The black box society : the secret algorithms that control money and information / Frank Pasquale.

by Pasquale, Frank [author.]Looking glass.

Publisher: Cambridge, England : Harvard University Press, 2015.Description: 311 pages ; 24 cm.ISBN: 0674368274; 9780674368279.Subject(s): Elite (Social sciences)Looking glass | Knowledge, Theory ofLooking glass | Observation (Psychology)Looking glass | Power (Social sciences)Looking glassNote: Includes bibliographical references (pages 221-304) and index.
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Enhanced descriptions from Syndetics:

Every day, corporations are connecting the dots about our personal behavior--silently scrutinizing clues left behind by our work habits and Internet use. The data compiled and portraits created are incredibly detailed, to the point of being invasive. But who connects the dots about what firms are doing with this information? The Black Box Society argues that we all need to be able to do so--and to set limits on how big data affects our lives.

Hidden algorithms can make (or ruin) reputations, decide the destiny of entrepreneurs, or even devastate an entire economy. Shrouded in secrecy and complexity, decisions at major Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms were long assumed to be neutral and technical. But leaks, whistleblowers, and legal disputes have shed new light on automated judgment. Self-serving and reckless behavior is surprisingly common, and easy to hide in code protected by legal and real secrecy. Even after billions of dollars of fines have been levied, underfunded regulators may have only scratched the surface of this troubling behavior.

Frank Pasquale exposes how powerful interests abuse secrecy for profit and explains ways to rein them in. Demanding transparency is only the first step. An intelligible society would assure that key decisions of its most important firms are fair, nondiscriminatory, and open to criticism. Silicon Valley and Wall Street need to accept as much accountability as they impose on others.

Includes bibliographical references (pages 221-304) and index.

Table of contents provided by Syndetics

  • 1 Introduction-The Need to Know (p. 1)
  • 2 Digital Reputation in an Era of Runaway Data (p. 19)
  • 3 The Hidden Logics of Search (p. 59)
  • 4 Finance's Algorithms: The Emperors New Codes (p. 101)
  • 5 Watching (and Improving) the Watchers (p. 140)
  • 6 Toward an Intelligible Society (p. 189)
  • Notes (p. 221)
  • Acknowledgments (p. 305)
  • Index (p. 307)

Reviews provided by Syndetics

Library Journal Review

Densely written and deeply footnoted, this book by Pasquale (law, Univ. of Maryland Francis King Carey Sch. of Law) is disturbing. The premise is that corporate and public unchecked use of computer algorithms to collect and analyze data harms the public. This is a synthesis of noted incidents, rather than the more accessible original reporting of Adam Tanner's What Stays in Vegas and Christian Rudder's Dataclysm. The work is divided into six chapters: following the introduction, chapters describe the misuse of collected data by credit agencies, employers, and government. Later sections concentrate on Google's secret algorithm as an Internet gatekeeper; scandals in finance attributable to risky, hidden mechanisms; and a call for more public regulation. Pasquale calls out Google, Facebook, and the financial industry for unchecked use of data to make profits and broken promises of privacy protection. The solutions, the author suggests, will come at the cost of slower processes. Whether the public will agree is the question. Verdict For sophisticated readers who are familiar with the facts.-Harry Charles, St. Louis (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Pasquale (law, Univ. of Maryland) starts this book with the premise that knowledge is power and the lack of knowledge and transparency creates problematic fissures in society. Compound this premise with the hidden pitfalls of big data and the algorithmic manipulation of personal data, and you have the narrative thrust of this excellent volume about how corporations are connecting the dots about individuals' personal behavior. Throughout his stark portrait of contemporary culture, the author develops a well-documented account of how hidden algorithms can have micro implications (making or ruining personal reputations) as well as macro consequences (affecting individual companies and national economies). Practical examples and illustrations will make those who have signed usage agreements for software and apps without reading them wonder about the consequences of their actions. Pasquale raises an alarm in this clear, concise, and well-researched book. How big data affects people's lives is something everyone should seriously think about. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. --Stuart A. Schulman, CUNY Baruch College