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BigBang Sprint at IETF110 Hackathon

When: March 1-3, 2021

The BigBang project will be working on improving its tool for mailinglist analysis at the IETF 110 Hackathon.

BigBang is an open source research project that studies collaboration and contention in digital infrastructure projects and governance institutions. We do this by combining data science techniques with qualitative methods. For example, with BigBang you can analyze participation, affiliation, gender, and networks in the IETF, ICANN, RIPE, IEEE, or the 3GPP.

We very much welcome both techncial and non-technical contributors! BigBang is built on the scientific Python stack, and we use Jupyter notebooks to make the analysis transparent and accessible.

To join the IETF 110 Hackathon, please register using the link from the Hackathon website. Registration is free!

We intend to work on (some of) the following issues during the hackathon:

– Integration and analysis of 3GPP and IEEE mailing lists
– Integration with the INDELab conversationkg tool
– Produce instructional videos
– Improve linking across datasets (such as the datatracker and mailing lists)
– Query/notebook design to support projects from research community
– Discussion of Star’s boundary object vs. Luhmann’s structural coupling
– The operationalization of _your_ research question!

The BigBang project will have a one-hour team meeting Friday February 26 – 9:00 ET / 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET before the Hackathon which all are welcome to attend if they are curious about the project. You can join via this link: https://uva-live.zoom.us/s/6365963924

Please don’t hesitate to write Seb (sbenthall at gmail dot com) if you have any questions about the BigBang project or the IETF 110 sprint, or if you have suggestions for research questions!

BigBang

Stefania on ‘Tech-Based States of Emergency’ (PRIO, January 27)

On January the 27th, Stefania will contribute to the event ‘Tech-Based States of Emergency: Public Responses and Societal implications’ organised by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). She will join Brenda Jimris-Rekve (Basic Internet Foundation) and Sean Boots (Canadian Digital Services) as speakers, with Maria Gabrielsen Jumbert and Kristoffer Lidén from PRIO as moderator and an introduction by Bruno Oliveira Martins (PRIO), project leader of “States of Emergency as Disruptive Pandemic Politics”. As this is a virtual event, you can register to attend following this link.

Event description: Tech-Based States of Emergency: Public Responses and Societal implications

A one-in-a-century pandemic challenges global stability, threatening the lives of millions and the economic well-being of most countries on earth. Many states are invoking state of emergencies as the world collectively faces the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. States have relied on technologies to help mitigate the spread of the disease by deploying the use of metadata analysis, geolocation tracking, facial recognition screening and drones. But the resort to tech-based solutions to a complex social problem raises new questions that demand public and societal scrutiny.

Niels and Stefania at Privacy Camp

On January the 26th, Niels ten Oever and Stefania Milan will partake in the annual appointment of the Privacy Camp, this time round however only in virtual format.

Both will feature in the panel “Wiring digital justice: Embedding rights in Internet governance ‘by infrastructure’” (12.05-13), where Niels is a speaker and Stefania co-moderates together with Francesca Musiani (CNRS Paris). Know more about topic and speaker line-up. Niels and Francesca are also the organisers of the session.

Later in the day, Stefania will contribute to the panel “Reclaim Your Face, Reclaim Your Space: resisting the criminalisation of public spaces under biometric mass surveillance” (14.05-15), organised by Ella Jakubowska (European Digital Rights). Further details can be found here.

 

“Contentious data” paper development workshop hosted by Davide and Stefania (November 12-13)

On November 12-13, Davide and Stefania will host a paper development workshop where the prospective authors of the special issue Contentious Data: The Social Movement Society in the Age of Datafication will have the chance to discuss their draft papers. The issue is edited by Stefania Milan, Davide Beraldo and Cristina Flesher Fominaya, and will be submitted to the International peer-reviewed journal Social Movement Studies. Due to the pandemic, the workshop has been moved to Zoom.

 

 

 

Stefania at the kick-off of “Global Digital Cultures” (2 October)

The University of Amsterdam has a new Research Priority Area dedicated to exploring “Global Digital Cultures”. Global Digital Cultures is a interdisciplinary research community for comparing and analyzing the profound changes brought about by digitization around the globe. Read more here.

The kick-off event of the new Research Priority Area featured a keynote by Prof. Louise Amoore (Durham University) in conversation with our PI Stefania Milan, along the lines of Amoore’s latest book on “Cloud Ethics” (Duke University Press, 2020).

Stefania in conversation with Ranga Yogeshwar (Berlin & YouTube, 19 September)

Stefania was in Berlin on Saturday the 19th of September to give a talk at the Futurium museum–the awesome House of Futures.

