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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose well-being deserves to be cultivated and protected, and now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. We explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.

Dec 16, 2021

Technology in the Social Contract

Increasingly, the design of new technology determines the way our society functions and the way we live. Simple design flaws like the lack of a mute button on Sony Camcorders ended up changing our laws on surveillance. We don’t elect the people that build our global technology landscape. In addition, once the technology is successful in the marketplace, its design is replicated without question.

More Equitable Algorithms

Algorithms have the power to harm us beyond individual privacy issues, in ways we don’t always see, such as their ability to discriminate based on race and even violate the integrity of an election. However, we’re not powerless in shaping how that landscape affects us. It’s important to prioritize our interests as citizens as opposed to the business interests of an online platform.

Section 230

Section 230 is an old law that allows online platforms immunity from the impact of third-party content, meaning sites like Facebook are not liable for the posts created by anyone that uses it. It’s a blanket protection that recognizes the platforms as neutral. However, these online platforms are not neutral because they make decisions regarding what ads are shown or which posts are promoted. Essentially, Section 230 creates protections for online services that do, in fact, influence the public.

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Latanya Sweeney is the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government and Technology at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has 3 patents, more than 100 academic publications, pioneered the field known as data privacy, launched the emerging area known as algorithmic fairness, and her work is explicitly cited in two U.S. regulations, including the U.S. federal medical privacy regulation (known as HIPAA).

Dr. Sweeney is a recipient of the prestigious Louis D. Brandeis Privacy Award, the American Psychiatric Association's Privacy Advocacy Award, an elected fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, and has testified before government bodies worldwide. She earned her PhD in computer science from MIT in 2001, being the first black woman to do so, and her undergraduate degree in computer science from Harvard University. Dr. Sweeney creates and uses technology to assess and solve societal, political and governance problems, and teaches others how to do the same.

You can follow Dr Sweeney on Twitter at @LatanyaSweeney