Many individuals have made the claim that big data might lead to more discrimination if algorithms unfairly disadvantage certain groups in their decision-making. For example, an online retailer might offer one price to Asian customers and another price to Latino customers. Most notably, this idea appeared in the White House big data review led by John Podesta, where the final report stated that “An important conclusion of this study is that big data technologies can cause societal harms beyond damages to privacy, such as discrimination against individuals and groups.” This idea was also the subject of a recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop exploring what FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez termed “discrimination by algorithm.” While this type of discrimination is plausible, there are many compelling reasons why it may never come to pass. Moreover, the focus on how big data might be used to harm individuals has overshadowed the bigger opportunity to use data as a new tool in the fight for equality.
Photo credit: Flickr user Rich Renomeron