The Ethics of Big Data Applications in the Consumer Sector


Paper by Markus Christen et al : “Business applications relying on processing of large amounts of heterogeneous data (Big Data) are considered to be key drivers of innovation in the digital economy. However, these applications also pose ethical issues that may undermine the credibility of data-driven businesses. In our contribution, we discuss ethical problems that are associated with Big Data such as: How are core values like autonomy, privacy, and solidarity affected in a Big Data world? Are some data a public good? Or: Are we obliged to divulge personal data to a certain degree in order to make the society more secure or more efficient?

We answer those questions by first outlining the ethical topics that are discussed in the scientific literature and the lay media using a bibliometric approach. Second, referring to the results of expert interviews and workshops with practitioners, we identify core norms and values affected by Big Data applications—autonomy, equality, fairness, freedom, privacy, property-rights, solidarity, and transparency—and outline how they are exemplified in examples of Big Data consumer applications, for example, in terms of informational self-determination, non-discrimination, or free opinion formation. Based on use cases such as personalized advertising, individual pricing, or credit risk management we discuss the process of balancing such values in order to identify legitimate, questionable, and unacceptable Big Data applications from an ethics point of view. We close with recommendations on how practitioners working in applied data science can deal with ethical issues of Big Data….(More)”.

The clinician crowdsourcing challenge: using participatory design to seed implementation strategies


Paper by Rebecca E. Stewart et al: “In healthcare settings, system and organization leaders often control the selection and design of implementation strategies even though frontline workers may have the most intimate understanding of the care delivery process, and factors that optimize and constrain evidence-based practice implementation within the local system. Innovation tournaments, a structured participatory design strategy to crowdsource ideas, are a promising approach to participatory design that may increase the effectiveness of implementation strategies by involving end users (i.e., clinicians). We utilized a system-wide innovation tournament to garner ideas from clinicians about how to enhance the use of evidence-based practices (EBPs) within a large public behavioral health system…(More)”

Study finds that a GPS outage would cost $1 billion per day


Eric Berger at Ars Technica: “….one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject has assessed the value of this GPS technology to the US economy and examined what effect a 30-day outage would have—whether it’s due to a severe space weather event or “nefarious activity by a bad actor.” The study was sponsored by the US government’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology and performed by a North Carolina-based research organization named RTI International.

Economic effect

As part of the analysis, researchers spoke to more than 200 experts in the use of GPS technology for various services, from agriculture to the positioning of offshore drilling rigs to location services for delivery drivers. (If they’d spoken to me, I’d have said the value of using GPS to navigate Los Angeles freeways and side streets was incalculable). The study covered a period from 1984, when the nascent GPS network was first opened to commercial use, through 2017. It found that GPS has generated an estimated $1.4 trillion in economic benefits during that time period.

The researchers found that the largest benefit, valued at $685.9 billion, came in the “telecommunications” category,  including improved reliability and bandwidth utilization for wireless networks. Telematics (efficiency gains, cost reductions, and environmental benefits through improved vehicle dispatch and navigation) ranked as the second most valuable category at $325 billion. Location-based services on smartphones was third, valued at $215 billion.

Notably, the value of GPS technology to the US economy is growing. According to the study, 90 percent of the technology’s financial impact has come since just 2010, or just 20 percent of the study period. Some sectors of the economy are only beginning to realize the value of GPS technology, or are identifying new uses for it, the report says, indicating that its value as a platform for innovation will continue to grow.

Outage impact

In the case of some adverse event leading to a widespread outage, the study estimates that the loss of GPS service would have a $1 billion per-day impact, although the authors acknowledge this is at best a rough estimate. It would likely be higher during the planting season of April and May, when farmers are highly reliant on GPS technology for information about their fields.

