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DATACTIVE Speaker Series: Can Data be Decolonized?, December 4

DATACTIVE is proud to announce a talk by Nick Couldry (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York at Oswego) in the framework of the DATACTIVE Speaker Series and in occasion of the Big Data from the South workshop. The talk, entitled “Can Data be Decolonized? Data Relations and the Emerging Social Order of Capitalism”, will take place on December the 4th at 3pm, at the University Library (Potgieterzaal). Below you find the blurb.

Can Data be Decolonized? Data Relations and the Emerging Social Order of Capitalism
A talk by Nick Couldry (London School of Economics and Political Science) and Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York at Oswego)

This talk (which draws on the author’s forthcoming book from Stanford University Press, The Costs of Connection: How Data is Colonizing Human Life and Appropriating it for Capitalism) examines how contemporary practices of data extraction and processing replicate colonial modes of exploitation. Couldry and Mejias present the concept of “data colonialism” as a tool to analyze emerging forms of political control and economic dispossession. To that effect, their analysis engages the disciplines of critical political economy, sociology of media, and postcolonial science and technology studies to trace continuities from colonialism’s historic appropriation of territories and material resources to the datafication of everyday life today. While the modes, intensities, scales and contexts of dispossession have changed, the underlying function remains the same: to acquire resources from which economic value can be extracted. Just as historic colonialism paved the way for industrial capitalism, this phase of colonialism prepares the way for a new economic order. In this context, the authors analyze the ideologies and rationalities through which “data relations” (social relations conducted and organized via data processes) contribute to the capitalization of human life. Their findings hold important implications for how we study the internet, and how we may advocate for the decolonization of data in the future.

Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak from Pexels

26 October: Noortje Marres and DATACTIVE in conversation on the social science scene today

On 26 October, DATACTIVE hosts the philosopher and science studies scholar Noortje Marres to discuss and problematize the role of social science today.  The DATACTIVE team will engage with Marres to discuss chapters of her book Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Social Research. The exchange is expected to delve into the social sciences from various perspectives derived from team members’ research fields, and will be anchored in the contemporary challenges to digital societies and beyond.

Marres is Associate Professor in the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies at the University of Warwick and sits in the advisory board of DATACTIVE. Currently, she is a Visiting Professor in the Centre for Science and Technology Studies at the University of Leiden. Her work is located in the interdisciplinary field of Science, Technology and Society (STS).

Photo by Ngai Man Yan from Pexels

Organization After Social Media: orgnets and alternative socio-technical infrastructures

by Lonneke van der Velden

Last month, I was invited to be a respondent (together with Harriet Bergman) for the launch of Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter’s latest book, Organization After Social Media. The book is a collection of essays which re-interrogate the concerns and contributions of social movements and counter-cultural collectives in light of a significant contemporary problem: the existence of tech-monopolies such as Google and Facebook.

If social media cannot deliver on their promise to help collectives organize, how then should movements proceed? How to make such movements sustainable? The authors invite us to reflect on these issues through central concept of ‘organized networks’, or ‘orgnets’.

I liked many aspects of the book, but will highlight here two things I found interesting from the perspective of DATACTIVE’s own concerns. The first has to do with a re-evaluation of encryption, and the second with where we search for historical and theoretical lessons to help us organize ‘after social media’.

Re-evaluating encryption?

One thing I read in the book is a re-evaluation of encryption. Encryption is presented, not as an individual intervention, but as an intervention with a potential to allow for the emergence of collective forms. “The trick,” the authors tell us, “is to achieve a form of collective invisibility without having to reconstitute authority” (p. 5).

I think this collective potential of encryption is interesting. Research into activism in the UK after the Snowden revelations (Dencik, Hintz & Cable 2016) showed that digital rights groups tended to operate in a rather specialized space demarcated from issues championed by other groups and organizations. Digital rights organizations speak about privacy and freedom of speech, but hardly touch upon other social issues. And vice versa: organizations that work on, for instance, social justice issues, tend to regard digital rights as a working package for those specific NGOs that are dedicated to privacy. Encryption does not feature as a strategy that is part of their activist work. This has only partly to do with a lack of knowledge. What’s more, activists told the researchers that they want to do things in public, and using encryption is associated with having something to hide. This is a reductive summary of some of the findings by Dencik and others, but the study provides food for thought about how encryption is often precipitated.

