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How to Hold Social Media Accountable for Undermining Democracy

Following the recent riots in Washington D.C., DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat critiques the ways in which social media companies are making decisions about which content to amplify, elevate, and suggest to other users. "The storming of the U.S. Capitol Building on Wednesday by a mob of pro-Trump insurrectionists was shocking, but it was not surprising to anyone who has followed the growing prominence of conspiracy theorists, hate groups, and purveyors of disinformation online. While the blame for President Trump’s incitement to insurrection lies squarely with him, the biggest social media companies — most prominently my former employer, Facebook — are absolutely complicit."

DLI Dispatch | Nov-Dec 2020 Issue

"As a surreal 2020 draws to a close, I am inspired by the DLI community. Even as the pandemic immersed us in an unavoidable experiment in digital living, we continued to engage with urgent ethical challenges: unprecedented participation in the DLI seminar, research meetings, leading edge scholarship, dedicated learning, and collaboration with colleagues around the world. Thanks to a steadfast commitment from Cornell Tech and the generosity of supporters, DLI has flourished with amazing people and new programs, some showcased in this issue of DLI Dispatch." - Helen Nissenbaum, DLI Director

Democratic Data: A Relational Theory For Data Governance

In her latest paper, DLI's Postodoc Fellow Salomé Viljoen proposes a legal theory of data as social relations: "Different theories advance different legal interests in information, resulting in various individualist claims and remedies. Some seek to reassert individual control for data subjects over the terms of their datafication, while others aim to maximize data subject financial gain. But these proposals share a common conceptual flaw: they miss the central importance of population-level relations among individuals for how data collection produces both social value and social harm."

Private-Interest Cybersecurity Governance: The Case of Cyber Insurers

Don't miss Postdoctoral Fellow Ido Sivan-Sevilla's latest article for DLI's Critical Reflections: "Scholars of cybersecurity governance usually study government regulations or self-regulatory arrangements when assessing how ICTs are protected from unauthorized access. Less attention is devoted to the increasingly important role of private governance actors in this space (e.g. insurance companies, certification bodies). These actors are acting as ‘rule-intermediaries’ between governments/corporations [rule-makers] and those who collect, process, and use our data [rule-takers]. In the case of cyber insurers, their rule intermediation includes taking over ‘rule-making capacities’ over the assessment, prevention, and mitigation of data breaches. This is happening with no public oversight, and thus requires a close examination for tracing trends and biases in how insurers decide to protect our data."

MacArthur Foundation Funds AI, Policy, and Practice Project

Congratulations to DLI's Karen Levy and Helen Nissenbaum on the news that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will continue to support the AI, Policy and Practice Project: "Housed within the College of Computing and Information Science at Cornell University, we approach AI as a fundamentally socio-technical phenomenon, one that must be understood with both normative depth and technical precision. We combine technical, sociological, philosophical and legal expertise and methods, in order to more fully understand and more wisely develop the future path and impact of AI. We aim to contribute to — and engage with — researchers, policymakers, and practitioners."

DLI Postdoctoral Fellowships

The Digital Life Initiative (DLI) is excited to invite applications for its 2021 postdoctoral research fellowship supporting research in ethics, politics, and quality of life in digital societies, focusing on issues such as algorithmic decision systems, unfair discrimination, privacy, AI and ethics, and platform governance. For this unique opportunity to conduct research alongside ethicists, computer scientists, legal and policy researchers, data scientists, media studies researchers and social scientists, we welcome applicants from across the disciplinary spectrum.

When Cybersecurity Meets the Regulatory State: Case-Study Analysis of the Israeli Cybersecurity Regulatory Regime

DLI Postdoctoral Fellow Ido Sivan-Sevilla has co-authored a compelling chapter with Shani Sharvit: "The literature on risk and regulatory governance has barely heeded the institutionalization of cybersecurity regulatory practices by national policy regimes. As the role of the state in cybersecurity governance is gradually expanding, we still lack an empirical and theoretical understanding of how the regulatory state copes with the cybersecurity governance challenge. Therefore, we ask how the role of the state has expanded in leading cybersecurity governance efforts? What characteristics of cybersecurity governance challenge the regulatory state? And how the Israeli cybersecurity regulatory regime has been addressing those challenges? We trace the literature on the new roles of the state in cybersecurity governance and build an analytical framework based on the challenging characteristics of cybersecurity governance."

