From show in Big Data from the South

Photo from Pixabay

[bigdatasur] Jitihada La Ughaibu Afrika

By Duncan KinuthiaFord/Media Democracy Fund Tech Exchange Fellow at Research ICT Africa

>>> if you Swahili is not good enough, check out the English translation! <<<

Watumizi wa mtandao Afrika wanazidi kuongezeka katika kusaka ughaibu kwenye mtandao. Hii imehamasishwa na ripoti za hivi majuzi za ukiukaji wa uaminifu na faragha wa data katika mitandao ya kijamii. Hii pamoja na kuvuka mpaka katika usalama na udhibiti wa serikali imesababisha kuongezeka kwa vifaa vya ughaibu wa data. Ama kweli, watumizi wanafanya hima ili kuweza kupata habari safi, usalama na faragha mtandaoni. Kwa vile muundo wa mtandao hauruhusu ughaibu kamili, waeza kupata ughaibu huu kwa kutoa majina ama habari itakayokubainisha na kwa kutumia teknolojia fiche katika habari za watumizi wa wavuti. Utumizi wa VPN (Virtual Private Network) imeongezeka kwa watumizi wa wavuti duniani pamoja na makampuni kwa ajili ya ongezeko la teknolojia fiche zipatikanazo kwenye VPN katika usambazaji wa data kwenye mtandao ulio na upungufu wa usalama. Hii imesababisha ukuaji wa maonyesho wa soko la VPN muongo uliopita na pia MarketWatch kuripoti asilimia kumi na nane katika kiwango cha ukuaji kila mwaka. Miunganisho ya VPN imeimarishwa kwa kutumia njia ya teknolojia fiche ikifuatiliwa na uthibitisho ya lazima kwa mtumiaji ili aweze kupata kuunganishwa kwa hiyo VPN.

Afrika imekabiliwa na mlipuko wa matumizi wa simu zilizo na upatikanaji wa mkondoni muongo uliopita ambao umesababisha kuongezeka kwa watumiaji wa mtandao barani Afrika. Mlipuko huu umeleta mageuzi bora ya kiuchumi, kisiasa na kijamii. Mojawapo ikiwa watumiaji zaidi wakiingia katika mitandao ya kijamii ili kuweza kuendelea kuwasiliana na familia na marafiki na hata kueneza shughuli za kiuchumi. Biashara ya wavuti pia imeenea Afrika ikichochewa na ukuaji wa matumizi ya huduma za fedha za simu kote barani. Ilhali utumizi wa mtandao umeleta faida kikandani kuna udhibiti, kuzimisha na kodi ya mitandao ya kijamii pia imezidi. Matendo haya ya kiukaji yaweza kupunguza faida za digitization.

Kwa watumizi wa mtandao wengi Afrika mitandao ya kijamii ndiyo mtandao halisi kwao na gharama kubwa ya bandwidth ndiyo kikwazo kikuu cha utumizi wake. Mfano ni watumizi wa Uganda ambao walihangaishwa na ushuru liyofanywa rasmi kuanzia tarehe moja Julai mwaka wa 2018. Sheria, iliyopitishwa na bunge la Uganda inatia kodi ya shilingi mia mbili za Uganda ($ 0.05) kwa matumizi ya mitandao ya kijamii kila siku. Hii ni sawa na dola 19 ($19) kwa kila mwaka na pamoja na gharama kubwa za bandwidth inazuia sana matumuzi ya mitandao ya kijamii, kutokana na kwamba jumla ya bidhaa za nyumbani kwa kila mtu ilikuwa dola mia sita na nne ($ 604) tu mwaka 2017. Ili kuepuka ushuru wa matumizi ya mitandao ya kijamii, watu wanatafuta njia za kuihepa. Utafiti uliofanywa juu ya kodi ya mitandao ya kijamii nchini Uganda umebaini kwamba asilimia hamsini na saba ya watumiaji waligeuka kwa huduma za VPN ili kuepuka kodi iliyolazimishiwa kwao.