To assess the effect of an outage, the study looked at several different variables. Among them was “precision timing” that enables a number of wireless services, including the synchronization of traffic between carrier networks, wireless handoff between base stations, and billing management. Moreover, higher levels of precision timing enable higher bandwidth and provide access to more devices. (For example, the implementation of 4G LTE technology would have been impossible without GPS technology)….(More)”

From Planning to Prototypes: New Ways of Seeing Like a State


Fleur Johns at Modern Law Review: “All states have pursued what James C. Scott characterised as modernist projects of legibility and simplification: maps, censuses, national economic plans and related legislative programs. Many, including Scott, have pointed out blindspots embedded in these tools. As such criticism persists, however, the synoptic style of law and development has changed. Governments, NGOs and international agencies now aspire to draw upon immense repositories of digital data. Modes of analysis too have changed. No longer is legibility a precondition for action. Law‐ and policy‐making are being informed by business development methods that prefer prototypes over plans. States and international institutions continue to plan, but also seek insight from the release of minimally viable policy mock‐ups. Familiar critiques of law and development work, and arguments for its reform, have limited purchase on these practices, Scott’s included. Effective critical intervention in this field today requires careful attention to be paid to these emergent patterns of practice…(More)”.

How not to conduct a consultation – and why asking the public is not always such a great idea


Agnes Batory & Sara Svensson at Policy and Politics: “Involving people in policy-making is generally a good thing. Policy-makers themselves often pay at least lip-service to the importance of giving citizens a say. In the academic literature, participatory governance has been, with some exaggeration, almost universally hailed as a panacea to all ills in Western democracies. In particular, it is advocated as a way to remedy the alienation of voters from politicians who seem to be oblivious to the concerns of the common man and woman, with an ensuing decline in public trust in government. Representation by political parties is ridden with problems, so the argument goes, and in any case it is overly focused on the act of voting in elections – a one-off event once every few years which limits citizens’ ability to control the policy agenda. On the other hand, various forms of public participation are expected to educate citizens, help develop a civic culture, and boost the legitimacy of decision-making. Consequently, practices to ensure that citizens can provide direct input into policy-making are to be welcomed on both pragmatic and normative grounds.  

I do not disagree with these generally positive expectations. However, the main objective of my recent article in Policy and Politics, co-authored with Sara Svensson, is to inject a dose of healthy scepticism into the debate or, more precisely, to show that there are circumstances in which public consultations will achieve anything but greater legitimacy and better policy-outcomes. We do this partly by discussing the more questionable assumptions in the participatory governance literature, and partly by examining a recent, glaring example of the misuse, and abuse, of popular input….(More)”.

AI and the Global South: Designing for Other Worlds


Chapter by Chinmayi Arun in Markus D. Dubber, Frank Pasquale, and Sunit Das (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI: “This chapter is about the ways in which AI affects, and will continue to affect, the Global South. It highlights why the design and deployment of AI in the South should concern us. 

Towards this, it discusses what is meant by the South. The term has a history connected with the ‘Third World’ and has referred to countries that share post-colonial history and certain development goals. However scholars have expanded and refined on it to include different kinds of marginal, disenfranchised populations such that the South is now a plural concept – there are Souths. 

The risks of the ways in which AI affects Southern populations include concerns of discrimination, bias, oppression, exclusion and bad design. These can be exacerbated in the context of vulnerable populations, especially those without access to human rights law or institutional remedies. This Chapter outlines these risks as well as the international human rights law that is applicable. It argues that a human rights, centric, inclusive, empowering context-driven approach is necessary….(More)”.

Of Governance and Revenue: Participatory Institutions and Tax Compliance in Brazil


Paper by Michael Touchton, Brian Wampler and Tiago C. Peixoto: “Traditionally, governments seek to mobilize tax revenues by expanding their enforcement of existing tax regimes and facilitating tax payments. However, enforcement and facilitation can be costly and produce diminishing marginal returns if citizens are unwilling to pay their taxes. This paper addresses gaps in knowledge about tax compliance, by asking a basic question: what explains why citizens and businesses comply with tax rules? To answer this question, the paper shows how the voluntary adoption of two different types of participatory governance institutions influences municipal tax collection in Brazil. Municipalities that voluntarily adopt participatory institutions collect significantly higher levels of taxes than similar municipalities without these institutions. The paper provides evidence that moves scholarship on tax compliance beyond enforcement and facilitation paradigms, while offering a better assessment of the role of local democratic institutions for government performance and tax compliance….(More)”.

