BIG DATA
& SOCIETY

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

“The ruling of the Right to be Forgotten was not, in itself, a success”- Luciano Floridi interviewed by Judith Simon


Google has called in a number of experts from various backgrounds to guide the search engine in trying to understand the so-called ruling of the ‘Right to be Forgotten’, and to develop a strategy to deal with it. “The ruling has left things unclear”, explains Luciano Floridi, in an interview by Judith Simon, giving us a sneak peek in to what the ‘Advisory Council to Google on the Right to be Forgotten’ works with. Luciano Floridi is a Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at the University of Oxford, and also the only philosopher on the Advisory Board of the council: “I suppose there was a need for an ethical understanding of the issue”, explains Luciano Floridi, “and I guess I cover that particular corner of the complex problem.”

The ruling
As most will have heard by now, this whole thing began with a Spanish man who wanted information about himself online deleted. But instead of leaning towards the “it’s a lost battle anyway”-feeling, that mirrors what many others might feel, he decided to sue the Spanish newspapers website, and Google Spain. In the end, the European Court of Justice decided that Google would have to remove the links in their index. Please note that this meant that it is not the information itself that is removed- only the link that pops up every time someone would search for his name. And thus the fighting began.

A moment of confrontation
According to Luciano Floridi, the ruling does not solve the problem of the Spanish man, as the information is still available. At the same time, it delegates the responsibility of deciding which information becomes available to the search engine. Luciano Floridi highlights that as the information is still available, there is no grounds for using as harsh a word as censorship to describe the situation, as others have done. What we are seeing right now, though, Luciano Floridi explains, is a spark: there’s a moment of confrontation between fundamental rights of freedom of privacy and freedom of speech. Therefore it is important that we do not see this is a good vs. bad, or US vs. Europe, business vs. politics.

“The ruling, in itself, was not a success”
Luciano Floridi clarifies that in his opinion, the ruling was not, in itself, a success. “But the ruling actually has one major merit, that has to be recognized, and that merit is, we now have to deal with the problem without having any chance of sort of hiding it, behind other issues.” Luciano Floridi is hopeful that future legislation will take care of those exact points in the ruling that can be criticized, and thus better understand data protection and how to take care of private data.

How to tackle this problem, and actually finding a solution
- The work of the council
Visiting seven countries and listening to a plethora of experts and professionals in the area, the council will deliver a report, with the understandings and strategies explained by the eight members of the council, who are independent and free to voice their concerns, both individually and as a group, explains Luciano Floridi. “We are, as a society, tackling problems that have developed so quickly and so deeply under our eyes, that the sort of deep thinking that philosophy and ethics can provide, is going to be pretty helpful. That’s at least my impression when talking to people on Google.”

Along with many others, we will be following the work of the council in this unchartered territory. If you are curious to know more about the work of the council, please refer to the full interview by Judith Simon.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Luciano Floridi interviewed by Judith Simon on the 'Right to be Forgotten'


Co-editor Judith Simon, IT University of Copenhagen, interviews Advisory Board member Luciano Floridi, Director of Research and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information, University of Oxford, on his role as a Member of the Advisory Council to Google on the Right to be Forgotten, the recent ruling of the European Court of Justice, and his more general assessment of the ongoing debate:

Friday, 1 August 2014

Big Data & Society - Early Career Researcher Forum

As part of its effort to expand beyond traditional types of academic publication, Big Data & Society has introduced an Early Career Researcher Forum targeted to scholars finishing or having recently completed advanced graduate degrees.  More specifically the ECR forum seeks work by researchers reflecting about some of the challenges of their work (related to Big Data topics) in about 1000 to 2000 words with a range of illustrations, figures, etc. as well as a brief bio (100 words).  The goal is to encourage reflexive submissions that explore what it means to be a researcher studying issues concerning big data and society.  As guidance we ask authors to consider a series of questions (addressing any or all of these):

  • What kinds of challenges empirically and/or methodologically have you encountered in your work?
  • Do you have an example of these challenges, particularly one that can be shared in an online forum such as the journal offers, i.e., with visualizations, graphs, etc.?
  • Does Big Data allow you to ask new questions or explore old issues?
  • Are there questions that your data can not answer? Why? What else is necessary?
  • Why is your research important and interesting?
  • How do you relate back to your home discipline, and do your colleagues understand you?
In addition to targeted submissions, the Early Career Researcher forum accepts unsolicited contributions and encourages those who are interested to correspond with the co-editors (Irina Shklovski and Matthew Zook) for guidance.

