Today, I could write something very similar regarding the headlinesinforming us that, according to a recent study, Google’s advertising algorithms discriminate against women. And it is probably a handy opportunity to let you know that my phd research in social sciences – still ongoing – is precisely about interaction with Google’s advertising algorithms…
However, this blog post is not going to be about my research. But when I saw the headlines about “discriminating advertising algorithms” I simply couldn’t *not* blog about it.
Luckily, WIRED has already taken care of asking the very same question I asked in my 2013 blog post about Google’s autocompletion algorithms: who or what is to blame? In a short but discerning piece WIRED explains the complex configuration of Google AdSense:
Who—or What’s—to Blame?
While the study’s findings would suggest Google is enabling discrimination, the situation is much more complicated.
Currently, Google allows advertisers to target their ads based on gender. That means it’s possible for an advertiser promoting high-paying job listings to directly target men. However, Google’s algorithm may have also determined that men are more relevant for the position and made the decision on its own. And then there’s the possibility that user behavior taught Google to serve ads in this manner. It’s impossible to know if one party here is to blame or if it’s a combination of account targeting from all sources at play.
This configuration has allowed powerful companies to present their services as ‘platforms’, phenomenal and simultaneously neutral vessels of communication filled by numerous individual users’ actions only. Continue reading →
Recently, I held a lecture about the digital transformation for the franco-swiss CAS/EMBA program in e-tourism. The tourism industry not being my specialty, and the “social media” aspects having been thoroughly covered by colleagues, I had been specifically asked to convey a big picture view.
I chose to address some overall issues related to ICT (information & communication technology), innovation and society by debunking the following five myths:
Ignoring the digital transformation is possible
Technological progress is linear
Connectivity is a given
Virtual vs. “real” life
Big Data – the answer to all our questions
Each of these points would deserve an treatise on its own, and I will not be able to go into much details in the scope of this article. I nevertheless wanted to share some of the links and references mentioned during my lecture and related to these issues. If you prefer reading the whole thing in French, please go to Enjeux technologiques et sociaux: cinq idées reçues à propos du numérique, which is the corresponding (but not literally translated) article in French.
Myth no. 1: Ignoring the digital transformation is possible
While discussions of online social networks have become mainstream, the digital transformation goes way beyond social media. It is about more than visible communication. It is about automation, computation, and algorithms. And as I have written before: algorithms are more than a technological issue because they involve not only automated data analysis, but also decision-making. In 1961 already, C.P. Snow said:
Cet article esquisse mon intervention dans un module de formation EMBA / CAS il y a quelques jours. Le but était de sensibiliser les participants aux enjeux des technologies de l’information comme sources d’innovations majeures et de les rendre attentifs à quelques enjeux sociaux des TIC. Afin qu’un tour d’horizon aussi vaste soit un tant soit peu digeste, j’ai décidé de le présenter en cinq chapitres qui démontent certaines idées reçues à propos du numérique:
Il est possible d’ignorer le numérique
Le progrès technologique est linéaire
La connectivité est un acquis
Il y a le virtuel et il y a la “vraie vie”
Les “big data”: la solution à tout
En voici ci-dessous la présentation, et ensuite quelques phrases explicatives avec liens/références.
Idée reçue no. 1: Il est possible d’ignorer le numérique
Le domaine du numérique est souvent considéré uniquement dans une perspective communication/marketing, une perspective parfois réduite aux seuls sujets des sites web et des réseaux sociaux en ligne. Et alors qu’il est possible pour une entreprise notamment de se passer d’une page facebook en toute cohérence avec sa stratégie, il n’en est pas de même avec la dynamique et l’évolution numérique au sens large. Ce parce que la révolution numérique ne concerne de loin pas que les “social media”. Elle comprend toute sorte d’automatisation algorithmique. Une citation parlante à ce sujet a été dit par C.P. Snow en 1961 déjà et je l’avais reprise dans un billet précédent (en anglais) il y a deux ans et demi:
Before you start arguing about statistics, their meaning, their biases, know this: I agree with being critical – but the point I’m trying to make doesn’t depend on the figures.
A lot of online adult entertainment is watched by a lot of people. That’s a fact. Just check out the most popular sites of your country, and you will probably find a couple of pornographic sites among the top 50. They occurr usually clustered, starting e.g. around position 40 for the US, position 30 for France and Great Britain, position 25 for Germany, and position 20 for Switzerland and Italy at the time of writing.
This diagnosis was not only one of the significant results of my Master Thesis. I also experience every day in my work that many people know very little about computers, the internet etc. Basic knowledge is lacking.
There are many reasons for this lack of knowledge. One of these reasons: there is a lot to learn and there is tons of “learnable” stuff around. Even if you wanted to start learning today, you may not know where to start.
Because: How do you know what you should learn if you don’t even know what you could learn?
The presentation I have given last week for FOCAL to Swiss film industry people has been conceived with exactly this logic in mind, i.e. with respect to the state of knowledge about digital I have been observing within the last years. The very positive feedback I received afterwards by the participants themselves – which is always appreciated – has been encouraging.
Don’t get me wrong: these professionals know their trade. Some of them have decades of experience in the film industry. However, their trade is not what it used to be: digital has been – and will keep! – changing this industry in a profound way. And it is more difficult to take step two if you have never taken step one…
Here are the presentation “slides” [in German only – well, with a lot of English expressions anyway]:
There are still many people who do not seem to be aware of the impact and the potential of internet. People who use it, probably, but who have not adopted it.
You surely know who I’m talking of: the teacher who thinks Facebook is evil… the marketing person who has never even thought about putting an ad on Google or Facebook… the politician who tweets only during election campaign… the people who still don’t know a bcc-field in e-mails exists… Continue reading →