Data as Property?

DLI Postdoctoral Fellow Salome Viljoen has published an article for Phenomenal World about moving past individual propertarian and dignitarian claims to data, and towards democratic institutional forms of data governance. "Since the proliferation of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, critics of widely used internet communications services have warned of the misuse of personal data. Alongside familiar concerns regarding user privacy and state surveillance, a now-decades-long thread connects a group of theorists who view data—and in particular data about people—as central to what they have termed informational capitalism.1 Critics locate in datafication—the transformation of information into commodity—a particular economic process of value creation that demarcates informational capitalism from its predecessors."

DLI Technology Law and Policy Fellowship

Cornell Tech’s Digital Life Initiative is excited to announce that it is now recruiting for a newly created Fellowship in Technology Law and Policy. The Tech Law Fellow will augment DLI’s research and educational mission, examining digital life through the lens of ethics, politics, and quality of life. With guidance from DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum and Professor James Grimmelmann, the Tech Law Fellow will actively develop and pursue timely legal and policy responses to impending controversies and key decisions arising from the development and deployment of digital technologies.

DLI Receives Game-changing Gift From Peggy Koenig

The Digital Life Initiative is thrilled to announce a $2 million dollar gift from Peggy Koenig. This incredible gift will allow us to advance several core goals. A new Fellowship in Technology Law & Policy has been launched to bridge DLI's exceptional research on the societal impact of digital technologies with law and policy-making at city, state, and national levels. As with everything we do, our work in law, policy, and public interest advocacy will be steered by a steadfast commitment to ethics, social justice, and quality of life in digital societies.

DLI Industry Affiliates Program

The Digital Life Initiative’s scholarship and influence thrives from strong engagement with industry partners, and we are, therefore, excited to launch a new Industry Affiliates Program. Leaders from industry, academia, nonprofit and government look to DLI for guidance on issues ranging from privacy and cybersecurity to AI ethics. We invite organizations from any field to join us as DLI Affiliates, supporting our mission to shape the future of digital societies by caring about its deep impacts on ethical and political values and the quality of life. Affiliation with DLI signals: (i) Commitment to ethics, (ii) Connection with leading experts, and (iii) Centrality of research. For more information, contact Laura Batten (laura.batten@cornell.edu).

Dear Facebook, This is How You're Breaking Democracy

In her newly released Ted Talk, DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat explores how social media companies like Facebook incentivize inflammatory content, contributing to a culture of political polarization and mistrust. "As long as [social media] algorithms' goals are to keep us engaged, they will feed us the poison that plays to our worst instincts and human weaknesses"

AI and Discrimination

Chine Labbé, host and producer of DLI’s Good Code podcast, was interviewed by the Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company about artificial intelligence and the potential risks for widespread discrimination. Although the introduction is in Swedish, Chine’s discussion points throughout are captured in English.

Additional Steps Platforms Can Take to Protect the Vote

Yaël Eisenstat, DLI Visiting Fellow, and Daniel Kreiss, Principal Researcher, UNC Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life have produced a collaborative position paper that asserts how social media platforms can, and should, go further to protect the 2020 US presidential election. "On July 30th, a small working group of experts on misinformation, platforms, and voting met to analyze platform policies and enforcement of electoral misinformation. The goal was to provide realistic and effective recommendations for additional steps the platforms can take now to combat misinformation about voting."

How The New York Times Thinks About Your Privacy

In Robin Berjon's recent article How The New York Times Thinks About Your Privacy, he articulates how the Newspaper is fostering improved standards, and references the impact of DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum's theory of privacy as contextual integrity.

Facebook is Ripe For Manipulation and Viral Misinformation

DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat is interviewed by The Guardian's Ian Tucker on concerns surrounding Facebook's role in the forthcoming US election. "[...] I find Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction to different politicians to be very telling. I don’t want to imply that he is purposely trying to get Donald Trump re-elected. But it is in his best interests to have this administration stay in power rather than to have a new administration that will regulate or break up his company. The fact that one individual has the power to tip the scales is a danger."

What is it about location?

The Berkley Technology Law Journal has published illuminating research conducted by DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum and Kirsten Martin’s on the perceptions surrounding locational data: “This Article reports on a set of empirical studies that reveal how people think about location data, how these conceptions relate to expectations of privacy, and consequently, what this might mean for law, regulation, and technological design.”

