E-book of the week: “Privacy as Virtue: Moving Beyond the Individual in the Age of Big Data”, by Bart van der Sloot

Privacy as Virtue discusses whether a rights-based approach to privacy regulation still suffices to address the challenges triggered by new data processing techniques such as Big Data and mass surveillance. A rights-based approach generally grants subjective rights to individuals to protect their personal interests. However, large-scale data processing techniques often transcend the individual and their interests.

Virtue ethics is used to reflect on this problem and open up new ways of thinking. A virtuous agent not only respects the rights and interests of others, but also has a broader duty to act in the most careful, just and temperate way. This applies to citizens, to companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook and to governmental organizations that are involved with large scale data processing alike.

The author develops a three-layered model for privacy regulation in the Big Data era. The first layer consists of minimum obligations that are independent of individual interests and rights. Virtuous agents have to respect the procedural pre-conditions for the exercise of power. The second layer echoes the current paradigm, the respect for individual rights and interests. While the third layer is the obligation of aspiration: a virtuous agent designs the data process in such a way that human flourishing, equality and individual freedom are promoted.”

https://doi.org/10.1017/9781780686592

Publisher: Intersentia, 2017

Illustration (cropped): Allegory of Virtue, by Antonio da Corregio (c. 1531), public domain, via Wikipedia

Book of the Week: “Weapons of math destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy”

A former Wall Street quantitative analyst sounds an alarm on the mathematical models that pervade modern life and threaten to rip apart our social fabric.

“We live in the age of the algorithm. Increasingly, the decisions that affect our lives — where we go to school, whether we get a car loan, how much we pay for health insurance — are being made not by humans, but by mathematical models. In theory, this should lead to greater fairness: everyone is judged according to the same rules, and bias is eliminated.

But as Cathy O’Neil reveals in this urgent and necessary book, the opposite is true. The models being used today are opaque, unregulated, and uncontestable, even when they’re wrong. Most troubling, they reinforce discrimination: if a poor student can’t get a loan because a lending model deems him too risky (by virtue of his zip code), he’s then cut off from the kind of education that could pull him out of poverty, and a vicious spiral ensues. Models are propping up the lucky and punishing the downtrodden, creating a “toxic cocktail for democracy.” Welcome to the dark side of Big Data.”

Publisher: London: Penguin Books, 2017
Call Number: 384 HEIA 120998