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The cost of data: making sense in digital society

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From steps, to clicks, to heartbeats, we have long been quantified. New and emerging kinds of data now promise to help people live better lives, communities to connect more authentically, and governments solve big social problems.

The challenge is that these data—especially social media and other data of our traces of online actions—are rarely transparent to us. There are enormous power imbalances reflected in who can collect and analyse such data, and rarely are they accountable to society.

In this inaugural annual lecture for the 20th anniversary of Cambridge’s Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, Professor Gina Neff raises alarms about the costs of such data to societies, democracies, and the environment. Drawing on years of sociological research on how people make sense of data at work and in their lives, she shows how and when data come to matter entail social, cultural and political decisions. Who counts—and what counts—in our digital society are politically charged and yet urgent questions for our collective future.

Supported by the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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