Zoe Williams at The Guardian: “The radical geographer and equality evangelist Danny Dorling tried to explain to me once why an algorithm could be bad for social justice.
Imagine if email inboxes became intelligent: your messages would be prioritised on arrival, so if the recipient knew you and often replied to you, you’d go to the top; I said that was fine. That’s how it works already. If they knew you and never replied, you’d go to the bottom, he continued. I said that was fair – it would teach me to stop annoying that person.
If you were a stranger, but typically other people replied to you very quickly – let’s say you were Barack Obama – you’d sail right to the top. That seemed reasonable. And if you were a stranger who others usually ignored, you’d fall off the face of the earth.
“Well, maybe they should get an allotment and stop emailing people,” I said.
“Imagine how angry those people would be,” Dorling said. “They already feel invisible and they [would] become invisible by design.”…
All our debates about the use of big data have centred on privacy, and all seem a bit distant: I care, in principle, whether or not Ocado knows what I bought on Amazon. But in my truest heart, I don’t really care whether or not my Frube vendor knows that I also like dystopian fiction of the 1970s.
I do, however, care that a program exists that will determine my eligibility for a loan by how often I call my mother. I care if landlords are using tools to rank their tenants by compliant behaviour, to create a giant, shared platform of desirable tenants, who never complain about black mould and greet each rent increase with a basket of muffins. I care if the police in Durham are using Experian credit scores to influence their custodial decisions, an example – as you may have guessed by its specificity – that is already real. I care that the same credit-rating company has devised a Mosaic score, which splits households into comically bigoted stereotypes: if your name is Liam and you are an “avid texter”, that puts you in “disconnected youth”, while if you’re Asha you’re in “crowded kaleidoscope”. It’s not a privacy issue so much as a profiling one, although, as anyone who has ever been the repeated victim of police stop-and-search could have told me years ago, these are frequently the same thing.