What Lovink and Rossiter’s book nicely does is show that this is not the only possible way to conceive of encryption, opening up a different interpretation. Not one that stages privacy or security, which is a discourse about protection, but one that forefronts organized unpredictability, which is a more productive discourse about what encryption has to offer in terms of collective organization. This idea might be more interesting for activist groups; that is, if they are not interested in hiding, they might well want to remain unsuspected and surprising.

Against the background of the analysis that social media and algorithms make people readable and predictable, infrastructures that help organize unpredictability become important. In fact, from the discussion that followed with the authors during the book launch, it turned out that many of the concerns in the book relate to organizing unpredictability: merging the inventive (as exemplified by tactical media) with a wish for sustainability. How to build digital infrastructures that allow for the disruptive qualities that tactical media had in the past?

Some questions remain. Technologies of encryption are not infrastructures that can emerge out of the blue: they in turn need organized networks and communal work to remain up to date. Together with the audience at the book launch, we had an interesting back and forth about whether a notion of ‘community’, and community struggles, was needed.

Realizing organized networks

Another thing we talked about that evening was the tension between organized networks as a concept and as actually-existing practices. As the authors write: “Organized networks are out there. They exist. But they should still be read as a proposal. This is why we emphasize the design element. Please come on board to collectively define what orgnets could be all about.” (p. 16)

Hence, the authors invite anyone who has been part of an organized network, or thinks that he or she had been part of one, or wished that their network had been more organized, to ‘fill in’ their core concept. That means that much is left open in the book to the inventive powers of orgnet-organizers.

Technological infrastructures are an exception: the book is quite prescriptive in this regard, arguing for example that servers should not be centralized, and that we should prevent the emergence of tech-giants and develop alternative protocols and new spaces for action.

I could not help but wonder about the other kinds of prescription that are not so present in the book. Might we also offer prescriptive accounts in respect to things social movements experience over and over again, such as burnouts, internal strife, sexual harassment, and all things that hinder the sustainability of networks? And shouldn’t we reach out for documentation from, say, social movement studies or feminist histories, in addition to media theory? I am thinking about these in echo of Kersti’s and others’ discussion around community and critical community studies.

All in all, given that the focus of Lovink and Rossiter’s book is on forms of organization ‘after social media’, the choice of focusing on (alternative) socio-technical infrastructures is as understandable as it is valuable in itself. Indeed, it is an issue our research group cares about a lot; we hope to contribute to some of the causes laid out in the book.

The book can be ordered here and is also freely available online in pdf.

 

Lonneke van der Velden is a lecturer at the department of media studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research deals with conceptualizations of internet surveillance and internet activism. She is also on the Board of Directors of Bits of Freedom.   

 

Dencik, Lina, Arne Hintz, and Jonathan Cable. 2016. “Towards Data Justice? The Ambiguity of Anti-Surveillance Resistance in Political Activism.” Big Data & Society 3 (2): 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1177/2053951716679678.

Rossiter, Ned, and Geert Lovink. Organization after Social Media. Minor Compositions, 2018.

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Stefania at the AoIR 2018 conference, Montreal

DATACTIVE PI Stefania Milan has taken part in the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers, in Montreal (Canada), October 10-13. This year’s conference theme was “Transnational materialities”. Among others, she presented a work in progress, co-authored with Miren Gutierrez (Universidad de Deusto), on the social consequences of engagement with data and data infrastructure. On October 14th, she has taken part in the academic Festschrift to celebrate the career of Prof. Marc Raboy. The event, entitled Networking Global Communication in and Beyond the Age of Social Media, took place at McGill University.

APC final photo (2)

Why we won’t be at APC 2018

In October 2018, the Amsterdam Privacy Conference (APC) will be back at the University of Amsterdam. Two DATACTIVE project team members, Stefania (Principal Investigator), and Becky (PhD candidate), enthusiastically supported the conference as coordinators of the ‘Digital Society and Surveillance’ theme. The Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University submitted a panel proposal, which was successfully included. Regretfully, neither will take part in the conference: DATACTIVE and the Data Justice Lab have decided to withdraw over the participation of the US-based software company Palantir as one of the APC’s Platinum Sponsors.