Hata hivyo, hizi sio sababu za pekee ambazo watumiaji wa Afrika wanatumia VPN. Kwa mfano, Kenya, watumiaji wengi wa mtandao hutumia VPN na kuhadaa DNS kuepukana na vitengo vya Geo, ambapo maudhui mengi ya elimu na burudani haipatikani nchini kwa sababu ya leseni, hati miliki na ukosefu wa soko kubwa ili kuhakikisha kurudi kwa uwekezaji, kwa kuwa mtandao bado haujapenya vizuri barani. Huduma hizo zinajumuisha Spotify, vipindi na sinema nyingi kwenye Netflix, muziki wa YouTube, Google Music, Google Play Books, Pandora na huduma zinginezo. Watumiaji wa mtandao wameamua kutumia VPN na kuhadaa DNS ili waweze kupata huduma hizi.

Katika nchi nyingine, matumizi ya mtandao ya kijamii yanaonekana kuwa tishio kwa uanzishwaji, na serikali zimeweka masharti ya kisiasa ya mtandao. Vikwazo vya mtandao vinatumiwa kukabiliana na matumizi ya huduma za VPN ili kupata maudhui yaliyolengwa, kama vile matumizi ya uhusiano wa VPN juu ya mtandao inategemea uhusiano wa mtandao. Idadi kubwa ya vikwazo vya mtandao vilivyoripotiwa katika nchi za Afrika hufanyika wakati wa uchaguzi, juu ya madai ya kudhibiti uenezi wa habari bandia. Wananchi wa Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo ni waathirika wa hivi karibuni kwa hili, baada ya kuzimwa kamili kwa mtandao wakati wa uchaguzi wa Desemba 30. Nchi nyingine za Kiafrika ambazo zimekuwa na vikwazo vya mtandao ni kama Ethiopia, Cameroon, Gambia na Gabon.

Ufahamu wa kikanda juu ya hatari za ufunuzi wa habari na ukiukaji kwenye wavuti ni duni, kwani wafrika wengi hawajajaliwa kutumia mtandao. Kwa kuongeza, wale wanaotumia mtandao hawajui vitisho vya wavuti. Ripoti ya Utoaji wa Usalama wa Afrika ya 2016 ilibainisha kuwa asilimia hamsini ya waliohojiwa hawakupewa mafunzo ya usalama wa cyber. Hii imechangia kuongezeka kwa gharama za makadirio ya uhalifu wa wavuti, Nigeria ikiwa na gharama kubwa zaidi ya $550 milioni. Hata hivyo, kama matumizi ya mtandao yanakua Afrika, haja ya kuhakikisha usalama wa habari kulinda utambulisho wa watu na matumizi ya bure ya mtandao, huja kama jambo muhimu. Kuelewa mbinu za sasa za ughaibu wa data, zana na mazoea kote kandani na jinsi hatua za usalama za habari zinazotumiwa na watumiaji wa Afrika ni muhimu kwa kuinua ufahamu, na hivyo kuleta ushahidi kwenye mjadala wa sasa wa sera juu ya faragha na usalama mtandaoni kutoka kwa mtazamo wa Afrika.

Mwaka mmoja ujao, nitafanya kazi chini ya Media Democracy Fund Tech Exchange Program, na Research ICT Africa, katika utafiti juu ya udhibiti wa habari katika Afrika Mashariki, ikiwa ni pamoja na matumizi ya mbinu za ughaibu wa data na ufanisi wa DNS, lengo muhimu likiwa kuhusu matumizi ya VPN. Research ICT Afrika ni kundi la wataalam wanaojadili sera ya kikanda ya ICT na wanafanya utafiti mbalimbali juu ya utawala digital, sera na kanuni zinazowezesha sera zilizoarifiwa kwa ajili ya upatikanaji bora, matumizi ya teknolojia ya digital kwa maendeleo ya kiuchumi na kijamii Afrika kwa kutumia ushahidi hakika.

Lengo kuu la mradi wangu wa utafiti ni kuangazia mazoezi ya kutumia VPN kama chombo cha ughaibu wa data katika Afrika Mashariki, kwa watumiaji binafsi na mashirika yasiyo ya faida (NPO).