Boycotting Facebook

Once again, DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat has appeared on the national news to relay her views on the recent Facebook protests. A number of big brands publicly joined a growing Facebook ad boycott at the urging of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations.

How to Combat Online Voter Suppression

DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat has released a compelling article via TechStream about how to combat online voter suppression: "Amid a 2018 civil-rights audit of the company, Facebook came under pressure to consider a novel set of questions about its role in politics: What does voter suppression look like on social media? And, in the absence of U.S. legislation on the subject, should the company set the rules to ensure that voter suppression does not occur, in any form and at any level, in the digital world?"

Study: Online trackers follow health site visitors

The Cornell Chronicle has released an article about the study completed by DLI's Ido Sivan-Sevilla and Helen Nissenbaum, along with Cornell Tech master's students Wenyi Chu and Xiaoyu Liang, to develop a contextual understanding of online tracking. "The study examined how the order in which users visit 15 major health, education and news sites affects the way third-party trackers follow them around the internet. Although the health sites may have fewer trackers than other types of sites, the researchers found, those trackers are more persistent in following page visitors."

Is Facebook like a chemical factory polluter?

DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat joined Roger McNamee on CNN Business to assess the implications of the U.S. President’s recent executive order, which aims at limiting the broad legal protections enjoyed by social media companies. As the former Global Head of Elections Integrity Operations at Facebook, Eisenstat also asserted that social media platforms should be held accountable for the amplification and curation of harmful information.

DLI Presents at PrivacyCon 2020

DLI is excited to be showcasing two of its latest research collaborations at the Federal Trade Commission's fifth annual PrivacyCon on July 21, 2020. Postdoctoral Fellow Ido Sivan-Sevilla teamed-up with Cornell Tech Masters students, Wenyi Chu and Xiaoyu Liang, to develop a contextual understanding of online tracking. Using Helen Nissenbaum’s theory of contextual integrity, they relied on open source tools to measure how third-parties are identifying users in popular websites that are associated with news, health, and education domains (Read submitted article here >). In the second collaboration, Visiting Fellow Yan Schwartznaider worked with Madelyn Sanfilippo, Irwin Reyes, Helen Nissenbaum, and Serge Egelman to explore the privacy practices of popular disaster apps, highlighting location information flows. The empirical study compares content analysis of privacy policies and government agency policies, also structured around the contextual integrity framework, with static and dynamic app analysis documenting the personal data sent by 15 apps.

Section 230 Revisited: Web Freedom vs Accountability

DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat discusses the highlights of her virtual SXSW panel, where she explores the future of tech responsibility in relation to Section 230. "Who bears responsibility for the real-world consequences of technology? This question has been unduly complicated for decades by the 1996 legislation that provides immunity from liability to platforms that host third-party content. According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, written before platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter existed: 'No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.'"

Privacy Versus Health Is a False Trade-Off

DLI Postdoctoral Fellows Jake Goldenfein and Salomé Viljoen, along with Ben Green, have published an illuminating article in Jacobin, discussing how we can achieve the public health benefits of data without accepting abusive and illicit surveillance. "As the world scrambles to stop the coronavirus pandemic, governments and technology companies have begun exploring new partnerships to track the spread of COVID-19 and target preventative interventions. Emerging reports about these collaborations have sparked a debate: do you want privacy or public health?"

Doctoral Fellowships (2019)

The Digital Life Initiative is very excited to invite PhD students to join its dynamic community of technologists, humanists, social scientists and legal scholars as DLI Doctoral Fellows for the 2020-21 academic year.

Section 230 Revisited: Web Freedom vs Accountability

Don't miss DLI Visiting Researcher Yaël Eistenstat discuss the implications of COVID-19 on our digital freedom during her South By Southwest virtual panel. She is joined by Stephen Rosenbaum (Managing Director, NYC Media Lab), David Kaye, (Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, United Nations) and Ellen L. Weintraub (Commissioner, Federal Election Commission).

The Promise and Pitfalls of the California Consumer Privacy Act

In her latest Critical Reflections post, DLI Postdoctoral Fellow Salome Viljoen has provided a compelling overview of California’s Consumer Privacy Act (the CCPA), as well as thoughts on what it does (and does not) achieve for consumer privacy.