With a reduced audience due to Covid-19, Stefania discussed risks and opportunities of datafication in conversation with Germany’s most famous science journalist, Ranga Yogeshwar. The event is available on YouTube. Note that the talk is in English with some inserts (e.g., the introduction) in German. Enjoy!

Stefania at 2.Dh5 Festival, Utrecht

On 1-2 February, Stefania will attend the 2.Dh5 Festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands. She will give a presentation on “Surveillance capiralism and the future of data activism” , with a Q&A section (date and time will be announced on the 2.Dh5 Festival website).

About the presentation:

Surveillance capitalism is grounded on the transformation of human actions, interactions and emotions into data points which can be quantified, analysed and monetised. It accelerates the crisis of liberal democracies, and changes the role of information and technology in the constitution of our societies. People may react by fighting the aggressive intermediation of the industry, including social media platforms, and the snooping of the state, for example through “smart city” projects. Others may leverage the possibilities for transformative collective action harboured by big data. This talk explores how citizens, social change activists, and variably skilled users engage with datafication looking at emerging practices of “data activism”. It takes stock of the main tendencies we observe on the field, and surveys emerging areas such as algorithmic activism and device activism.

Download the presentation.

Stefania at Workshop organized by OffTopic Lab, Milan

On 25 January 2020, Stefania will attend the workshop “Contesto urbano. Strumenti e pratiche per deostruire il Modello Milano” organised by OffTopic Lab in Milan, Italy. She will participate in the rountable “La città ambigua: presente e futuro della metropoli tra decoro, sorveglianza, greenwashing (The ambiguous city: present and future of the metropolis between decoration, surveillance, greenwashing)” from 15.00 to 18.00.

Stefania at the CPDP Computer, Privacy and Data Protection Conference, Brussels

On Thursday 23 Janurary 2020, Stefania will attend the 13th International Conference of CPDP in Brussels, Belgium. She will speak in the panel ‘Online privacy, algorithmic bias, targeted political advertising — an interdisciplinary conversation’ organized by Mozilla. She will join on stage with other speakers: Fanny Hidvegi (Access Now); Matt Rogerson (The Guardian); and Sarah Bird (Mozilla).

 

Panel Desciption:

With an increasing degree of automation in the systems responsible for content delivery, advertisement platforms and content recommender systems alike are filtering, weighting, and ranking a continuous feed of potential items to provide a tailored experience to each individual based on their personal preferences and past behaviour. The complexity of such systems introduces a sophisticated (and almost totally opaque) new layer to peoples’ ability to access information. Automated decisions drastically impact our access to information and relationship with content serving and journalistic platforms. In many cases, the definition of success for such systems is not based on individual or societal well-being, but rather on some variation of engagement or revenue. A common belief motivating the design and optimization of these algorithms is that more (private) information about an individual equates to a better experience and more valuable advertisement via increasingly specific programmatic micro-targeting. This panel will present a multidisciplinary investigation of the interaction between data collection, the algorithmic nature of content recommendation systems, the commercial forces at play for such platforms and the individual and societal consequences of their prevalence.

 

Off the Beaten Path: Human rights advocacy to change the Internet infrastructure

Report on Public Interest Internet Infrastructure workshop held at Harvard University in September 2019

by Corinne Cath-Speth and Niels ten Oever

Introduction

Surveillance-based business model[s] force people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse.

Choice words from the latest report published by Amnesty International, in which they consider the human rights’ implications of Big Tech’s extractive business model. Their conclusions are bleak; the terms of service on which we engage in social media and search are diametrically opposed to human rights. This, however, comes as no surprise to academics and activists who have been highlighting the Internet’s negative ramifications over the past decade. In this blog, we present some thoughts on the promises and perils of human rights advocacy aimed at changing computer, rather than, legal code. It draws on insights shared during a two-day workshop on public interest advocacy and design in Internet governance processes, with a particular focus on Internet standards. The workshop, entitled “Future Paths to a Public Interest Internet Infrastructure” took place in the fall of 2019 at the Harvard Kennedy School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It brought together 26 academics, activists, technologists, civil servants, and private sector representatives from 12 countries.

Concerns at the intersection of Internet governance and society span way beyond—or rather, below—those touching on social media, search engines, or e-commerce. They also include technologies, like Internet standards and protocols, that most of us have never seen but rely on for our day-to-day use of the Internet. The development and governance of these technologies is increasingly subject to scrutiny of public interest advocates. This is not that surprising given the history of struggles over power, norms, and values that colour the development of global communications infrastructures, like the phone, the telegraph, and Internet standards.

