Entropy, APIs and the Public Record vs the Right to Privacy

CityLIS Term 1 Week 4. In which we move on from the history of documents to the relationship between information, the universe and everything; we play with the shift from a static, publishing web model (Web 1.0) to a service oriented, participatory web model (Web 2.0) by exploring web APIs and mashups; #citylis went to Internet Librarian 2014 (#ili2014), European Conference on Information Literacy 2014 (#ecil2014) and supported Open Access Week (#oaweek); we explored the tensions between freedoms of speech and information and data protections and the right to be forgotten; and we thought about ‘asking’ as research method.

Let’s Get Meta-Philo-Physical

After completing the history of documents Lyn Robinson turned to philosophy and as many sciences as she could throw at us in one afternoon to explore definitions of information, and the gaps between these definitions, across multiple domains. We covered Liebenau and Backhouse and their semiotic theory of levels in understanding information, Popper’s three worlds, Shannon’s 1948 Mathematical Theory of Communication, Professor Brian Cox on entropy and Sir Paul Nurse on Biology as organised systems of information. Not forgetting Luciano Floridi and his philosophy of information.  The book chapter David Bawden and Lyn Robinson wrote on conceptualisation of information across domains is well worth a read.

“We are faced with two kinds of gaps: the gaps between the concepts of information in different domains; and the gap between those who believe that it is worth trying to bridge such gaps and those who believe that such attempts are, for the most part at least, doomed to fail.”

Robinson and Bawden (2013).  Mind the Gap: Transitions Between Concepts of Information in Varied Domains

After being fairly comfortable with history this was fairly mindblowing – in a good way. We discussed information as difference (which I had to write down in three different ways to get my head around) and also information, entropy and the constant interplay of order and disorder. Is there more information in low order/high entropy systems, as Shannon argues, or is there more information in high order/low entropy systems?

It is counterintuitive to think that as the disorder and uncertainty around the arrangement of documents increases the amount of information increases. In LIS, we instinctively think that as order increases so does information. This may not be true. Findability may increase but this may not be the same as information.

Perhaps one of the compelling things about big data is the insight that comes from mining data that is more disordered than in a traditional database. Therefore, there is more to be uncovered about the possible arrangements of things within: hence being able to find more information using NoSQL techniques across a large unstructured corpus than using SQL techniques across a database ordered according to a particular scheme. Alternatively there is no information in big data until order has been found using complex algorithms and approaches (e.g MapReduce).

Blogging Mashup Mixtape Party

In the digital world I reached back towards my love of mixtapes to explore the present Web 2.0 possibilities for mashups by using open content, licensed for reuse, and web services. This was huge fun an involved creating Spotify playlists (including my mashup mixtape and cityLIS radio), Twitter widgets, watching Ted Talks, turning my websites into pictures based on human DNA, playing with WordPress shortcodes and sticking all of them together. Also discovering someone has hacked together a cassette player and tapes as a controller for Spotify playlists using Raspberry Pi. Very cool.

In fact, there were numerous music related API and mashup posts across the DITA blogosphere.

To Know and Forget

This week’s information management and policy session was on Information Law and there was a really interesting discussion about the issues arising from the European Court of Justice ruling (ECJ C–131/12) in the case of Google Spain SL and Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (AEPD) and Mario Costeja González. This ruling allows individuals in Europe to request that Google remove links from search results to content about them published on the web as part of the European Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC).

“The internet has revolutionised our lives by removing technical and institutional barriers to dissemination and reception of information, and has created a platform for various information society services. These benefit consumers, undertakings and society at large. This has given rise to unprecedented circumstances in which a balance has to be struck between various fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom to conduct a business, on one hand, and protection of personal data and the privacy of individuals, on the other.”

European Court of Justice Opinion ECLI:EU:C:2013:424

Our discussions ranged over the practical issues, the various roles of publishers and information indexers and mediators, such as search engines, and the ethics and the debate in the public sphere is also ongoing as the many parties involved attempt to implement and digest the ruling.

The European Union has produce a Mythbuster and a Factsheet to help with interpretation.

Google publishes a transparency report on their impementation of the ruling and has also assembled an advisory council to guide it. The council holds a series of public meetings across Europe and invites contributions from members of the public.

Luciano Floridi, a member of the Google advisory council, popped up again with an article in The Guardian considering the right to be forgotten as an exercising of power over information that needs to be carefully considered.

Floridi argued that publishers should have more of a say, a sentiment echoed by the BBC and The Guardian with the BBC saying they will beging to maintain and publish a list of their content for which they have received removal notifications.

Digital Flânerie


Image Credits
Featured Image: time disappears by Travis Miller. Source: Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

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Alison Pope

Four days a week I'm a business analyst and information architect, designing systems to open up scholarship and higher education; one day a week I'm a humanities scholar; one day a week I'm a housekeeper; one day a week I'm at play, traversing landscapes in mind or in motion, or at rest.

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