Publications on Digital Overuse and on the Chilling Effects of Algorithmic Profiling

Digital overuse and subjective well-being in a digitized society

For most people in Switzerland, effective Internet use is essential for everyday life. But the constant abundance of digital communication and information options can also be difficult to manage. Not valid in all dimensions, but imo still a useful analogy: ICTs are like food. The question “Is internet / social media / smartphones / X use good or bad?” is like asking “Is eating good or bad?” It depends. What and how much? In which situation for which purpose? And: socio-economic status influences food as well as digital ICT use options and choices (digital inequality); and ultimately health and mental well-being.

Users may feel that they overall use the Internet too much, that it displaces other valued activities, or that it causes cognitive overload. Depending on how these indicators are combined, about a quarter to half of the surveyed users (ages 14–93) experienced digital overuse. This is not about addiction – the “correct” amount of use is not exogenously defined by e.g. psychiatrists. Perceived digital overuse depends entirely on the individual and context: one person’s overuse is another’s lifeblood. Also see this paper. Perceived digital overuse was strongly and negatively related to subjective “offline” well-being (positive affect, psychological functioning, and interpersonal relationships) in a structural equation model.

The conclusion is not that intense use is “bad,” but the overabundance of digital ICT options and social pressure to function digitally require new skills from individuals intent on maintaining high personal well-being. At the social level, the historically rapid diffusion of the Internet has produced a cultural delay: the modification of social norms that would protect against overuse is lagging behind technological push. Further research is needed to address the challenge of how individuals can maintain high well-being in a digital society – sometimes despite and sometimes thanks to the pervasiveness of digital ICTs in all life domains.

The chilling effects of algorithmic profiling: Mapping the issues

Chilling effects: knowing or believing you are being profiled by platforms, apps, search engines etc. can deter you from unrestricted information seeking online, self-expression on social media, or just selecting entertaining content. Algorithmic profiling by companies, by way of indirectly deterring individuals from uninhibited legitimate behaviors, is a potential threat to autonomy, creativity, and identity. This can occur in unnoticeably small steps towards a preemptive alignment with dominant social norms.

Although users often knowingly and willingly disclose potentially sensitive information (in addition to all the involuntarily disclosed data), automated inferences based on such data can deviate substantially from any human judgment or inferences thought possible by the user. In a “surveillance partnership,” the state can collect data about from corporations rather than from the users directly. A lot of shared data may not trigger an immediate reaction, but what happens in the future when context changes or data is passed on, cannot be evaluated.

This article highlights the importance of reflecting on the potential externalities of algorithmic profiling. It shows the need to frame corporate profiling as a matter of concern that goes beyond just privacy and data protection, but as a potential threat to individual autonomy.

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