[NB: I’m reading this from an ebook, so page numbers don’t exist. ]

Summary

  • “My goal in this book is to further an exploration into some of these digital sense-making processes and how they have come to be so fundamental to the classification and organization of information and at what cost. As a result, this book is largely concerned with examining the commercial co-optation of Black identities, experiences, and communities in the largest and most powerful technology companies to date, namely, Google.” (from Introduction) Noble ultimately argues that tech companies are effectively monopolies that need to be broken up and regulated.

Keywords

  • “technological redlining”: “This book is about the power of algorithms in the age of neoliberalism and the ways those digital decisions reinforce oppressive social relationships and enact new modes of racial profiling, which I have termed technological redlining.”
  • “algorithmic oppression”: “This book was born to highlight cases of such algorithmically driven data failures that are specific to people of color and women and to underscore the structural ways that racism and sexism are fundamental to what I have coined algorithmic oppression.”

Notes

0. Introduction

  • “On one level, the everyday racism and commentary on the web is an abhorrent thing in itself, which has been detailed by others; but it is entirely different with the corporate platform vis-à-vis an algorithmically crafted web search that offers up racism and sexism as the first results. This process reflects a corporate logic of either willful neglect or a profit imperative that makes money from racism and sexism. This inquiry is the basis of this book.”
  • “Nonetheless, new instances of racism and sexism keep appearing in news and social media, and so I use a variety of these cases to make the point that algorithmic oppression is not just a glitch in the system but, rather, is fundamental to the operating system of the web.” Racism as the fundamental API of digital culture.
  • Method: reinserting the obscured human element into supposedly inhuman systems. Compare w/ Roberts’ work on content curation.

1. A Society, Searching

  • This chapter is a great critique against those media scholars who use Google searches as “snapshots” of the world; they’re really just snapshots of Google.
  • “Google’s dominant narratives reflect the kinds of hegemonic frameworks and notions that are often resisted by women and people of color. Interrogating what advertising companies serve up as credible information must happen, rather than have a public instantly gratified with stereotypes in three-hundredths of a second or less.”
  • Private corporate platforms stymie the notion of “algorithmic literacy,” so we need models of critique from without as well as within.
  • “At the core of my argument is the way in which Google biases search to its own economic interests—for its profitability and to bolster its market dominance at any expense.”
  • Links Google’s PageRank algorithms to ongoing interrogations of bibliometric and citation practices in information science.
  • “In fact, Google is in the business of selling optimization”: an important link for thinking about Google’s logistical nature.
  • Search engines “enclose the public domain,” turning the commons into a proprietary locked garden.

2. Searching for Black Girls

  • “In this framing, Black women are the targets of a variety of neoliberal science, technology, and digital innovation programs. Neoliberalism has emerged and served as a framework for developing social and economic policy in the interest of elites, while simultaneously crafting a new worldview: an ideology of individual freedoms that foreground personal creativity, contribution, and participation, as if these engagements are not interconnected to broader labor practices of systemic and structural exclusion.”

Archive

  • Noble’s work sits at the intersection of information science and critical race studies. Alongside Browne, Noble is one of the major voices on this list calling for an explicitly Black feminist approach to digital studies.
  • In themes and approaches, this shares much in common w/ Pasquale’s Black Box Society.
  • One of the reasons I put this book under the Infrastructure list was to explore the ways that individuals companies such as Google become privatized infrastructure in the current moment; how an analysis of infrastructure and platforms entails analyzing the impact of major companies.
  • Noble has to read around the margins of search practices: I was most struck and interested by her lurking on SEO optimization boards to learn more about how the porn industry maximizes impact and eludes regulation.