Favorite Books related to data ethics

I noticed that several people have already shared some books they found helpful related to data ethics, and I thought we could start a thread of book recommendations.

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I’ve been working my way through Future Ethics by Cennydd Bowles and really enjoying it. I like the applied nature of the book - here are some things I’ve done and considerations of how to approach this in an organization

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I just finished listening to Weapons of Math Destructions by Cathy O’Neil. The book defines the concept of a “Weapons of Math Destruction (WMDs)” as mathematical tools that are: opaque, non-accountable, applied at scale and with feedback loops that allow it the creation of its own reality.

  • Opaque: the factors that influence a given output are hard to explain or kept secret.
  • Non-accountable: There is not a direct way to provide, incorporate feedback or contest decisions made by the tool.
  • Applied at scale: That affects millions of people.
  • Feedback loops: The data used to build these tools, is affected by the output of these without an anchor to any subjacent reality,

The book examines multiples real examples in education, finance, judiciary, insurance, lending, recruiting, job scheduling, etc and highlights the elements in each case which makes them a WMDs.

The books, also makes emphasis on how poor people are the most affected by these tools.


Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men: Caroline Ceado Perez

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Here’s another quick one:
Ethics and Data Science co-authored by Mike Loukides (O’Reilly Media, VP of Content, Hillary Mason (Cloudera, former Chief Scientist, bit.ly) DJ Patil (former Chief Data Scientist)

Great article by DJ here. He’s also super nice in-person, Mike was my editor of my O’Reilly book: Creating ARVR (creatingarvr.com) <–shameless plug for Augmented and Virtual Reality


Here’s one written by some experts in differential privacy: The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design by by Michael Kearns and Aaron Roth

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I don’t know of any famous books that I’ve read related to data ethics. I am gladly open to suggestions.

I really enjoyed the book, Automating Inequality. It reads more like an intro to data ethics but gives examples of how decisions we make affect real people.

Recently, I saw Lizzie O’Shea speak in San Francisco on her new book, “Future Histories” and found her to be one of the more original thinkers about ethical frameworks and data.


Interesting - where did Lizzie O’Shea speak? Would have loved to go!

In general though - and I’m not sure if it’s just me - but Verso books (like Future Histories) can be a little bogged down in Marxist theory! Sometimes I wish there were edits of Verso books for people who have some grasp on Marxist theory and an edit that includes all the prereq info woven into the text.

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshanna Zuboff is a great read. It definitely reads like a manifesto (read as: don’t expect all the juicy bits until a couple hundred pages in), but it’s worth it (might be a good book to listen to as it’s very story-like).

Would also recommend Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin - captivating book that will likely change your understanding of what race even is.

The Next Billion Users by Payal Arora is also highly recommended for folks working on projects that impact people in developing nations. It’s an interesting eye-opener with regards to how different cultural values come to the forefront in online interactions. A highlight: case studies from Brazil and India that cover what ‘users’ with different cultural values share online - and why.