Information Sharing as a Dimension of Smartness: Understanding Benefits and Challenges in Two Megacities


Paper by J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, Theresa A. Pardo, and Manuel De Tuya: “Cities around the world are facing increasingly complex problems.

These problems frequently require collaboration and information sharing across agency boundaries.

In our view, information sharing can be seen as an important dimension of what is recently being called smartness in cities and enables the ability to improve decision making and day-to-day operations in urban settings. Unfortunately, what many city managers are learning is that there are important challenges to sharing information both within their city and with others.

Based on nonemergency service integration initiatives in New York City and Mexico City, this article examines important benefits from and challenges to information sharing in the context of what the participants characterize as smart city initiatives, particularly in large metropolitan areas.

The research question guiding this study is as follows: To what extent do previous findings about information sharing hold in the context of city initiatives, particularly in megacities?

The results provide evidence on the importance of some specific characteristics of cities and megalopolises and how they affect benefits and challenges of information sharing. For instance, cities seem to have more managerial flexibility than other jurisdictions such as state governments.

In addition, megalopolises have most of the necessary technical skills and financial resources needed for information sharing and, therefore, these challenges are not as relevant as in other local governments….(More)”.

Applying crowdsourcing techniques in urban planning: A bibliometric analysis of research and practice prospects


Paper by Pinchao Liao et al in Cities: “Urban planning requires more public involvement and larger group participation to achieve scientific and democratic decision making. Crowdsourcing is a novel approach to gathering information, encouraging innovation and facilitating group decision-making. Unfortunately, although previous research has explored the utility of crowdsourcing applied to urban planning theoretically, there are still rare real practices or empirical studies using practical data. This study aims to identify the prospects for implementing crowdsourcing in urban planning through a bibliometric analysis on current research.

First, database and keyword lists based on peer-reviewed journal articles were developed. Second, semantic analysis is applied to quantify co-occurrence frequencies of various terms in the articles based on the keyword lists, and in turn a semantic network is built.

Then, cluster analysis was conducted to identify major and correlated research topics, and bursting key terms were analyzed and explained chronologically. Lastly, future research and practical trends were discussed.

The major contribution of this study is identifying crowdsourcing as a novel urban planning method, which can strengthen government capacities by involving public participation, i.e., turning governments into task givers. Regarding future patterns, the application of crowdsourcing in urban planning is expected to expand to transportation, public health and environmental issues. It is also indicated that the use of crowdsourcing requires governments to adjust urban planning mechanisms….(More)”.

Techno-optimism and policy-pessimism in the public sector big data debate


Paper by Simon Vydra and Bram Klievink: “Despite great potential, high hopes and big promises, the actual impact of big data on the public sector is not always as transformative as the literature would suggest. In this paper, we ascribe this predicament to an overly strong emphasis the current literature places on technical-rational factors at the expense of political decision-making factors. We express these two different emphases as two archetypical narratives and use those to illustrate that some political decision-making factors should be taken seriously by critiquing some of the core ‘techno-optimist’ tenets from a more ‘policy-pessimist’ angle.

In the conclusion we have these two narratives meet ‘eye-to-eye’, facilitating a more systematized interrogation of big data promises and shortcomings in further research, paying appropriate attention to both technical-rational and political decision-making factors. We finish by offering a realist rejoinder of these two narratives, allowing for more context-specific scrutiny and balancing both technical-rational and political decision-making concerns, resulting in more realistic expectations about using big data for policymaking in practice….(More)”.