Pandemic Pivot: DLI Seminar goes Virtual

Despite these profoundly challenging times, the DLI Seminar will continue to stream every Thursday at 12.30pm throughout the Spring 2020 semester. We ask that you log into Zoom to access the live link, and kindly keep your microphone muted.

The Controversy of Facial Recognition

Having kickstarted the Digital Life Seminar with Kashmir Hill's New York Times hard-hitting expose on Clearview AI, DLI postdoctoral fellow Jake Goldenfein was interviewed by CNN Business on the benefits and harms of facial recognition technology.

Autonomous Vehicles Symposium

DLI will host a single day autonomous vehicles workshop on Friday 13 March 2020, bringing together experts from engineering, policy, and industry to discuss the social implications of autonomous transport from different perspectives. As public perceptions of autonomous vehicles waver, rigorous ethical and political analysis of the future of transport has never been more important.

The Impact of Corporate Funding on Information Law and Policy Research

DLI's Postdoctoral Fellow Jake Goldenfein has co-authored Private Companies and Scholarly Infrastructure: The Question of Google Scholar with Sebastian Benthall, Daniel Griffin and Eran Toch, and will be presenting the paper at the University of Amsterdam's symposium, "MoneyTalks? The impact of corporate funding on information law and policy research". The paper takes a broader view on industry funding in academic research. Rather than looking at direct contributions, the paper investigates the effects of industry infrastructure in academic research. That includes evaluating what is new or different about Google Scholar from other search and bibliometric services; whether and how that infrastructure might have affected academic work; how we might conceptualize and evaluate the accountability of Google scholar, and what could make it more accountable to the scholarly community.

DLI Doctoral Fellows names 2020 Facebook Fellows

Digital Life Initiative fellows Diana Freed (2019-2020) and Nirvan Tyagi (2018-2019) were among the 36 emerging scholars who received 2020 Facebook Fellowships. This prestigious fellowship provides students with support for their research projects, as well as opportunities to engage with Facebook researchers. Diana and Nirvan, as well as three other Cornellians, were selected from a pool of 1800 applicants. We are very proud of their accomplishments!

Monitoring Laws: Profiling and Identity in the World State

DLI is excited to announce that Postdoctoral Fellow Jake Goldenfein has published his book Monitoring Laws: Profiling and Identity in the World State with Cambridge University Press. Traces the history of government profiling, the effects of contemporary technologies on surveillance practices, and how the law protects individuals by protecting 'identity'. Goldenfein's analysis of emerging legal protections for contemporary technological environments makes this ideal for anyone interested in how computation is changing society and governance

Facebook's Manipulative Political Advertising

DLI Visiting Fellow Yaël Eisenstat has released a compelling op-ed for the Washington Post, where she discusses her role as former elections integrity head at Facebook, and the tensions surrounding political advertising. "I had spent much of my career working to strengthen and defend democracy — including freedom of speech — as an intelligence officer, diplomat and White House adviser. Now I had the opportunity to help a company that I viewed as playing a major role in one of the biggest threats to our democracy possibly correct course."

"Opting Out" is a Myth

"Opting out" is a myth! Finn Brunton and DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum’s book Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest continues to garner interest from multiple media channels. "If the apparatus of total surveillance that we have described here were deliberate, centralized, and explicit, a Big Brother machine toggling between cameras, it would demand revolt, and we could conceive of a life outside the totalitarian microscope. But if we are nearly as observed and documented as any person in history, our situation is a prison that, although it has no walls, bars, or wardens, is difficult to escape."

The Fantasy of Opting Out

Don't miss the latest article adapted from Finn Brunton and DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum’s book Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest via The MIT Press Reader. "Consider a day in the life of a fairly ordinary person in a large city in a stable, democratically governed country. She is not in prison or institutionalized, nor is she a dissident or an enemy of the state, yet she lives in a condition of permanent and total surveillance unprecedented in its precision and intimacy."

Regulation in Cyberspace

DLI Postdoctoral Fellow Ido Sivan-Sevilla and his co-author Gabi Siboni have just published an English version of their comparative study on Regulation in Cyberspace through the Institute for National Security Studies (INNS). "Regulation in cyberspace is an emerging challenge. It is a complex and dynamic domain that is largely driven by the business-civilian sector and has the potential to cause significant damage to national security. This essay surveys the unique characteristics of cyberspace and the various strategies adopted in other countries in order to manage cyber risk. It proposes a multilayered regulatory model together with concrete recommendations for the regulation of the business-civilian sector in cyberspace."