Miongozo itakayoongoza uchunguzi na utafiti wangu ni haya:

  1. Ni sababu gani kuu za kutumia VPN kama mbinu ya ughaibu wa data katika Afrika Mashariki?
  2. Ni nani watumiaji wakuu wa VPN katika Afrika Mashariki na ni nini mwenendo katika   vikundi tofauti vya watumiaji kwa umri na jinsia?
  3. Kwa nini watumiaji wa mtandao na NPO hutumia VPN katika Afrika Mashariki?
  4. VPN imetumiwa wapi zaidi?
  5. Na VPN ilitumiwa lini katika Afrika Mashariki?
  6. VPN na zana zingine za ughaibu wa data zimetumiwaje ili kuhakikisha usalama na ufaragha wa habari Afrika Mashariki?

Utafiti juu ya matumizi ya zana za ughaibu wa data katika Afrika ya Mashariki utakuwa muhimu kwa kueneza ufahamu kwa wanaharakati wa data. Mkusanyiko wa data juu ya mbinu mbali mbali zinazotumiwa na watumiaji wa mtandao katika Afrika ya Mashariki kufikia kutokujulikana kwa mtandao zitatiweka dhahiri mbinu za ubunifu ambazo watu hutumia kuhepa vikwazo vilivyowekwa na mashirika makubwa na serikali.

Baadhi ya matokeo ya uchunguzi yataonyesha mienendo ya matumizi ya zana za uonyesho wa data wakati wa vipindi vya uchaguzi wa nchi zilizoathiriwa na kuzimwa kwa mitandao ya kijamii. Utafiti huo utafafanua pia jinsi makundi mbalimbali ya watumiaji hutumia VPN ili kuwezesha upatikanaji wa burudani ya jiji iliyozuiwa pamoja na maudhui ya elimu au usalama wa data kutokana na vipengele vya teknolojia fiche.

Kwa suala la mapendekezo ya sera, utafiti huu utasaidia kuelewa wa dhana ya data kutoka kwa mtazamo wa Kiafrika na utajulisha mjadala wa sera za kikanda na kimataifa juu ya faragha, usalama na usalama mtandaoni katika Afrika. Utafiti huo pia utatoa mapendekezo kwa watumiaji wa internet wa Afrika juu ya jinsi ya kuwa salama mtandaoni kwa njia ya uhamisho wa data kote kanda.

 

 

magma-intro-post

Announcing the Magma project

By Vasilis Ververis, DATACTIVE

Magma aims to build a scalable, reproducible, standard methodology on measuring, documenting and circumventing internet censorship, information controls, internet blackouts and surveillance in a way that will be streamlined and used in practice by researchers, front-line activists, field-workers, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists.

In recent years, a number of research fellows, journalists, human rights activists, lawyers as well as a larger research community, have been working in high-risk contexts, which creates the need to consider their qualitative and quantitative research data as highly sensitive. Albeit their competitiveness and high qualification in their respective areas (social and political science, usability, law, political economy analysis), they can rarely claim to have a specific expertise or extensive experience when it comes to networks services and systems, telecommunication infrastructure, applied data analysis of network measurements, internet censorship, surveillance and information controls.

Ideally, researchers working with various network measurement tools and frameworks such as the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), should have qualified technical help and assistance, thus enabling them to develop appropriate testing methodologies, suiting exactly their research environment and needs.

Magma aims to build a research framework for people working on information controls and network measurements, facilitating their working process in numerous ways. As such, this framework will enable them to properly structure an activity plan, make informed choices regarding the required tools (including ethical and security aspects) and analyze the data produced by such tools.

Through Magma, we wish to provide our expertise and experience in network measurements, internet censorship research, assessment of ISP network, surveillance probing and data analysis in order to:

  • Asses the risks by providing, implementing and maintaining technologies demanded by researchers on front-lines and areas where the need of operational security, anti-surveillance and censorship circumvention is of paramount importance.
  • Provide tailored technical assistance, developing at the same time appropriate testing methodology for network measurements, evaluation and analysis of data and reports that correspond to the respective research questions.
  • On a long-term basis, build a scalable and reproducible methodology for collecting, evaluating and analyzing data and reports’ self-defense for front-line researchers, front-line activists, field-workers, human rights defenders, organizations and journalists, by keeping exact documentation.