Our decision to withdraw stems from an active refusal to legitimize companies accused of enabling human rights abuses, and a concern with the lack of transparency surrounding sponsorship.

Palantir is a company specializing in big data analytics, which develops technologies for the military, law enforcement and border control. The deployment of Palantir’s technologies has raised wide-spread concern among civil liberties and human rights advocates. Reporting shows that, in the United States, Palantir has played an important role in enabling the efforts of the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to identify, detain, and deport undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. This has resulted in the indefinite detention of thousands of children who have been separated from their parentsThis indefensible policy has come under strong criticism from the United Nations and prompted an alliance of technology workers and affected communities, to call – so far, unsuccessfully – for Palantir to cancel its contracts with ICE.

We feel that providing Palantir with a platform, as a sponsor of a prominent academic conference on privacy, significantly undermines efforts to resist the deployment of military-grade surveillance against migrants and marginalized communities already affected by abusive policing. 

Because we have organized conferences ourselves, we believe transparency in sponsorship agreements is key. While we praise the APC organizing committee forcommitting to full transparency, we were not informed of sponsorship agreements until the very last minute. The APC Sponsors page, in addition, was only populated after the participant registration deadline. As conference coordinators and prospective participants, we feel that we were not given the chance to make an informed choice about our contribution.

Sponsorship concerns are not a new issue: the very same controversy, around the involvement of this very same company (as well as others), emerged during the 2015 edition of APC. Though we acknowledge the complexity of corporate sponsorship, we note that other prominent tech policy conferences, such as Computers, Privacy and Data Protection (CPDP) conference, have recently stopped accepting sponsorship from Palantir. We thus believe this is a good moment for a larger discussion about how conferences should be organized in the future.

Academia—and especially publicly-funded universities—need to consider their role in efforts to neutralize or undermine human rights concerns. Such considerations are particularly pertinent in the context of what has been described as the increased neoliberalization of higher education, in which there is significant pressure to attract and pursue funding from different sources. As academics and as citizens, we will increasingly be asked to make choices of this kind. Hence, we believe it is time to set down a clear set of principles for sponsorship going forward.

 

Amsterdam and Cardiff, 19 September 2018

Stefania Milan and Becky Kazansky (DATACTIVE) & Lina Dencik, Arne Hintz, Joanna Redden, Fieke Jansen (Data Justice Lab)

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DATACTIVE at EASST 2018

Stefania and Guillén will be present this week at EASST 2018: Meetings – Making Science, Technology and Society Together, in Lancaster, UK.

If you are around, drop by our panel “After data activism: reactions to civil society’s engagement with data” on Saturday morning (9:30) at the Elizabeth Livingston Lecture Theatre. We will be focusing on how data governance, data science and social technologies are co-producing asymmetries of power through five papers dealing with Data flows, data sharing, the scoring society, civil society and data practices, and resistance through data.

Apart from that, Stefania will also be presenting along Anita Chan a paper on “Data cultures from the Global South: decentering data universalism” and will participate in a panel organized by the European Research Council.

Come say hi!

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Advisory Board Workshop, July 4-5

In July 4-5, DATACTIVE has gathered the Advisory Board members for a sharing & feedback workshop.

Participants include Anita Say Chan (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), Chris Csikszentmihályi (Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute), Ronald Deibert (University of Toronto), Seda Gürses (KU Leuven), Evelyn Ruppert (Goldsmiths, University of London), Hishant Shah (ArtEZ) … and the DATACTIVE team. Day 1 only: Hisham Al-Miraat (Justice & Peace Netherlands), Julia Hoffmann (Hivos).

*Day 1*
Fireside chat from 4pm @ Terre Lente, followed by light dinner [CLOSED]
Public event at 8pm @ SPUI25: ‘Democracy Under Siege: Digital Espionage and Civil Society Resistance’, with Ronald Deibert (Citizen Lab – University of Toronto), Seda Guerses (COSIC/ESAT – KU Leuven), and Nishant Shah (ArtEZ / Leuphana University)

*Day 2* @ the University Library, Singel 425 [BY INVITATION ONLY]
9.30 Welcome & coffee
9.45 Intro (Stefania)
Session 1 (10-11am): The framework: Concepts and Infrastructure (Presenters: Stefania & Davide)
Session 2 (11.10-12.15): Data as stakes (Presenters: Becky & Niels)
Lunch break (12.15-1.30)
Session 3 (1.30-2.35): Data as tools (Presenters: Guillen & Kersti)
Session 4 (2.40-3.45): Next in line: Emerging work (Presenters: Fabien, Jeroen, Quynn)
Session 5 (4-4.30) Wrap-up (Stefania, all)

