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Algorithms of trauma: new case study shows that Facebook doesn’t give users real control over disturbing surveillance ads

A case study examined by Panoptykon Foundation and showcased by the Financial Times, demonstrates how Facebook uses algorithms to deliver personalised ads that may exploit users’ mental vulnerabilities. The experiment shows that users are unable to get rid of disturbing content: disabling sensitive interests in ad settings limits targeting options for advertisers, but does not affect Facebook’s own profiling and ad delivery practices. While much has been written about the disinformation and risks to democracy generated by social media’s data-hungry algorithms, the threat to people’s mental health has not yet received enough attention.

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Can the EU Digital Services Act contest the power of Big Tech’s algorithms?

A progressive report on the Digital Services Act (DSA) adopted by the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) in the European Parliament in July is the first major improvement of the draft law presented by the European Commission in December. MEPs expressed support for default protections from tracking and profiling for the purposes of advertising and recommending or ranking content. Now the ball is in the court of the leading committee on internal market and consumer protection (IMCO), which received 1313 pages of amendments to be voted in November. Panoptykon Foundation explores if the Parliament would succeed in adopting a position that will contest the power of dominant online platforms which shape the digital public sphere in line with their commercial interests, at the expense of individuals and societies.

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Discrimination in datafied world

Data-driven technologies are not neutral. A decision to collect, analyse and process specific kind of information is structured and motivated by social, economic and political factors. Those data operations may not only violate the right to privacy but also lead to discrimination and oppression of socially marginalised communities. Discriminatory data processes and algorithms are a massive challenge for the modern human rights movement that requires non-standard solutions. The report “Between Anti-discrimination and Data” – tries to shed light on this problem from the perspective of European civil society organisations.

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