Projects

Student researchers, graduate fellows, and faculty are working together on different research projects throughout the year. At the heart of our work are the collaborative spring projects. Every year, a new cohort of students produces a piece of public scholarship concerned with digital due process.

June 2021 –

Credit Score Dissimulator

In the world of consumer finance, credit score simulators are a common feature offered by a range of companies and websites. Often touted as a tool for learning and financial literacy, these simulators allow users to experiment with different scoring factors to see how they affect their scores. Examples of such simulators can be found on websites like TransUnion, FICO, American Express, and Credit Karma

One problem with these simulators is that they cast credit scoring in a rather unrealistic light. Among other things, they suggest a degree of transparency about the scoring process that does not hold in practice; they create an illusion of individual control that does not exist; and they generate an image of a system that is worth investing time and resources in although these actions are not guaranteed to have results. In other words, these systems do not just simulate a score, they simulate a world in which scoring appears to be a rational and sensible solution.

In this project, we re-appropriate the interactive form of the credit score simulator in order to make visible the “hidden” scoring factors and assumptions built into the system. Rather than focusing on the official factors such as lines of credit, credit utilization ratios, and on-time payments, we construct an alternative scoring model based on research that takes into account those features usually externalized. Variables like wealth, gender, and ZIP code, for example, have been shown to be important factors influencing credit scores. So why not build a simulator based on these ideas and include them in the calculation?

Researchers: Michael Tyrrell, Malte Ziewitz
Funding: NSF CAREER Award (#1848286)

February 2021 –

Everyday Ecologies of Scoring: An Exploratory Map

What does a human being look like through the lens of all the ratings, scores, and metrics that are supposed to represent them in their daily life? In this project, we map the ecology of scores and scoring that a person has to navigate. Credit scores, performance metrics, Uber ratings, immigration points, consumers scores, insurance risk assessments, and social media karma: we are surrounded by a web of more or less visible metrics that have far-ranging consequences for our lives. Whereas researchers usually study the implications of specific scores and metrics, we are taking a holistic view and want to find out whether and to what extent the myriad of different scoring systems shape and influence each other—and what, if anything, can be done to challenge them.

Researchers: Christopher Chandra, Carson Crane, Sam Tesfaye, Valerie Kong, Hannah Dominguez, Grace Cala, Stephen Yang, Chris Hesselbein, Yue Zhao, Malte Ziewitz
Funding: NSF CAREER Award (#1848286); Milstein Program for Technology & Humanity

January 2020 –

Documenting the Lived Experiences of Data Subjects

Being ranked in web search engines can make or break or business, reputation, or career. While much work on the politics of search engines has focused on questions of bias, discrimination, and design, rather little is still known how people who depend on these results experience the system on a daily basis. Big companies and organizations may have the resources to hire PR and marketing consultants to affect their standing in the engines. But how do less well-resourced people make sense and cope with their predicament?

In this project, we document the lived experiences of people struggling with web search results. Through a series of qualitative interviews, we collect the stories from small business owners and local activists to politicians running for public office and people re-entering society after prison terms.

Researchers: Ciarra Lee, Cassidy McGovern, Amy Eng, Annika Pinch, Kyra Wisniewski, Deana Gonzales, Emma Li, Sterling Williams-Ceci, Stephen Yang, Ranjit Singh, Malte Ziewitz
Funding: NSF CAREER Award (#1848286)

Reports:

Singh R, Eng A, Gonzales D, Lee C, Li E, McGovern C, Pinch A, Williams-Ceci S, Wisniewski K, Yang, S and Ziewitz M (2020). Scoring Struggles: Everyday Experiences of Web Search Engines. Working Paper #1, August. Ithaca, NY: Digital Due Process Clinic.

November 2018 –

Restoring Credit: How People Understand and Interact with Credit Scoring Systems

Recovering from a broken credit score can be an existential challenge. While credit bureaus, banks, and regulators tend to suggest that errors can be fixed and scores improved without the need for special expertise, especially low-income Americans and traditionally disadvantaged groups are struggling to keep up. How do people make sense of and engage with scoring systems on a daily basis? Drawing on work in science & technology studies (STS), anthropology, sociology, and information science, this project traces the credit repair journeys of a small number of people in Upstate New York.

Researchers: Ranjit Singh, Malte Ziewitz
Funding: Cornell Center for the Social Sciences (CCSS) Small Grant

Publications:

Ziewitz, M. and R. Singh (forthcoming). Critical Companionship: Some Sensibilities for Studying with Data Subjects. Big Data & Society.

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