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The Black Box Society

The Black Box Society

The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information

Frank Pasquale

ISBN 9780674970847

Publication date: 08/29/2016

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Every day, corporations are connecting the dots about our personal behavior—silently scrutinizing clues left behind by our work habits and Internet use. The data compiled and portraits created are incredibly detailed, to the point of being invasive. But who connects the dots about what firms are doing with this information? The Black Box Society argues that we all need to be able to do so—and to set limits on how big data affects our lives.

Hidden algorithms can make (or ruin) reputations, decide the destiny of entrepreneurs, or even devastate an entire economy. Shrouded in secrecy and complexity, decisions at major Silicon Valley and Wall Street firms were long assumed to be neutral and technical. But leaks, whistleblowers, and legal disputes have shed new light on automated judgment. Self-serving and reckless behavior is surprisingly common, and easy to hide in code protected by legal and real secrecy. Even after billions of dollars of fines have been levied, underfunded regulators may have only scratched the surface of this troubling behavior.

Frank Pasquale exposes how powerful interests abuse secrecy for profit and explains ways to rein them in. Demanding transparency is only the first step. An intelligible society would assure that key decisions of its most important firms are fair, nondiscriminatory, and open to criticism. Silicon Valley and Wall Street need to accept as much accountability as they impose on others.


  • Recognized internationally as a landmark work of law and political economy.

    —Lawrence Joseph, Commonweal


  • Frank Pasquale is Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech and the author of The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms That Control Money and Information. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and other outlets.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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