Critics allege big data can be discriminatory, but is it really bias?

Pradip Sigdyal at CNBC: “…The often cited case of big data discrimination points to a research conducted few years ago by Latanya Sweeny, who heads the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard University.

The case involves Google ad results when searching for certain kinds of names on the internet. In her research, Sweeney found that distinct sounding names often associated with blacks showed up with a disproportionately higher number of arrest record ads compared to white sounding names by roughly 18 percent of the time. Google has since fixed the issue, although they never publicly stated what they did to correct the problem.

The proliferation of big data in the last few years has seen other allegations of improper use and bias. These allegations run the gamut, from online price discrimination and consequences of geographic targeting to the controversial use of crime predicting technology by law enforcement, and lack of sufficient representative[data] sampleused in some public works decisions.

The benefits of big data need to be balanced with the risks associated with applying modern technologies to address societal issues. Yet data advocates believe that democratization of data has in essence givenpower to the people to affect change by transferring ‘tribal knowledge’ from experts to data-savvy practitioners.

Big data is here to stay

According to some advocates, the problem is not so much that ‘big data discriminates’, but that failures by data professionals risk misinterpreting the findings at the heart of data mining and statistical learning. They add that the benefits far outweigh the concerns.

“In my academic research and industry consulting, I have seen tremendous benefits accruing to firms, organizations and consumers alike from the use of data-driven decision-making, data science, and business analytics,” Anindya Ghose, the director of Center for Business Analytics at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said.

“To be perfectly honest, I do not at all understand these big-data cynics who engage in fear mongering about the implications of data analytics,” Ghose said.

“Here is my message to the cynics and those who keep cautioning us: ‘Deal with it, big data analytics is here to stay forever’.”…(More)”