By Stefania


hot off the press: Special Issue on ‘Internet Architecture & Human Rights’

Happy to announce the publication of a stellar special issue of the journal ‘Policy & Internet’, dedicated to ‘Internet Architecture & Human Rights’. The special issue, edited by DATACTIVE PI Stefania Milan with Monika Zalnieriute (Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney, Australia), features articles by a number of key authors in the Internet governance field, such as Laura DeNardis and Samantha Brandshaw, Milton L. Mueller and Farzahen Badiei, Nicolas Suzor and colleagues, Ben Wagner, and our very own Niels ten Oever. Read it online!

Zalnieriute and Milan (2019). “Internet Architecture and Human Rights: Beyond the Human Rights Gap”, Policy & Internet, 11(1): 6-15,

Internet architecture and infrastructure are generally not at the top of the concerns of end users, and the overlying logical arrangements of root services, domain names, and protocols remain largely invisible to its users. Recent developments, however—including massive user data leakages, hacks targeting social networking service providers, and behavioral micro‐targeting—have turned a spotlight on Internet governance defined broadly, and its relationship with civil liberties and human rights. The articles in this special issue examine the policymaking role of influential private intermediaries and private actors such as ICANN in enacting global governance via Internet architecture, exploring the implications of such a mode of governance for human rights. They consider: to what extent are human rights standards mediated and set via technical infrastructure, such as the DNS and platform policies, rather than by governmental structures? What are the implications of governance via Internet architecture for individual human rights? And what frameworks—be they legal, technological or policy‐related—are needed to address the contemporary privatization of human rights online, in order to ensure the effective protection of human rights in the digital age?

ten Oever (2019). “Productive Contestation, Civil Society, and Global Governance: Human Rights as a Boundary Object in ICANN”, Policy & Internet, 11(1): 37-60,

Human rights have long been discussed in relation to global governance processes, but there has been disagreement about whether (and how) a consideration for human rights should be incorporated into the workings of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), one of the main bodies of Internet governance. Internet governance is generally regarded as a site of innovation in global governance; one in which civil society can, in theory, contribute equally with government and industry. This article uses the lens of boundary object theory to examine how civil society actors succeeded in inscribing human rights as a Core Value in ICANN’s bylaws. As a “boundary object” in the negotiations, the concept of human rights provided enough interpretive flexibility to translate to the social realities of the various stakeholder groups, including government and industry. This consensus‐building process was bound by the organizing structure of the boundary object (human rights), and its ability to accommodate the interests of the different parties. The presence of civil society at the negotiating table demanded a shift in strategy from the usual “outsider” tactics of issue framing and agenda setting, to a more complex and iterative process of “productive contestation,” a consensus‐building process fueled by the differences of experience and interests of parties, bound together by the organizing structure of the boundary object. This article describes how this process ultimately resulted in the successful adoption of human rights in ICANN’s bylaws.

Cite as Zalnieriute and Milan (eds.) (2019). Special issue ‘Internet Architecture & Human Rights’, Policy & Internet, 11(1)



Stefania at the MilanoDesign PhD Festival (hint: thesis on data activism!)

On February 20-22, DATACTIVE PI Stefania Milan is in Milan, Italy, for the MilanoDesign PhD Festival at the Politecnico di Milano. In particular, she will sit in the PhD defences of Maria Briones de los Angeles and Camilo Ayala Garcia. On Friday afternoon, she will also deliver a talk as part of the “design pills” program. Check out the program of the event.

We are very excited that “Disclose to tell. A data design framework for alternative narratives” by Maria Briones de los Angeles features DATACTIVE as well. What’s more, this amazing dissertation contributes to understand data activism, in particular when it comes to data visualisation and its role in the creation of empowering narratives for social change. Visit to know more. And congrats to Maria Briones de los Angeles (@angelesbriones)!


[ALEX] op-ed: Personalization algorithms and elections

fbtrexOn February 7, 2019 the Internet Policy Review published an op-ed by Stefania Milan and Claudio Agosti. We reflect on personalization algorithms and elections, and share some ideas about algorithmic sovereignty and literacy. Thanks to Frédéric Dubois for the invitation.

“Personalisation algorithms allow platforms to carefully target web content to the tastes and interests of their users. They are at the core of social media platforms, dating apps, shopping and news sites. They make us see the world as we want to see it. By forging a specific reality for each user, they silently and subtly shape customised “information diets”, including around our voting preferences. We still remember Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before the US Congress (in April 2018) about the many vulnerabilities of his platform during election campaigns. With the elections for the European Parliament scheduled for May 2019, it is about time to look at our information diets and take seriously the role of platforms in shaping our worldviews. But how? Personalisation algorithms are kept a closely guarded secret by social media platform companies. The few experiments auditing these algorithms rely on data provided by platform companies themselves. Researchers are sometimes subject to legal challenges by social media companies who accuse them of violating the Terms of Services of their utility. As we speak, technological fencing-offs are emerging as the newest challenge to third-party accountability. Generally, auditing algorithms fail to involve ordinary users, missing out on a crucial opportunity for awareness raising and behavioural change.

