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Communications of the ACM


We Need to Focus on How Our Data Is Used, Not Just How It Is Shared

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Credit: Andrij Borys Associates, Shutterstock

Early visions of the Internet imagined it as a safe haven, a democratic and anonymous space where information could flow freely. A few decades later, it has become a place where huge economic and political power are concentrated in the hands of a few. Financial incentives drive a complex data ecosystem finely tuned to harvest every possible detail about us: our shopping habits, social and romantic relationships, finances, physical and mental health, religious beliefs, political views, and much more. This data is used to curate services and experiences as bait for our attention, which is then sold for a profit.

The dangers of our digital world have become increasingly clear in recent years. The Cambridge Analytica scandal and testimony from Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen showed how social media platforms drive political polarization, promote misinformation, and allow hate speech to fester.4 Researchers have revealed gender discrimination in Facebook's job ads and racial bias in ads served up during Google searches.3,8 A study of Twitter data found Twitter's content algorithm favors right-leaning news sources.2


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