Afterlives of Data: Life and Debt under Capitalist Surveillance

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Univ of California Press, Jun 14, 2022 - Social Science - 218 pages

What our health data tell American capitalism about our value—and how that controls our lives.

Afterlives of Data follows the curious and multiple lives that our data live once they escape our control. Mary F. E. Ebeling's ethnographic investigation shows how information about our health and the debt that we carry becomes biopolitical assets owned by healthcare providers, insurers, commercial data brokers, credit reporting companies, and platforms. By delving into the oceans of data built from everyday medical and debt traumas, Ebeling reveals how data about our lives come to affect our bodies and our life chances and to wholly define us.

Investigations into secretive data collection and breaches of privacy by the likes of Cambridge Analytica have piqued concerns among many Americans about exactly what is being done with their data. From credit bureaus and consumer data brokers like Equifax and Experian to the secretive military contractor Palantir, this massive industry has little regulatory oversight for health data and works to actively obscure how it profits from our data. In this book, Ebeling traces the health data—medical information extracted from patients' bodies—that are digitized and repackaged into new data commodities that have afterlives in database lakes and oceans, algorithms, and statistical models used to score patients on their creditworthiness and riskiness. Critical and disturbing, Afterlives of Data examines how Americans' data about their health and their debt are used in the service of marketing and capitalist surveillance.

 

Contents

Tracing Life through Data
16
Building Trust Where Data Divides
34
Collecting Life
65
Mobilizing Alternative Data
92
On Scoring Life
111
Data Visibilities
134
Afterlife
155
References
177
Index
197
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About the author (2022)

Mary F. E. Ebeling is Associate Professor of Sociology and affiliate faculty at the Center for Science, Technology and Society, Drexel University. She is author of Healthcare and Big Data: Digital Specters and Phantom Objects.

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