In November 2022, Michael Zimmer, Ph.D., was among the 10 influential people named to the Milwaukee Business Journal’s inaugural “People to Know in Technology” list. The list also includes southwestern Wisconsin tech entrepreneurs and high-ranking executives from such diverse companies as Northwestern Mutual and Generac Power Systems.
A multi-disciplinary scholar, Dr. Zimmer is director of the Center for Data, Ethics, and Society at Marquette University, and an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science. His expertise spans information policy and ethics, communications and internet studies, and science and technology studies. Read more about Dr. Zimmer’s engaged thought leadership and work with Marquette’s online Computer and Information Science program.
Meet the computer science professor making waves in technology
Michael Zimmer joined the Marquette faculty in 2019 and became the founding director of the Center for Data, Ethics, and Society in early 2022. He teaches the data ethics course in Marquette’s online computer and information science program.
“It is hard to imagine any position in software development, data analysis, or IT project management – especially in our current environment – which doesn’t in some way intersect with professional, ethical, legal, security or social issues and responsibilities,” he said.
Zimmer conducts mixed-method studies of the contemporary digital landscape and sees the evolution of the digital ecosphere through the Jesuit lens of social justice and service to others.
Dr. Zimmer earned a bachelor of business administration in marketing from the University of Notre Dame, and a master’s degree in media ecology and a Ph.D. in media, culture and communication, both from New York University. He was a student fellow at NYU Law’s Information Law Institute and the Microsoft Resident Fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. He remains an affiliated fellow at Yale and an affiliated fellow at the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute.1, 2
The Zuckerberg Files collect Facebook CEO's comments
A conversation with colleagues at the annual conference for the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) led to a project that has become a valuable resource for researchers, the news media, and others.
In a turnabout on digital privacy, Zimmer launched and curates The Zuckerberg Files, an online repository of all the Meta founder’s public statements. Started in 2013, the archive has thousands of transcripts and hundreds of video files.
In a development that sounds almost like science fiction, the Guardian media organization and Botnick Studios used the archive to train a “Zuckerbot” AI that gave a mock interview about Facebook’s rebranding as Meta.3
Public interest and privacy intersect in the Facebook Papers
Zimmer joined a panel of other computer science, engineering, public policy and journalism experts to help the online blog Gizmodo redact and publish the Facebook Papers, providing a valuable complement to the comments published in the Zuckerberg File.
The Facebook Papers include thousands of pages of internal documents revealing company policy and research on everything from its news feed algorithm and content moderation to competitive practices. A former Facebook product manager shared them with U.S. and European news outlets and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2021.4
The Gizmodo advisory panel's goal is to maximize the public benefit of publication while minimizing the potential harm to research subjects or low-level employees by publishing their personal information.
Zimmer’s influence reflects his research interests
The diversity of Michael Zimmer’s research interests, unified by the focus on social and ethical considerations, is reflected in his numerous publications and professional affiliations.
He has studied digital privacy and surveillance in the context of big data, internet and social science research, and intelligent personal assistants. He has also investigated the use of wearable fitness trackers, health surveillance practices and artificial intelligence in healthcare settings.
Government agencies, nonprofits and businesses have funded Dr. Zimmer’s research on various subjects, with grants ranging from $5,000 to $3 million. He’s been a recipient of several grants from the National Science Foundation, along with grants from the American Library Association, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Social Science Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Facebook, and Meta.5
Sharing expertise with colleagues and the public
Zimmer has established a strong presence in both popular and scholarly media and received several awards for his research presentations in journals and at conferences. He has over 130 academic publications listed in Google Scholar and has published work in popular media outlets, including The Washington Post and Wired. He’s been interviewed several times by NPR and been featured in articles by The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.2, 6
Dr. Zimmer co-authored the entry on Internet Research Ethics for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, collaborated on “Internet Research: Ethical Guidelines 3.0” for the AoIR and is the co-editor of “The Information Society” book series for MIT Press. He also sits on the editorial board of several academic journals, including the Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, the Journal of Sociotechnical Critique, the International Review of Information Ethics and New Media & Society.5
Shaping technology policy in the public interest
Zimmer regularly uses his expertise to advocate for the public good. In addition to his work with Gizmodo, he is the ethics advisor to the European Commission’s Security and Privacy Accountable Technology Innovations, Algorithms, and Machine Learning (SPATIAL) Project.
He has held similar roles for several federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Human Research Protection and the State of Wisconsin Department of Agricultural Trade and Consumer Protection. He is part of the AoIR Ethics Working Group and the SIGCHI Research Ethics Committee. SIGCHI is an international association of students and professionals working in the field of human-computer interaction.
Nonprofit organizations and technology companies, including the New York Public Library and the National Information Standards Organization, Facebook, Microsoft and Google, have asked him to consult on ethical issues.
Transforming technology ethics through education
Many working in data science and technology know their work has far-reaching impacts on people and society. But, Zimmer has noted, advances in computing capabilities over the past years keep accelerating and “we’re moving so quickly there’s often little time to stop and think about the human dimension.”7The combination of scale and speed make the work Zimmer, his students and colleagues do at the Center for Data, Ethics, and Society increasingly important and underpin his recognition by the Milwaukee Business Journal.
“This center is representative of what Marquette can do differently when it comes to data science,” Zimmer said. “We are looking at data much more broadly and the way that data is affecting our society.”7
Become an ethical technology leader with Marquette
An ethically grounded view of technology and society will help the next generation of data scientists and technology leaders shepherd their organizations to sustainable success.
“I design my courses to provide a comprehensive overview of the social, political, legal, and ethical implications of our increased data-driven society,” Zimmer said. “Our courses on data ethics are designed to provide students with the necessary tools and perspectives to best address these concerns quickly and effectively before they become insurmountable. Possessing these skills will make our graduates stand out among their peers.”
As advances in computer technology create new ethical challenges, it’s increasingly important for those in the field to understand the implications for public policy and individual rights. Talk with an Admissions Advisor to learn more about how to become a well-rounded leader in the field with Marquette University’s M.S. in Computer and Information Science.
1. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-zimmer-phd/
2. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://michaelzimmer.org/bio/
3. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/dec/27/mark-zuckerberg-ai-robot-metaverse-facebook
4. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://www.popsci.com/technology/gizmodo-uploads-documents-facebook-papers/
5. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://michaelzimmer.files.wordpress.com/2023/01/michael-zimmer-cv.pdf
6. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=list_works&hl=en&hl=en&user=BjpDtPYAAAAJ
7. Retrieved on January 21, 2023, from https://online.marquette.edu/stem/blog/faculty-spotlight-dr-michael-zimmer-director-of-center-for-data-ethics-and-society