 

July Event Poster

[DATACTIVE event] Democracy Under Siege: Digital Espionage and Civil Society Resistance, July 4

 

 

July 4th, 20.00 hrs @spui25, (TICKETS HERE)

The most recent US elections, during which hackers exposed political parties’ internal communications, revealed the devastating power of digital espionage. But election meddling is only one aspect of this growing phenomenon. From Mexico to Egypt and Vietnam, human rights organizations, journalists, activists and opposition groups have been targeted by digital attacks. How can civil society defend itself against such threats?

The DATACTIVE project (University of Amsterdam) invites you to hear from leading experts on questions of digital espionage, cybersecurity and the protection of human rights in new technological environments. This public event aims to provide a global view of digital threats to civil society and discuss what can be done to fight back.

Ron Deibert (University of Toronto) will present the work of the Citizen Lab, which has pioneered investigation into information controls, covert surveillance and targeted digital espionage of civil society worldwide. He will be in conversation with Seda Gürses (KU Leuven) and Nishant Shah (ArtEZ University of the Arts/Leuphana University).

Speakers

Ronald Deibert is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto. The Citizen Lab undertakes interdisciplinary research at the intersection of global security, ICTs, and human rights. Deibert is the author of Black Code: Surveillance, Privacy, and the Dark Side of the Internet (Random House: 2013), as well as numerous books, chapters, articles, and reports on Internet censorship, surveillance, and cyber security. He is a former founder and principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative (2003-2014) and a founder of Psiphon, a world leader in providing open access to the Internet.

Seda Gürses is an FWO post-doctoral fellow at COSIC/ESAT in the Department of Electrical Engineering at KU Leuven, Belgium. She works at the intersection of computer science, engineering and privacy activism, with a focus on privacy enhancing technologies. She studies conceptions of privacy and surveillance in online social networks, requirements engineering, software engineering and algorithmic discrimination and looks into tackling some of the shortcomings of the counter-surveillance movements in the US and EU.

Nishant Shah is the Dean of Graduate School at ArtEZ University of the Arts, The Netherlands, Professor of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at Leuphana University, Germany, and the co-founder of the Centre for Internet & Society, India. His work is informed by critical theory, political activism, and equality politics. He identifies as an accidental academic, radical humanist, and an unapologetic feminist, with particular interests in questions of life, love, and language. His current preoccupations are around digital learning and pedagogy, ethics and artificial intelligence, and being human in the face of seductive cyborgification.

This event is hosted by Spui25 and sponsored by the European Research Council (ERC) and the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA).

datajustice

Becky and Stefania at the Data Justice conference

Stefania will present on “Questioning data universalism” with Emiliano Treré (Cardiff University) and she will be chairing the session on Data Activism (14.00 – 15.30 Parallel Sessions B).

Becky will present on “It Depends On Your threat Model: Understanding strategies for uncertainty amidst digital surveillance and data exploitation” as part of the Civil Society and Data (chair: Isobel Rorison).

About the data justice conference (website, program)

Date: 21-22 May 2018
Location: Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
Host: Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

The collection and processing of massive amounts of data has become an increasingly contentious issue. Our financial transactions, communications, movements, relationships, all now generate data that are used to profile and sort groups and individuals. What are the implications for social justice? How do we understand social justice in an age of datafication? In what way do initiatives around the globe address questions of data in relation to inequality, discrimination, power and control? What is the role of policy reform, technological design and activism? How do we understand and practice ‘data justice’? How does data justice relate to other justice concerns?

This conference will examine the intricate relationship between datafication and social justice by highlighting the politics and impacts of data-driven processes and exploring different responses. Speakers include Anita Gurumurthy (IT for Change, India), David Lyon (Queen’s University, Canada), Evelyn Ruppert (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK), Rob Kitchin (Maynooth University, Ireland), Sasha Costanza-Chock (MIT Center for Civic Media, US), Seeta Peña Gangadharan (London School of Economics, UK), Solon Barocas (Cornell University, US and FAT/ML).