Knowledge is Power

The invention of writing brought with it a new source of power, information. Many did try to wield it the past, but this task was proved to be difficult as lifting the Excalibur out of its’ stone, only very few along the ages did manage to use this tool effectively.  As time passed, Men with its outstanding ability to overcome challenges, its inventiveness, and imagination, finally tackled this issue, making it possible to finally hold this tool as easily as we had mastered others in the past.

 

Executive Summary – tiagocph

Society as we know it is being reshaped through the emergence of digital infrastructures. Big Data brings to the table the digitization of the public sector creating opportunities for government practices. However, doing so, causes some challenges. One of the main challenges is that the public-sector digitization is not clear and practices for using new data sources have not been set yet. It is then crucial to comprehend the new data-driven society, moved by how data is created and used, and making sure the government can adapt to this new scenario.

 

Everyday life is surrounded by data-saturated environment and people wear personalized data-generation devices on the bodies; not just smartphones but also sensor-embedded wristbands, clothing or watches. These devices carried around daily are constantly sending and receiving continuous flows of personal information. It includes geolocation information, personal images, biometric information and more. However, the destination of this data is not clear, going to either private or public sectors or both. This happens in real-time, every day and sometimes without the user’s’ knowledge or consent.

 

Questions of security and privacy turn into Political issues concerning data ownership. Asymmetries in the access of citizens to digital datasets (including their personal data) and that of government and commercial entities.

 

It is fair to assume that citizens recognize, to some extent, data they share and generate by the constant usage of technological devices goes somewhere. Citizens, know companies and the government, look into this data, to extract information about their users. However, the way the information is processed, the context it is associated to is totally out of control of the users. A parallel can be made to food, as the one can choose what to eat, but loses control over what happens to the content of the food in their bodies as the processes of digestion take place. The same happens with fata, we choose the applications we use, but as users our agency ends there, becoming both data-ingesting and data-emitting in an endless cycle of generating data, never sure what becomes of it.

 

This generated information will inevitably end at a governmental desk, and it is fair to assume that it will only increase in the future. The question is raised, how should the Government deal with this situation. Right now, there are not available tools to access this generated data correctly, social-media sites provide only a glimpse into the present, as they lack way to access archived information, or the data collected might not be entirely accurate due to a variety of causes, such as: pre-processing done, sensors used and so on.  Therefore, it is important that the government is prepared to handle this data with care. An informed public sector is thus expected to be up to date with the latest tactics and strategies of handling big data. There needs to be a site for debate, mediation and intervention is therefore a vital organ for this information gathering process.

 

This site would work as a toolbox that draws from studies, reflections and theory all around the world, and more specifically subprojects made in the project process. In addition to regular and easy to read information this toolbox would serve to navigate the complexity of big data usage in public sector decision-making, and demonstrate how universities can innovatively combine the tasks of research, education and outreach.

 

In order to gain an insight into how big data is used and viewed and the digital infrastructure in government institutions a practice-based methodology founded on anthropological principles is used. Furthermore, a plethora of digital tools to compare and contrast the findings from fieldwork inquiries and observations is applied. The digital tools used are mainly open-source and used in sociological studies of science, technology, and innovation.

tiagocph

Peer Critique

Critical Questions for Big Data – Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon

By danah boyd & Kate Crawford

This article focuses on six major points related to the application of Big Data in cultural, technological, and scholarly backgrounds. Its’ arguments centre on the idea of analysing information that is gathered from social medias, namely Twitter. Written from a perspective of social scientists, its focus is on the ethical problems of Big Data, questioning the correctness of the assumptions that are made when using this data for social models.

The main points raised are: Big Data is seen as knowledge without question; the identification of patterns that might not exist; overlooking the limitations these methods provide; Big, or lots of data does not necessarily provide good data ; Information being published or taken without context, leading to misleading results; lack of information to the users whose data is analysed by different parties without knowledge of the former; creation of a new social divide based on those who have access and extract information from Big Data and those who do not.

In general, the text seems to be trying to reach a broader audience, since the language used is quite simple. The structure is easy enough to follow, having the six points, each with its own subsection where the argument is made.

My main points of critique would be:

  1. In terms of structure, I feel the authors did a good job. However, the last paragraph, working as a conclusion, should have its own section to capture the readers’ attention. I quote the most important idea, but the conclusion could be extended a bit more, such as leaving a question, to recall back to the title.

“We should consider how the tools participate in shaping the world with us as we use them. The era of Big Data has only just begun, but it is already important that we start questioning the assumptions, values, and biases of this new wave of research. As scholars who are invested in the production of knowledge, such interrogations are an essential component of what we do.” – (2012, p. 675)

  1. I understand that there is an emphasis on the words data and Big Data. However, they are used way too often in the essay, the word data can be seen a total of 221 times in the document, and the words Big Data can be seen 70 times. The over usage of the same word can result in numbing effect. Bellow, I quote an example where this can be seen, and my advice is to just use synonyms such as information, etc.

“In fact, some of the data encompassed by Big Data (e.g. all Twitter messages about a particular topic) are not nearly as large as earlier data sets that were not considered Big Data (e.g. census data). Big Data is less about data that is big than it is about a capacity to search, aggregate, and cross-reference large data sets.” – (2012, p. 663)

  1. Finally, and this relates to the structure again, we are told from the title that they will be addressing the big questions that come with Big Data. However, we are not presented with clear questions, mostly coming after a long exposition or not at all. To address this I would suggest making the subtitles as rhetorical questions, for instance:

Big Data, changing the definition of knowledge? Instead of – “Big Data changes the definition of knowledge” – (2012, p. 665)

Tiago Ribeiro