed

The Echo Look is the next version of the Alexa appliance: it has an camera hooked up to a computer vision system, along with its always-on mic, and the first application for it is to watch you as you dress and give you fashion advice (that is, recommend clothes you can order from Amazon). Read the rest

"One price to all" has been the default since 1840, but online retail is sneakily killing it off

Since the earliest days of ecommerce, analysts have predicted that retailers would use their estimations of their customers' willingness to pay to invisibly, instantaneously reprice their goods, offering different prices to each customer. Read the rest

Ethics and AI: all models are wrong, some are useful, and some of those are good

The old stats adage goes: "All models are wrong, but some models are useful." In this 35 minute presentation from the O"Reilly Open Data Science Conference, data ethicist Abe Gong from Aspire Health provides a nuanced, meaningful, accessible and eminently actionable overview of the ways that ethical considerations can be incorporated into the design of powerful algorithms. Read the rest

Breitbart was a unique driver of hyper-partisan, trumpist news that shifted the 2016 election

A team of esteemed scholars including Yochai "Wealth of Networks" Benkler and Ethan Zuckerman (co-founder of Global Voices) analyzed 1.25 million media stories published between April 1, 2015 and election day, finding "a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world." Read the rest

Wearing an activity tracker gives insurance companies the data they need to discriminate against people like you

Many insurers offer breaks to people who wear activity trackers that gather data on them; as Cathy "Mathbabe" O'Neil points out, the allegedly "anonymized' data-collection is trivial to re-identify (so this data might be used against you), and, more broadly, the real business model for this data isn't improving your health outcomes -- it's dividing the world into high-risk and low-risk people, so insurers can charge people more. Read the rest

How to find out what Trump's favorite big data machine knows about you

Cambridge Analytica is a dirty, Dementor-focused big data research outfit that provided the analysis and psych profiles that the Trump campaign used in its electioneering; because its parent company is in the UK, it is required (under EU law) to send you its dossier on you for £10. Read the rest

Trump's big data "secret sauce" sorcery - a much-needed reality check

An article that went viral last week attributed Trump's Electoral College victory to the dark big data sorcery of Cambridge Analytica, a dirty, dementor-focused big data company that specializes in political campaigns. Read the rest

Automated book-culling software drives librarians to create fake patrons to "check out" endangered titles

Two employees at the East Lake County Library created a fictional patron called Chuck Finley -- entering fake driver's license and address details into the library system -- and then used the account to check out 2,361 books over nine months in 2016, in order to trick the system into believing that the books they loved were being circulated to the library's patrons, thus rescuing the books from automated purges of low-popularity titles. Read the rest

Why the FBI would be nuts to try to use chatbots to flush out terrorists online

Social scientist/cybersecurity expert Susan Landau (previously) and Cathy "Weapons of Math Destruction" O'Neil take to Lawfare to explain why it would be a dangerous mistake for the FBI to use machine learning-based chatbots to flush out potential terrorists online. Read the rest

Washington data scientists: a chance to figure out how to use your skills for good

A pair of data-scientists in Washington State are convening a meeting of "Data Scientists, Data Science Enthusiasts, and Advocates for Civic Liberties and Social Justice" who want to figure out how "Data Scientists & IT Professionals use their expertise to help answer the current human questions which social and policy-based organizations are currently struggling to address?" Read the rest

Clinton's data-driven "ground game" sucked in exactly the same way "targeted ads" suck, for the same reason

Tom Ewing rails against the Clinton campaign's reliance on "micro-modelling preference at an individual voter level to tell [volunteers] who to turn out where with what message and where to allocate resources." Read the rest

Class action suit: smart sex toys spy on their owners and transmit their masturbation habits

An anonymous woman has filed a class action suit against Standard Innovation, a company that makes We-Vibe "smart" sex toys that record exactly how their owners masturbate and transmit detailed dossiers, along with personally identifying information, back to the company. Read the rest

Weapons of Math Destruction: invisible, ubiquitous algorithms are ruining millions of lives

I've been writing about the work of Cathy "Mathbabe" O'Neil for years: she's a radical data-scientist with a Harvard PhD in mathematics, who coined the term "Weapons of Math Destruction" to describe the ways that sloppy statistical modeling is punishing millions of people every day, and in more and more cases, destroying lives. Today, O'Neil brings her argument to print, with a fantastic, plainspoken, call to arms called (what else?) Weapons of Math Destruction.

Mysterious medical research consortium: we should own volunteers' clinical trial data for 5 years

The "International Consortium of Investigators for Fairness in Trial Data Sharing" -- a group that appears to have just been formed, backed by 282 researcher in 33 countries -- has objected to a plan to limit exclusivity over clinical trial data derived from medical volunteers, insisting instead that the fair thing to do is to lock up this uncopyrightable, factual data for up to five years. Read the rest

White House plan to use data to shrink prison populations could be a racist dumpster fire

The US imprisons more people than any other country in history, both as a total number and as a proportion of its population; a White House data-mining effort proposes to set free prisoners who are "low risk," which is something we can all get behind. Read the rest

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