Below, we list some examples of potential future research around internet censorship, information controls and surveillance, mainly based on conducting networks measurements and analyzing its results:

Egypt: Media censorship, Tor interference, HTTPS throttling and ads injections?

A study on Tor network and media websites blockages, network bandwidth throttling and malicious network packet injections that contained malware and advertising content.

OONI Data Reveals How WhatsApp Was Blocked (Again) in Brazil

A study to determine how WhatsApp has been blocked after a judge’s court order all over the country of Brazil.

Understanding Internet Censorship Policy: The Case of Greece

An extensive large scale research analyzing the policies and techniques used to block content deemed illegal by a state identifying transparency problems, collateral damage and the implications of over or under blocking.

Identifying cases of DNS misconfiguration: Not quite censorship

A study on a non-malicious technical issue that leads to the interference and non-accessibility of a regional news media outlet throughout several different networks and countries.

To this respect, we would like to hear from all of you who are interested in researching information controls and internet censorship, and are intrigued to better understand how to work with network measurements and analyze data from various data sources and OONI reports.

We wanted to keep this post as concrete and terse as possible to encourage both technical and non-technical entities and individuals to get in touch with us, even if they are currently engaged in an undergoing project. The results of this collaboration will help form a complete guideline handbook expressed by the needs of the communities that work, or conduct research, in this field.

Please use any of these communications channels to get in touch with us.

 

Vasilis Ververis is a research associate with DATACTIVE and a practitioner of the principles ~ undo / rebuild ~ the current centralization model of the internet. Their research deals with internet censorship and investigation of collateral damage via information controls and surveillance. Some recent affiliations: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany; Universidade Estadual do Piaui, Brazil; University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal.

 

This post is co-published with the Magma Project

Photo: CovaContro

Civic resistance to environmental failures from the South (of the North…): The AnalyzeBasilicata initiative

By Anna Berti Suman – Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (TILT)

 

During the Workshop ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’, we discussed how the ‘South’ is much more than a geographical connotation. The South exists every time a person is discriminated, basic services are denied, surveillance is secretly performed at the expenses of those at the margins, land, but also data, are grabbed for the sake of profit, people are forced to daily live with environmental contamination, and so on. In this sense, maybe the South is not geographical at all, if we think that all these situations can well occur in the North as in the South of the world. This contribution tells a story ‘from the South’: the South of Italy (yet a country generally considered as part of ‘the North’), and a situation embedding the South through denial of rights and resource appropriation. But it also tells a story of hope, of civic resistance that can make a change, speaking to individuals, collectives, and even to institutions, with a tireless critique of the status-quo.

The case is that of ‘AnalyzeBasilicata’ (in Italian ‘Analizziamo la Basilicata’), founded in 2015 by the Italian association ‘COVA Contro’ and aimed at tackling the environmental mismanagements in a Southern Italian region, Basilicata, known for having a 40% of the population at risk of poverty. The region is also sadly known as “the Italian Texas” for the intense oil exploitation and its incidence on local residents. The ‘AnalyzeBasilicata’ initiative started as a campaign and quickly obtained a vast social uptake, manifested in the generous financial support from concerned citizens. Through crowdfunding, AnalyzeBasilicata managed to buy the necessary instruments to collect sample in numerous areas of the region and run chemical tests at the premises of Accredia, the Italian single body for scientific accreditation. The results of the test fuelled investigations that were subsequently published on the online magazine Basilicata24. The initiative currently strives to make publicly accessible the data from the measurements on its website as well as the sources of funding to support such measurements. In addition, the organization has barely any organizational structure, devoting all the resources obtained from crowd-funding to the measurements.

