On data journalism, accountability and society in the Second Machine Age

On Monday, I delivered a short talk on data journalism, networked transparency, algorithmic transparency and the public interest at the Data & Society Research Institute’s workshop on the social, cultural & ethical dimensions of “big data”. The forum was convened by the Data & Society Research Institute and hosted at New York University’s Information Law Institute at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as part of an ongoing review on big data and privacy ordered by President Barack Obama.

Video of the talk is below, along with the slides I used. You can view all of the videos from the workshop, along with the public plenary on Monday evening, on YouTube or at the workshop page.

Here’s the presentation, with embedded hyperlinks to the organizations, projects and examples discussed:

For more on the “Second Machine Age” referenced in the title, read the new book by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

Putting personal open data in the hands of consumers targets transparency where it matters

“…a few companies are challenging the norm of corporate data hoarding by actually sharing some information with the customers who generate it — and offering tools to put it to use,” writes Natasha Singer in the New York Times. “It’s a small but provocative trend in the United States, where only a handful of industries, like health care and credit, are required by federal law to provide people with access to their records.”

I’m a little perplexed by this story. It’s like the author goes out of her way to be skeptical of “open data” but then writes a piece that explored how data is being (wait for it) opened up to consumers.

On the one hand, Singer is 100% right: much of the data collected about consumers is not available to them, from shopping to telecom to energy to healthcare, much less data collected in the business of government. For them, an “open data society” is a long way off. On the other hand, I’m perplexed about where this society has been proposed or by whom. There’s a bit of a whiff of straw here.

All that being said, that Singer identified consumer data disclosure as a trend in the New York Times Sunday Business section is notable, given the influence of that perch.

Of course, if you’ve been reading Radar, you knew about smart disclosure and targeted transparency, knew personal data ownership was a trend to watch, and learned more about the acceleration of consumer data releases this February.

If you missed those pieces, I hope they’re useful to you today.

Personal data ownership is an idea that numerous people have been advancing and advocating for years. (I was glad to see Doc Searls cited in the Times). It’s an important principle.

The idea of a “right to data” has also received high-level support (if not legislation and regulation): last year, former Federal Trade Commission chairman Leibowitz said that American citizens should be able to learn see what information is held by them and “have the right to correct inaccurate data,” much as they do with credit reports.

While there’s still a long way to go before a majority of the private sector acknowledges such access as an a privilege, there’s good reason to see a shift that will benefit consumers in the long-run.

Over time, it’s even possible that such open data will benefit society. (Just don’t go overboard on the hoopla about it.)