Data in Everyday Life – Hello and Welcome

Hello and welcome to this blog! Every month we’ll be exploring data in everyday life. I know that’s exactly what I said in the title, but introductions are tough, so bear with me. You may be wondering, what is data in everyday life and what do we need to explore? Well, we live in a data driven world where we consume and create data, which influences our lives in obvious and not so obvious ways. We’re all aware of how our phones collect our data and that websites will use cookies to collect data. We also see data constantly in news and social media, especially now given current world events.

We tend to view data, especially statistics and graphs, as neutral and factual. After all, they’re created using math. Math doesn’t lie. What we need to do is shift our perspectives on statistics, graphs, and other visualizations. We need to remember that yes, it’s purely math and numbers, but it’s a human hand guiding the analysis. A good analogy to consider is the one Dr. Joel Best uses: data is a diamond. It starts off as an ugly rock and its human hands that shape it into a beautiful jewel. That’s what we’re going to look at in this blog, we’re going to explore the human hands collecting, shaping, and publishing data. We’re also going to look at the human interpretation of data that’s been published and how it shapes our lives.

With that in mind, let’s explore one small sliver of data influencing our lives. February is Black History Month and while we explore, reflect, and celebrate Black History in Canada, we should also reflect on the experiences of Black people past and present. While we learn about horrifically racist polices and actions that occurred in the past, we need to realize that systematic racism still exists, and we have the data to prove it. For example, historic systematic racism included the practice of redlining, which is loosely defined as a series of race-based exclusionary tactics in real estate. While there is more documentation and literature out of the United States, there are historic examples from Canada including Africville, Nova Scotia and Hamilton, Ontario. In Canada, housing discrimination is illegal, so in theory redlining can no longer occur. However, AI redlining can and does still occur. In 2016, Propublica, revealed that Facebook advertising allowed realtors to target audience by ethnicity. A year later, they reported that despite the creation of policies to stop targeted advertising by ethnicity, ads were still being approved that would be considered housing discrimination. It 2019, the policies were finally enforced when Facebook reached a settlement with American civil rights organizations. These changes are promising, but the nature of AI data collection is still racially biased and requires more advocacy in areas such as housing, hiring, and healthcare.

So that’s a little sample of what we’ll be exploring in this blog. At times, we may be deep diving into heavy topics, but they will be some lighter topics too! I hope you’ll come back next month when we look at surveys, polls, and who is counted.

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