brazilitica 2
Photo: Basilicata24

The collective’s workflow is structured as follow: when the AnalyzeBasilicata team identify an environmental problem, they run a cross-check or alterative measuring on the interested area; if they find a discrepancy between the official data and their measurements, they either first publish the news on their blog and then file a formal notification to the competent environmental agency or to the public prosecutor office, or, in alternative, they first notify the problem to the relevant institutions and then reach the public.  The choice of one or the other strategy depends on the matter at issue, its sensitivity and public concern. In general, the response from the concerned citizens is higher than the interest and follow-up from the responsible institutions [1]. The collective works either spontaneously or in response to a request from a group of concerned citizens. Rarely, they are approached by institutions requesting measurements [2]. The individuals running the tests are, for the majority, not experts in environmental monitoring. However, they trained themselves, and benefit from the help of experts on how to collect sampling and analyse data [3].

Examples of the actions launched by the COVA Contro Association and AnalyzeBasilicata regard to the correlation between the ENI and INGV extractive operations in the region and the seismic status of Val d’Agri, Basilicata. The collective interestingly mentioned the Aarhus Convention when denouncing the lack of transparency and public participation on the matter to the Italian environmental protection agency, ISPRA, to the Italian anti-corruption agency, ANAC, to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and to the National Anti-Mafia Directorate. The reliance of the local collective’s discourse on entitlements deriving from an international legal body is particularly relevant as it demonstrates how the local needs to ‘rely on the global’ to strengthen its arguments, yet resting strongly grounded in the local dimension.

Another timely intervention of the collective is represented by the analysis performed in the area of Policoro, Basilicata, where the civic monitoring, originally looking for traces of trihalomethanes in drinking water (which were instead found under threshold), discovered traces of two halogenated compounds that are recognized to have carcinogenic effects. The tests were run as cross-check of those performed by the competent authorities. The organization lamented the unfulfilled duty of public authorities to ensure that drinking water are preserved free from pollutants, thus including not only the substances provided by the Italian legislative decree 31/2001 but all substances possibly noxious to human health. This way the collective showed to be aware of the legal framework and to ground its claim on institutionally recognized legal entitlements, partially covered by the right to live in a healthy environment. The organization demanded a legal intervention by asking for the definition of clear maximum thresholds for the presence of the toxic carcinogenic compounds in drinking water. This approach is also particularly noteworthy as it shows that civic resistance still need to ‘use’ the system, while resisting it, and the appeal to legal provisions seems a way to find a form of recognition in the establishment.

Photo: CovaContro
Photo: CovaContro

The founder of AnalyzeBasilicata, Giorgio Santoriello [4], affirmed that the trigger for the launch of the initiative was the distrust towards the data provided (often scarce or difficult to access) by the environmental agency responsible for the territory. Santoriello described how the agency was unequipped and lacking personnel. From a first stage of ‘shadowing’ what the agency was doing to monitor the environmental conditions of the area, they started performing the monitoring themselves, comparing the two and identifying discrepancies. The first accreditation, according to Santoriello, was the social support from the concerned citizens through financial support and follow-up on media. Despite being critical towards the established way of environmental monitoring in Basilicata, the collective has always been willing to cooperate with the prosecutor offices, environmental agencies and politicians to shed light on the malfunctions of the environmental governance system in the region. This ‘open’ approach is also worth of reflection: the collective challenges the system, but it is ready to engage in a dialogue with established institutions in view of the ultimate goal, i.e. the improvement of environmental protection in Basilicata.

Despite relying on legal norms, Santoriello seemed to suggest that the laws on transparency and public accountability, as well as those on civic access to environmental information and participation in environmental decision-making, are insufficient to concretely enforce citizens’ rights. First, they would be too soft, not providing for actual sanctions. Second, their enforcement in courts would require high financial resources that often citizens’ organizations lack. Thirdly, they are often applicable only in cases of plain violations, and not in the daily subtler instances of citizen’s misinformation or of inaccessible information. Santoriello identifies in citizen-run technologies a light of hope to tackle the problem of poor environmental monitoring or hidden environmental data. He considers nowadays more pressing than in the past the need to use technology to draw the link between environmental pollutants and human health. Santoriello stresses the centrality of having ‘doubting’ citizens that crosscheck the environmental information received as a way to improve environmental monitoring, to ensure the respect of fundamental rights and to promote accountability.

