Charlie Harvey

Three paradoxes of big data, first thoughts

In a thoughtful piece in the Stanford Law Review, Neil M. Richards and Jonathan H. King consider the problems of "big data" — the analytics and monitoring data relating to our behaviour on the web and in other regions of the internet by state and corporate interests. Three paradoxes of big data identifies the problems of transparency, identity and power that are inherent to big data, at least as currently understood.

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This is a useful contribution to thinking about the subject, though perhaps the dismissal of cyber-exceptionalism is a little too simplistic and I would have liked to see more discussion of the paradoxes of state-mediated regulatory power. Replacing a largely unaccountable regime of corporate power with a sytem of laws and regulations seems a good way out of the paradox. Such regulation requires the excercise of power presumably by institutions that possess the the same opaque, unaccountable natures as the corporations and shadowy state institutions that they replace.

Stronger as a way forwards is the concept of developing an "ethics of big data". As an anarchist I am in favour of creating participatory, dynamic, socially based ethical systems and pactices, rather than regulatory bureaucracies. An ethics of big data suggests an evolving and participatory approach to the problem, though "an ethics" still seems to suggest a universal ethical system rather than a series of interconnecting ethical tubes (to coin a phrase).


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