The advocates currently participating in governance and standards bodies are legion: they span from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to various Centres for Internet and Society, to the C-suites of tech-companies. Their theories-of-change rooted in the idea that digital technologies shape communication such that it can impede or enable the exercise of rights. Their tactics focused on direct engagement with companies, often through the technical working groups of the key Internet governance organizations. Little, however, is known about these advocacy efforts. Like the standards they focus on, these efforts are largely invisible. The ferocity of the public debates about the negative impact of the Internet on society, as well as growing condemnation of industry-led tech ethics efforts, calls for these efforts to be brought to light.

Documenting Workshop Discussions

The discussion at the workshop took us from the very top of the Internet’s stack, where our social media and search applications live, to its depths where sharks chew on Internet cables. We discussed expanding, collapsing, horizontally and vertically integrating the Internet’s stack, and even doing away with the concept all together. Likewise, we discussed what it means to do public interest advocacy aimed at changing the Internet’s infrastructure, what “public interest” entails as a concept, how different stakeholders can be effective advocates of it, and what it takes to study it. We do not aim to provide definitive answers. Rather, we will highlight three discussions that show where participants diverged and converged on their respective path(s) towards including public interest considerations in the Internet’s infrastructure.

  • Pragmatism and its politics: How and when public interest advocates should team up with colleagues in the private sector or government was a crucial discussion during the workshop. It revealed that cross-industry cooperation often put the public interest advocates between a rock and a hard problem: how do you known when cooperation turns into co-optation? Many took a “pragmatist” position, acknowledging that their concerns around tech development often stemmed from core-business decisions, which they considered beyond their influence. However, they argued, this was insufficient reason to write off strategic cooperation to move the technical needle. Even if it meant much of their work was focused on treating symptoms rather than causes. The turn to pragmatism, highlighted an underlying concern. As with most social values, “public interest”, means different things to different folks. This in turn implies that public interest representatives are not only contending with difficult choices about strategic collaboration across sectors, but also within them. This tension is both irresolvable and interesting, for the debate and careful articulation of advocacy positions it requires. Which, as one participant optimistically quipped: is helpful because now at least I know where you are going and what it takes for us to get there.
  • Shrinking space for civil society: Civil society organisations trying to raise public interest considerations in Internet governance are fighting on multiple fronts. Within Internet governance organisations they are contending with inherent hurdles: the power differentials between corporate and non-commercial participants, lack of civil society funding for work seen as technically opaque and difficult to explain to funders; the technical learning curve; lack of consensus among allied organisations; and the confrontational culture of Internet standardisation bodies. At the same time, they are operating in a broader context of a shrinking space for civil society. In many countries, the regulatory environment is such that it is near impossible to be an effective civil society organisation. The question then becomes how to grow and sustain civil society participation in the development of the Internet’s infrastructure in the face of internal and external pressure that limit it.
  • What is the endgame? For some getting the tech right was their main concern. Other argued that this was too narrow an endgame for public interest representation in Internet governance. Focusing on the tech is necessary but insufficient. Code, the participants agreed, is not the pinnacle of societal change. In order for these interventions to have ramifications beyond their direct context they need to connect to existing work done outside of a limited number of Internet standardisation bodies. Many of the participants were actively creating these necessary connections to other technical communities, by talking to Internet Service Providers (ISP) and other Internet governance stakeholders. Yet, many agreed that ensuring the Internet’s infrastructure reflects particular articulations of “the public interest” requires policy as much as protocol intervention.

These three discussions only scratch at the surface of the conversation during the workshop. If you are interested in learning more, please see here for the full workshop report. The social movements bringing a range of public interest considerations (from civil liberties, to social justice, to human rights) to the Internet infrastructure and its governance processes, will keep evolving. Like the Internet’s infrastructure itself. This blog should thus as is good practice in academia, engineering, and activism alike, be seen as documentation of known issues and efforts at this current moment. Rather than a singular path-forward. It provides a departure point to further develop this conversation to include a broader range of stakeholders, network engaged scholars, and practitioners.

The workshop was organised by:

  • Niels ten Oever, DATACTIVE, University of Amsterdam
  • Corinne Cath-Speth, Oxford Internet Institute, Digital Ethics Lab, University of Oxford
  • Beatrice Martini, Digital HKS, Harvard Kennedy School

We would like to thank the Harvard Kennedy School, ARTICLE19, Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Open Technology Fund, European Research Council, DATACTIVE, and the Amsterdam School for Globalisation Studies for their generous support that made this this workshop possible.

 

Internet governance, standards, and infrastructure