Tag Archives: analytics

Big Data Ethics: The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Affair

This is supposedly the big ethics story of the past ten days. There are ethics elements involved, but the main ethics stories are how the facts are being spun to try to make this yet another example of sinister doings by the Trump campaign, and how incredibly incompetent and naive social media users are.

In 2016, the Trump presidential campaign paid about $6 million to a firm called Cambridge Analytica to put together a voter database with profiles to allow targeted messaging. Global Science Research was hired by the firm, and reportedly paid Facebook to post a personality quiz and an app that 270,000 Facebook users ultimately consented to. The app allowed the firm to harvest personal likes, attitudes and preferences from 50 million Americans through access to the consenting users Facebook friends. Originally we were told that Cambridge Analytica had used all of that data to target voters during the 2016 presidential election, but that claim seems increasingly dubious. The Trump campaign ended its relationship with the firm well before the election.

Facebook claims it was lied to, and has now banned the firm, which could be fairly classified as misdirection. Facebook, as it has done before on its own, permitted its platform to be used to gather psychological profiles on its users without full disclosure regarding what the data would be used for.  Now Facebook stock is plunging in the U.S., Facebook advertisers are leaving, some users are leaving too, and Congress wants hearings.

What’s going on here?

  • If, in fact, Facebook was deceived into allowing the quiz, that was unethical. Gathering data through such means is not illegal, however, and the ethics of Big Data gathering and analytics are murky at best. The legal profession, for example, has no clear regulation of it or guidance from bar associations.

Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested, and that could violate laws in Britain and some  states.

  • The tenor of much of the news reporting and punditry, however, has been  pure fear-mongering and hyperbole. That Cambridge Analytica was evil is presumed, I gather, from the fact that Steve Bannon was one of the founders. The New York Times in various articles described the data gathering as an invasion of “private information,” which is an inflammatory and misleading description, and described “misuse” of the information, as if such use isn’t routine in 21st Century commercial marketing. Here’s the Times, for example,

“The researcher hired by Cambridge Analytica, Alexandr Kogan, told Facebook and his app’s users that he was collecting information for academic purposes, not for a political data firm owned by a wealthy conservative. Facebook did nothing to verify how the information was being used.”

Ah…if it’s for a firm owned by a wealthy conservative, that makes the data gathering sinister, I guess.

  • It is unethical not to let people know why their preferences are being requested, and how they might be used, except that a strong argument could be raised that anyone who didn’t know they were creating a Big Data-base for Facebook is too naive to be allowed on the web without a leash.  Facebook isn’t free: providing data is one of the ways users pay for it. There has certainly been plenty of publicity about this, and it’s not just Facebook. Google, Amazon, Twitter: this is what these companies do.

If it were possible to feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg (it isn’t) one could conclude that the massive backlash he is receiving is contrived and unfair.

  • The episode is also being called a “breach,” as if there was hacking, or information was stolen.

There was no “breach.” Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Facebook, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Rights, Social Media, The Internet, U.S. Society

The Other Alleged Collusion Scandal: Baseball’s Unemployed Free Agents

Major management-labor troubles are brewing below the surface in Major League Baseball. With the 2018 Spring Training camps opening in a few days, over a hundred free agents remain unsigned, including many of the best players on the market. The Players Association is preparing to open a special training camp just for all the unsigned players, and shouting foul. They are alleging illegal collusion among the team owners to keep salaries down.

A lack of signings on this scale has never happened before, and agents and their player clients are increasingly hinting that dark forces are afoot. Fanning the flames are sportswriters and commentators, whose left-wing sympathies are only slightly less dominant than in the rest of the journalism field. The content on MLB’s own radio station on satellite radio has become an almost unbroken rant about how unfair it is that the players aren’t getting “what they have worked so hard for.” The theory appears to be that employees decide how much they are worth, and their self-serving assessments shouldn’t be challenged.

It is not that many of the free agents haven’t offers for their services on the table. It’s not that they don’t have multiple year contracts that will pay them millions of dollars on the table. They do, and thus  many of the unsigned players can substantially fix the bitter impasse by saying “yes.” Oddly, they are finding that public opinion is not substantially in their corner as they choose to bitch instead.

The poster boy for this controversy is, as luck would have it, a player who is sought by my very own Boston Red Sox. He is J.D. Martinez, a slugging outfielder just entering his thirties who had the best year of his life in 2017. Naturally, he wants a large, multi-year contract that will leave him set for life; this is his big and probably only shot. He also has the most aggressive, successful and, in my view, unethical of sports agents,  Scott Boras, who began the free agent auction season by announcing that J.D. would be seeking a contract worth 250 million dollars or more.

The problem is that not a lot of teams can afford such a contract, and those that can are, finally, wising up. Multiple year contracts have a way of blowing up in a team’s face. Analytics are now widely used to allow teams to make intelligent projections regarding just how much a player will add in value and wins. This year, most of the richest clubs are not hurting for home run hitters or outfielders, which leaves the Red Sox, who despite winning their division last year for the second year in a row didn’t hit as many homers in doing so as the spoiled Boston fans are used to, as the most obvious landing place for Martinez. Sure enough,  the team offered Martinez a five year deal reputed to be worth 125 million bucks. No other team has offered anything close, and it is unlikely that any team will. Boras and J.D. still say it’s not enough. They want a sixth year, and more cash. The Red Sox see no reason to bid against themselves, and have said, in essence., ‘There’s our offer. Take it or leave it.’  Somehow the baseball writers and the player see Boston as the villain in all this.

As George Will likes to say, “Well.” Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Ethics Dunces, Journalism & Media, Sports, Workplace