Friday, 4 July 2014

New content coming up soon

Coming up soon we will be publishing research articles by David Lyon on contemporary conundrums of surveillance and Big Data; Linnet Taylor and researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute on Big Data analysis in economics; Tommaso Venturni and researchers from the medialab at Sciences-Po on three common misunderstandings about digital methods in relation to the digital tracing and textual analysis of climate change negotiations; and Lev Manovich reflecting on what constitutes Big Data in the case of interactive media. These articles will be accompanied by commentaries from Alex Taylor and others at Microsoft Research on data and the street; and by Nick Couldry and Alison Powell on Big Data from the Bottom Up. Finally, in our early career researcher forum an essay by Heather Ford on collaborations between ethnographers and data.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Bookcast: Dhiraj Murthy interviewed by Anatoliy Gruzd on ‘Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age’

Here is a bookcast of Dhiraj Murthy from Goldsmiths, University of London, discussing his recent book ‘Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age’ with our co-editor Anatoliy Gruzd:

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Brooke Foucault Welles blogs about her BD&S essay 'On minorities and outliers: The case for making Big Data small'

Getting beyond WEIRD with Big Data

Social science has a weird problem, or the WEIRD problem, as Joseph Henrich and his colleagues called it in their 2010 critique of sampling biases in behavioral and social science research.  They note that upwards of 90% of behavioral science research is conducted using participants from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) societies, and that undergraduate students attending American universities are 4,000 times more likely to be sampled into social science research than the average person.  This presents some obvious challenges for the external validity of social science results. You would be hard pressed to find a scientist who would hold steadfast the idea that we should really be basing our fundamental understandings about human behavior on the performance of college undergraduates. But, any social scientist – especially an early career social scientist trying to establish a research program on a limited budget and under great time pressure – will tell you that sometimes, external validity is the price of efficiency. To get anything done at all, we have to use the resources that are most readily available to us. And the one resource university faculty have in abundance is a pool of willing, often free, undergraduate research participants.

Big Data are poised to change the resource equation. Although far from comprehensive, most Big Data datasets are less WEIRD than the college undergraduate samples that many social scientists have come to rely on. Already, researchers are making great use of Big Data to remedy the WEIRD problem – for example, by conducting cross-cultural research comparing Eastern and Western online communities, or following the twitter habits of citizens living in authoritarian states. In my article in the Early Career Researcher Forum, I encourage social scientists to seek out Big Data generated by participants who have been historically overlooked, underrepresented or excluded from social science research, even if that means actively whittling down a Big Data dataset until it is quite small. By choosing to make Big Data small, we can make science a little less WEIRD, and a little more inclusive, moving forward.

About the author

Brooke Foucault Welles is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication Studies and on the faculty of Network Science at Northeastern University. Her research focuses on networked communication, with particular emphasis on how people use online communication networks to facilitate personal and organizational goals. You can learn more about Brooke’s research on her website or on Twitter

Friday, 27 June 2014

Video abstract by Roger Burrows on his BD&S commentary with Mike Savage on 'After the Crisis?'

In their 2007 paper 'The Coming Crisis of Empirical Sociology', Mike Savage and Roger Burrows argued that as a result of the inundation of digital data, empirical sociology may lose its methodological edge and thereby its jurisdiction over questions of the 'social'. To their surprise, the article has since then become the most cited article to appear in the journal Sociology – the journal of original publication - in the last decade.

In their commentary in Big Data & Society, Roger and Mike reflect upon the arguments they made back then. Here is a video abstract of Roger introducing their BD&S article 'After the Crisis? Big Data and the Methodological Challenges of Empirical Sociology':