Manipulation, Dark Patterns, and Evil Nudges

DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum’s co-authored paper with Daniel Susser and Beate Roessler, entitled Online Manipulation: Hidden Influences in a Digital World, has been identified by Paul Ohm as one of the finest works of recent scholarship relating to Technology Law: "This article might provide the conceptual clarity required for the broad and sweeping kind of new law we need to fix much of what ails us."

Winners of Facebook Research Awards

​Congratulations to DLI Visiting Researcher Savita Bailur and DLI Affiliated Faculty Nicola Dell for winning at Facebook's Content Policy Research on Social Media Platforms awards. In response to Facebook's focus on content policies around hate speech and preventing offline harm, Dell and Bailur submitted a dynamic project proposal that examines the techniques and tools used by intimate partner abusers online.

VACCINE: Using Contextual Integrity For
Data Leakage Detection

DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum, along with collaborators from New York University and Princeton University, has released a new paper, entitled VACCINE: Using Contextual Integrity for Data Leakage Detection. The VACCINE system uses the CI framework to define admissible information flow and enforce privacy policies, with the goal of improving data leakage prevention. The paper will also be presented at the upcoming Web Conference 2019 in San Francisco, CA.

Through the Handoff Lens: Are Autonomous Vehicles No-Win for Users

Exciting news from the We Robot conference in Miami: Jake Goldenfein (DLI), Helen Nissenbaum (DLI) and Deirdre Mulligan (UC Berkeley) have just won the Best Senior Paper Award for Through the Handoff Lens: Are Autonomous Vehicles No-Win for Driver-Passengers. "The goal has been to demonstrate that the broader lens offered by handoff affords unique and critical insights into the operation of these systems, in terms of new components and modes of acting, that have dramatic consequences for both human and societal values."

Contextual Integrity Symposium (2019)

We are pleased to announce the 2nd annual Symposium on Applications of Contextual Integrity, taking place August 19-20, 2019, on the UC Berkeley campus. The aim of the symposium is to foster interaction among diverse communities of research and practice using contextual integrity to reason about privacy, and to design and evaluate, craft regulation, and generate formal logics for privacy.

A ‘Creepy’ Assignment: Pay Attention to What Strangers Reveal in Public

DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum is referenced in Kate Klonick's recent New York Times article, entitled A 'Creepy' Assignment: Pay Attention to What Strangers Reveal in Public.

DLI & Labbé launch Podcast

In collaboration with journalist Chine Labbé, the Digital Life Initiative is delighted to announce the launch of Good Code – a dynamic podcast exploring the ethics, policy and politics of contemporary socio-technical systems. For more information on our upcoming episodes and how to subscribe

Facebook and Google Are the New Data Brokers

Chris Hoofnagle contributes to DLI's Critical Reflections section with an illuminating assessment about the data brokering power of Facebook and Google.

The Seductive Diversion of ‘Solving’ Bias in Artificial Intelligence

DLI Alumna Julia Powles and DLI Director Helen Nissenbaum have co-authored a compelling article about The Seductive Diversion of ‘Solving’ Bias in Artificial Intelligence for Medium. Completing the DLI trio, Gary Zamchick has also produced some dynamic visual accompaniments.

AI and Speed

Microsoft's TAP forum uploads an extensive analysis of the Speed Conference, hosted by DLI in September 2018.

Good Vibrations: Can a Digital Nudge Reduce Digital Overload?

DLI Doctoral Fellow Fabian Okeke (along with Michael Sobolev, Nicola Dell and Deborah Estrin) publish the article Good Vibrations: Can a Digital Nudge Reduce Digital Overload? for the conference proceedings of MobileHCI 2018.

DLI Dispatch | Newsletter

We are very excited to welcome you to the DLI Dispatch, a monthly newsletter that keep’s you updated on the latest research developments, projects, and activities taking place within our Cornell Tech community! Click below to explore the latest issue:

September Issue | Fall 2020 

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October Issue | Fall 2020 

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November + December Issue | Fall 2020 

Read here >

 

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