Call for Papers for Vol. 24 (12/2015)
On February 16, 2012, the New York Times published an article entitled 'How Companies Learn Your Secrets' in which it was revealed that the American retailing giant Target had developed a range of predictive analysis tools which could potentially assist in identifying pregnant customers. The article told the story of a man who inadvertently discovered his teenage daughter’s pregnancy only after seeing the company's directed marketing offers to her. When the subsequent, primarily online squabble about corporate malfeasance and business overreach subsided, the article seemed to confirm what we already suspected: our most mundane, everyday activities leave extensive and valuable 'digital footprints' which are in turn used to monitor consumer behaviour, market products and so on. The "capacity to search aggregate and cross-reference" (Boyd and Crawford, 2012, p.663) these seemingly innocuous footprints has come to be labelled "big data", an innovation that seems to increasingly complicate the distinction between the digital and the physical. Given such circumstances people are beginning to wonder whether it is possible, desirable or necessary to be able to disconnect one from the other. Should a "right to be forgotten" be the very precondition upon which privacy is constructed for the digital age? Is it even possible to be forgotten? Who owns these footprints and how are they managed? Does the commodification of digital footprints represent a transi-tion towards a kind of 'algorithmic capitalism' or 'algorithmic governmentality'?
Capturing data in order to more efficiently sell goods and services is obviously just one aspect of the application of big data. Edward Snowden's leaked documents revealed, amongst other things, the uneasy relationship between the expansion of big data processes and intensifying global regimes of surveillance. Indeed, the seemingly innocuous activities of searching, aggregating and cross-referencing information combined with the vagueness of the term "big data" itself seems only to obscure and undermine the complexity of the broad range of methods and applications necessarily required for the accumulation, retention and analysis of such "data". One such practice highlighted by the Snowden revelations is the capturing of metadata—informational by-products generated by online activity including recording of IP addresses, identities of contacts, geo-locational data, durations of calls and so forth. Such metadata is disclosed unknowingly and recorded automatically and retains centrality in the generalization of what Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier (2013) call "datafication" - the rendering of all human behaviour into an analysable form in order to predict and pre-empt human action. As well as being used by states to identify possible threats to security, big data can also be made productive for the public good: researchers can undoubtedly see the potential benefits of gaining access to such vast and detailed records but gaining access is itself beset with profound ethical complexities. Perhaps this is the reason why the EU Court of Justice has recently suggested that expansive metadata retention "interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data". Still many corporations, governments and universities are keen to continue to explore and exploit big data for their own ends. The question that we invariably have to ask is, at what cost?
Possible Topics and Questions
This issue of IRIE attempts to explore the political, social, and ethical dimensions of big data. We welcome the exploration of, while not restricting to, the following subject areas:
Prof. Dr. Klaus Wiegerling, Dr. Michael Nerukar, Christian Wadephul
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS)
Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information, especially on how to submit a paper, please refer to: Ethics of Big Data - Call for Papers cfp-pdf-fulltext (30 KB) (right click and select "Save Target As")