Analytics

Big Data, Predictive Algorithms and the Virtues of Transparency (Part One)

20th Jan `14, 07:00 AM in Analytics

Transparency is a much-touted virtue of the internet age. Slogans such as the “democratisation of information” and “information…

BDMS
Guest Contributor
 

Transparency is a much-touted virtue of the internet age. Slogans such as the “democratisation of information” and “information wants to be free” trip lightly off the tongue of many commentators; classic quotes, like Brandeis’s “sunlight is the best disinfectant” are trotted out with predictable regularity. But why exactly is transparency virtuous? Should we aim for transparency in all endeavours? Over the next two posts, I look at four possible answers to that question.

The immediate context for this is the trend toward “big data” projects, and specifically the trend toward the use predictive algorithms by governmental agencies and corporations. Recent years have seen such institutions mine large swathes of personal data in an attempt to predict the future behaviour of citizens and customers. For example, in the U.S. (and elsewhere) the revenue service (IRS) uses data-mining algorithms to pool individuals for potential audits. These algorithms work on the basis that certain traits and behaviours make it more likely that an individual is understating income on a tax return.

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