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Conference: When Companies Study Their Customers: The Changing Face of Science, Research, and Ethics

Hosted by the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship and the Tech Policy Lab at the University of Washington Companies produce and sell, and academics study and research. This tidy line, which has probably never accurately described reality, has been revealed to be illusory by the recent crush of news about the ways in which profit-seeking companies today research and study their customers constantly. Whether to improve their products and services or to advance the pursuit of knowledge (or both, or something in between), we have been introduced to many important research studies emanating not from Academia but instead from Silicon Valley: Netflix and Amazon know that if you like this, you'll also like that; OK Cupid investigates the dynamics of human dating and attraction; Target knows if you're pregnant and when you're due; and Facebook studies the way human emotion spreads. This last study, the Facebook "emotion contagion study," led to a firestorm of online commentary when it was revealed in June 2014. The outpouring of blog posts, newspaper articles, and tweets raised dozens of fascinating questions that demand answers, so as an experiment of our own, on Thursday, December 4, 2014, the Silicon Flatirons Center will assemble some of the many astute and interesting commenters from that episode, together with other thought leaders from the academy, industry, civil society, and the legal community, to talk about the changing face of science, research, and ethics.

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