Big Data's Threat to Liberty

Big Data's Threat to Liberty

Surveillance, Nudging, and the Curation of Information

1st Edition - August 4, 2021

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  • Author: Henrik Saetra
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128238073
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128238066

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Big Data permeates all aspects of modern life, and while there is no shortage of potential benefits resulting from this, author Henrik Skaug Sætra argues that we must also understand the threats Big Data poses to liberty. The issues discussed in Big Data’s Threat to Liberty: Surveillance, Nudging, and the Curation of Information are related to how we are constantly under surveillance. Data is gathered from our homes, our cars, our smartphones, various devices around the house, and public sources such as facial recognition enabled camera surveillance and various websites and social networks. Furthermore, the information gathered is used to influence our actions. Detailed personality profiles are utilized in order to make us purchase products and services, or pay our taxes, through tailor-made nudges aimed at irrational and subconscious mechanisms, and delivered with a level of precision only possible with Big Data-driven algorithmic curation of data. Finally, the information we receive through various media is curated by algorithms, and even people are curated in order to satisfy our desires. By providing us with what the algorithm believes we want, we are spared from the exposure of unpleasant information, and even unpleasant people. The ideological landscapes we traverse are thus characterized by conformity, and a concomitant tyranny of popular opinion becomes ever more coercive as this occurs.The question is: How does being constantly watched, manipulated, and having our world-views shaped as just described affect our freedom? In this book it is argued that Big Data’s threat to individual liberty is routinely misunderstood and underappreciated due to (a) vagueness resulting from the concept of liberty being used without it being defined, or (b) the use of definitions based on flawed understandings of what liberty is. In this new and unique contribution to the ethics of Big Data and artificial intelligence, both these challenges are thoroughly addressed.

Key Features

  • Explanation of key Big Data–related technologies and how they affect modern society, including explanation of surveillance technologies and nudging algorithms, and how Big Data, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence algorithms are used to tailor and mold opinion
  • Conceptualization of the term liberty, making the concept tangible, as a clear understanding of various forms of liberty enables a proper debate about the effects of technology on liberty, and a debate about what sort of liberty we value
  • A thorough technical explanation of how Big Data influences individuals by way of surveillance that allows for detailed personality profiles, nudging, and the algorithmic curation of information


Computer scientists and researchers in applied informatics, Artificial Intelligence, data science, and information technology. Students and researchers in social sciences and humanities, as well as students and researchers in law, information, and communication studies

Table of Contents

  • 1 Introduction
    2 Technologies and society
    3 Liberty under surveillance
    4 Big Data nudging and liberty
    5 The algorithmic tyranny of perceived opinion
    6 The three threats in concert
    7 Liberty in the era of Big Data
    8 Conclusion

Product details

  • No. of pages: 154
  • Language: English
  • Copyright: © Academic Press 2021
  • Published: August 4, 2021
  • Imprint: Academic Press
  • eBook ISBN: 9780128238073
  • Paperback ISBN: 9780128238066

About the Author

Henrik Saetra

Henrik Skaug Sætra is an Associate Professor in Political Science at Østfold University College. His research interests are centered on the effects of technology on individuals and society. He is also interested in Thomas Hobbes and the classical social contract tradition, environmental ethics, and game theory.

Affiliations and Expertise

Associate Professor, Political Science, Ostfold University College, Norway

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