Six myths about ‘big data’, Kate Crawford

[via Rob Kitchin’s Programmable City feed]

In a recent workshop at the UC Berkeley iSchool, Kate Crawford of Microsoft Research (and several other institutions) offered a keynote critically reflecting upon the discursive regimes that have been built in the understandings of ‘big data’. Riffing on Claude Levi-Strauss’ ‘mythologies’ project, Crawford’s talk, ‘The Raw & the Cooked’, outlines six myths about ‘big data’ and unpicks the assumptions upon which these myths rely. In brief, Crawford’s six myths are: ‘Big data are new’, ‘Big data is objective’, ‘Big data don’t discriminate’, ‘Big data makes cities smart’, ‘Big data is anonymous’, ‘You can opt out of big data’.

Crawford does a good job at setting the scene for a range of work that touches on the uses of large data sets that come from a range of sources, that may be repurposed for rather different ends than those intended, about which academics, politicians, civil servants and business people have told, and reinforced, particular kinds of stories such that those data have become very significant. What Crawford helpfully does is step back from particular data-oriented agendas, such as ‘smart cities’ or ‘social network analysis’, to highlight some particular, perhaps pressing, methodological and ethical concerns. This is of particular interest for me in relation to a project I am beginning to undertake with Steve Hinchliffe concerning ideas around ‘contagion’, looking in particular at social media data.

Crawford gives a good namecheck in the section on the fourth myth for Matt Zook too!