The Algorithms Exposed (ALEX) project1, funded by a Proof of Concept grant of the European Research Council, intervenes in this space by promoting an approach to algorithms auditing that empowers and educates users. ALEX stabilises and expands the functionalities of a browser extension – fbtrex – an original idea of lead developer Claudio Agosti. Analysing the outcomes of Facebook’s news feed algorithm, our software enables users to monitor their own social media consumption, and to volunteer their data for scientific or advocacy projects of their choosing. It also empowers advanced users, including researchers and journalists, to produce sophisticated investigations of algorithmic biases. Taking Facebook and the forthcoming EU elections as a test case, ALEX unmasks the functioning of personalisation algorithms on social media platforms.”

Continue reading in the website of the Internet Policy Review.


Stefania at CPDP & PrivacyCamp in Brussels

Stefania will be in Brussels to take part in the Privacy Camp and in the Computer, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) conference, in Brussels at the end of January.

At Privacy Camp, on January 29, Stefania will join Mirko Tobias Schäfer (Utrecht Data School), Minna Ruckenstein (University of Helsinki) and DATACTIVE former postdoc Jonathan Gray (now at Kings’ College, London) for a discussion on Reimagining Data Futures: Data and Agency.

At CPDP, Stefania will join a panel on “Data is (Political) Power!” (Wednesday 4pm) organised by IViR & ASCoR (UvA), with Daniel Kreiss (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Julia Reda, EU MEP, and Jennifer Childs (ICO). On Friday, she will also contribute to an amazing session of the artistic program, entitled Micro-Targeting and Tactical Fiction, featuring Manu Luksch (!).

Check out the CPDP program!



new article: Playing with data and its consequences out in First Monday

The January 2019 issue of First Monday includes an article by research associate Miren Gutierrez and PI Stefania Milan on the consequences of engagement with data. The article is entitled “Playing with data and its consequences” and is the lead article of the issue. Check it out!

Abstract. The fundamental paradigm shift brought about by datafication alters how people participate as citizens on a daily basis. “Big data” has come to constitute a new terrain of engagement, which brings organized collective action, communicative practices and data infrastructure into a fruitful dialogue. While scholarship is progressively acknowledging the emergence of bottom-up data practices, to date no research has explored the influence of these practices on the activists themselves. Leveraging the disciplines of critical data and social movement studies, this paper explores “proactive data activism”, using, producing and/or appropriating data for social change, and examines its biographical, political, tactical and epistemological consequences. Approaching engagement with data as practice, this study focuses on the social contexts in which data are produced, consumed and circulated, and analyzes how tactics, skills and emotions of individuals evolve in interplay with data. Through content and co-occurrence analysis of semi-structured practitioner interviews (N=20), the article shows how the employment of data and data infrastructure in activism fundamentally transforms the way activists go about changing the world.

Citation: Gutierrez, Milan and Stefania Milan (2019). Playing with data and its consequences, First Monday, Volume 24, Number 1 – 7 January 2019,



A year in review

2018 has been a good year for DATACTIVE. We take the opportunity of the turn of the year to review what we accomplished and what remains to do.

We advanced with data collection, and are almost done. Just to mention one, we are close to 200 interviews, and the material is extremely rich.

We organized two exciting events, the July workshop and the Big Data from the South, and a hackaton.

Collectively we delivered over 40 talks.
We published a dozen between papers and book chapters, including an article for Policy & Internet, two for the International Journal of Communication (here and here), three contributions in a special issue of XRDS on anonymity. We released a special issue on data activism of the peer-reviewed journal Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy. Many more contributions are in print. In January alone, an article on the consequences of engaging with data will appear on First Monday; a collective book chapter will be released in the context of the collection on Good Data; the special issue of the journal Policy & Internet on internet architecture & human rights will see the light of day.
The DATACTIVE blog, the critical communities debate and the Big data from the South blog are thriving; our work was mentioned in several media outlets in a variety of idioms.
In July we were awarded a Proof of Concept grant of the ERC to work on the Algorithms Exposed project (ALEX). Stay tuned for further developments, including a brand-new website which will soon become available at the URL
And most importantly, we continued learning from each other and from the many activists we encountered during fieldwork, and we continued experimenting with a different way of doing and being academia (among others, see  here and here).

With less than two years to the end of the grant, we will now dedicate ourselves primarily to data analysis and writing. ALEX will keep some of us busy, and will allow us to expand our team hiring a couple of developers and collaborating with NGOs. To start with, next week we will seize the opportunity of the forthcoming of the Digital Methods Winter School to advance with software development. We can anticipate we will use the forthcoming EU Parliament election as one of our test cases, so if you are interested in collaborating to a research on the effects of algorithmic personalisation please get in touch.

Yours truly, the DATACTIVE team

Stefania at the Me, We And The Machine Institute of theory and practice, December 13

On December the 13th, Stefania will speak on data activism at the Me, We, and The Machine Institute of theory and practice. Organized by the Mumbai-based civil society organization Point of View in Amsterdam, Me, We And The Machine is a seven-day residential institute that dives deep into two questions:

• How does technology shape and influence sexuality, gender and rights?

• How do sexuality, gender and rights inform and shape technology?

Read more.