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Über dieses Buch

This book presents a theory of information justice that subsumes the question of control and relates it to other issues that influence just social outcomes. ​Data does not exist by nature. Bureaucratic societies must provide standardized inputs for governing algorithms, a problem that can be understood as one of legibility. This requires, though, converting what we know about social objects and actions into data, narrowing the many possible representations of the objects to a definitive one using a series of translations. Information thus exists within a nexus of problems, data, models, and actions that the social actors constructing the data bring to it. This opens information to analysis from social and moral perspectives, while the scientistic view leaves us blind to the gains from such analysis—especially to the ways that embedded values and assumptions promote injustice. Toward Information Justice answers a key question for the 21st Century: how can an information-driven society be just? Many of those concerned with the ethics of data focus on control over data, and argue that if data is only controlled by the right people then just outcomes will emerge. There are serious problems with this control metaparadigm, however, especially related to the initial creation of data and prerequisites for its use. This text is suitable for academics in the fields of information ethics, political theory, philosophy of technology, and science and technology studies, as well as policy professionals who rely on data to reach increasingly problematic conclusions about courses of action.​



Chapter 1. Introduction

This chapter situates questions of information within a broader critical-constructive theory of technology. I first define information justice as the fundamental ethical judgment of social arrangements for the distribution of information and its effects on self-determination and human development, a judgment that must be understood in both distributive and structural terms. Studying information from the perspective of justice is, however, complicated by the widely held but ultimately unsupportable claim that technology is morally neutral. Instead, I suggest a constrictive view of technologies in which values play a central role in their development, which raises the possibility of critically examining technologies in relation to alternatives that could have emerged. This critical-constructive view of technologies guides the rest of the book, serving as a foundation for theorizing the challenges that my work as an institutional researcher has presented. I conclude by examining the difficulties—but also the opportunities—of writing political theory from one’s own experience.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson

Chapter 2. Open Data, Big Data, and Just Data

This chapter examines two cases in which data presents questions of justice. Many argue as a philosophical principle that data sources should be available as widely as possible, the principle at the heart of the open data movement. But as I argue in that chapter, open data can just as easily lead to injustice: Like programming, “Injustice in, injustice out” ought to be a principle of data. Social privilege can color the data that is opened and create serious inequalities in who can access and use ostensibly open data. Open data can also establish standards that exclude knowledge that is not part of the data system. In the second case, I consider what big data means for higher education. After discussing some recent examples, I identify two types of ethical challenges in the increasingly common use of predictive analytics at universities: challenges related to the direct consequences of the systems and those rooted in the ideology of scientism that inspire them. Both the open data and big data cases prove quite problematic if the aim is just data.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson

Chapter 3. The Construction of Data

In this chapter, I show that data is not an objective representation of reality but rather a constructed translation of observations into legible elements designed to support governance (be it by the state or by private actors). Both technical and social structures influence this translation; the technical aspects of database architecture are insufficient by themselves to define this translation regime. Such regimes can contain three characteristic translations: normalizing translations that separate the normal from the deviant, atomizing translations that separate complexity into individual elements, and unifying translations that group diverse characteristics into categories. At the same time, these data systems translate their subjects into “inforgs,” representations that consist of bundled information rather than actually existing subjects. These acts of translation, I conclude, are significant exercises in political power.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson

Chapter 4. The Political Life of Metrics

This chapter extends the analysis of the previous chapter to the role of metrics in political practice, using the U.S. standard graduation rate metric as a case. I argue that information is best understood as a process of communication in which observation is encoded into data through the translation regime and then decoded into metrics which are then institutionalized in political processes. In both processes, political factors are prominent, making metrics a political outcome at the least. I go further, however, showing that metrics play important distributive roles in politics, allocating material and moral goods as well as the conditions of political power. Metrics also exercise political control directly, working much like administrative procedures to select favored outcomes without direct legislative intervention and building the capacity of the state to exercise control over policy areas.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson

Chapter 5. Distributive Information Justice (And Its Limits)

In this chapter, I seek to go beyond contemporary theories of information privacy by subjective the standard information flow models to analysis from the perspective of justice. I examine two perspectives. At the least, one can see privacy as connected to justice instrumentally, that is, privacy is valuable not as a requirement of justice directly but because it is a useful means of justice. This is, I argue, hardly adequate as an entire theory of information justice but it is too easily given short shrift in discussions of privacy (especially by the wealthiest Silicon Valley titans who can protect their interests more directly). A more robust approach looks to theories of distributive justice. Theories of distribution that focus on the distributive process can address two significant weaknesses in information flow models of privacy, weak conceptions of informed consent and the inability to address the original acquisition of information. Pattern theories of distributive justice shift the focus from distributing information to distributing privacy rights, and provide significant insight into what it means to have rights to be left alone or forgotten. Each of these theories makes useful contributions to our understanding or privacy. But they are not wholly adequate to the task; for this, one needs to understand justice structurally as well as distributively.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson

Chapter 6. Structural Information Justice

This chapter engages information from the perspective of structural justice using a case study of learning analytics in higher education, drawing heavily on the “Drown the Bunnies” case at Mount St. Mary’s University in 2016. This case suggests the outlines of an increasingly common approach to promoting student “success” in higher education in which early academic and non-cognitive data, often from students at other universities, are used to build a student success prediction algorithm that uses a triage approach to intervention, targeting middling students while writing off those in most need of help as inefficient uses of resources. Most common ethics approaches—privacy, individualism, autonomy, and discrimination—capture at best only part of the issues in play here. Instead, I show that a full analysis of the “Drown the Bunnies” model requires understanding the ways that social structures perpetuate oppression and domination. Attention to more just organizational, politico-economic, and intellectual structures would greatly attenuate the likelihood of cases such as the Mount St. Mary’s University case, adding an important dimension to information justice. I conclude by contrasting the “Drown the Bunnies” model with an implementation of learning analytics at UVU, which did much better in part because of structural preconditions that support justice.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson

Chapter 7. Toward a Praxis of Information Justice

This chapter summarizes the arguments of this book, situating them amidst the booming literature on information ethics that has emerge over the (too) long process of writing. Unfortunately, nothing like a full theory of information justice has emerged from this, but we can now see important considerations for how we might think about information within what we already know about justice. That presents several possibilities for theoretically-informed action and action-oriented theory. I also suggest a range of possible principles, policies, practices, and technologies that are worthy of a deeper look that can engage data scientists, citizens, and governments. Ultimately, however, information justice (like political justice generally) is not likely to be something that can be established solely by easily executable principles. It will necessarily involve an information justice movement.
Jeffrey Alan Johnson
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