A downside to relying on big data to chart trends emerged recently in Lake County, Florida.

That’s where librarians reportedly created a fake patron to check out thousands of books at risk of falling out of circulation. The ploy worked for about nine months before an anonymous tip prompted an investigation from the county’s clerk of courts. The two employees responsible for creating the ersatz patron named “Chuck Finley” said it was necessary to avoid the books being pulled off the shelves because of low check-out rates.

In an article describing the risks of blindly relying on data, author Cory Doctorow writes:

“The library wants to be efficient at stocking books its patrons will enjoy, so it deploys software to measure popularity, and raises the outcomes of those measurements over the judgment of the skilled professionals who acquire and recommend books, who work with patrons every day. Instead of being a tool, the data becomes a straightjacket…”

Interested in learning about the ethics of big data? Check out this advanced technology degree from Florida Polytechnic University.

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Source: Boingboing.net

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