Overall, this accountability outcome seems resulting of a combination of the following elements: distrust towards environmental (mis)management generates a civic initiative based on citizen-run technologies; the collective gains credibility (activists obtain scientific accreditation for their measurements); by cross-checking institutional data, the group manages to demonstrate substantial deviation from a proper environmental management; the collective obtains attention of larger sections of society; they justify their actions based on norms but simultaneously discard them; ultimately, though just a ‘drop in the ocean’, a push towards more transparency and accountability is activated.

 

 

Anna Berti Suman – is a PhD researcher at the Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society (The Netherlands), investigating forms of environmental monitoring ‘from below’. Anna has work and research experience in environmental crimes (Ecuador) and water conflicts (Chile); Anna is pro-bono environmental lawyer for Greenpeace International.

 You can reach her at: a.bertisuman@uvt.nl

 

 

[1] Call performed on September 24, 2018, with the founder of ‘AnalyzeBasilicata’, Giorgio Santoriello.

[2] Ibidem.

[3] Ibidem.

[4] Ibidem.

 

 

iur

#BigDataSur @LASA: An overview by Anita Say Chan

Why study Big Data from the South? This was the question we – the founder of the Big Data from the South Initiative and the author of this blog post – asked by pulling together a three-session workshop and panel series on “Big Data from the South” at the 2018 Latin American Studies Association Conference (LASA), that took place in May of this year in Barcelona, Spain. The timing of the series was auspicious. That very month, the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – a law introducing new reforms that intended to strengthen EU citizens’ control over personal data, privacy rights, and ensure organizations that collect data do so only with a user’s consent, and while ensuring its protection from misuse and exploitation – had come into enforcement. And only months earlier, the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal had come to public light – in a case that put the world’s biggest social network at the center of an international scandal involving the manipulation of user data and voter profiles for global misinformation campaigns. The case was all the more significant for demonstrating not only the possibility of hacking electoral processes in the 2016 US presidential election or the UK Brexit referendum campaign – but for making evident the pre-existing and potentially continuing precarity of global electoral processes well beyond. That very month, while Silicon Valley corporate heads in the US pronounced to publics around the world that they should continue to be trusted – as data’s and Western liberal economies’ foremost technical experts – with the design and management of data ecologies, across the Atlantic, EU political representatives made parallel arguments for renewed public trust (voting scandals aside) around data policy, leveraging their authority as key spokespersons of the Western world’s legal and political expertise.

The varied crises currently facing Western data institutions – private and public alike – gave an immediate urgency to deepen our understanding and analyses of other forms of data practice and processing beyond the given centers of “data” expertise – technical, legal, or otherwise. But the work of this volume demonstrates the breadth of scholarship long underway from across varied disciplines and research communities (bridging from Latin American and global area studies, to communications and new media studies, anthropology, sociology, science and technology studies, and emerging fields like critical data studies) to address such glaring imbalances – to ask what limited forms of citizen and user are indeed “spoken for” under the interests of Western innovation and political centers –and to ask how it is that such particular centers of knowledge production and research are still enabled to speak for (and in place of) the “global rest”– particularly when issues of technology, the digital, and now indeed, data are involved.

In bringing the LASA session series together, we thus noted how critical scholarship had already begun to undertake analyses of the politics surrounding big data – drawing attention to how datafication regimes bring about new and opaque techniques of population management, control, and discrimination – but how such accounts still largely stemmed from scholars based in institutions in the global north. Our aim was thus to build and expand upon such scholarship by engaging dialogues with new and existing work critical of the dominance of Western approaches to datafication, and that aimed towards recognition of the diversity of voices emerging from the Global South. Stressing opportunities for co-learning across dialogues, we tabled a range of questions that included:

  • How does the availability of data bring novel opportunities for research and collaboration across the Global South?
  • How do activists take advantage of big data for social justice advocacy?
  • What initiatives and actors ask for the release of data?
  • What negative consequences of datafication are activists and organizations facing in the Global South?
  • What practices of resistance emerge?
  • What frames of reference, imaginaries, and culture do people mobilize in relation to big data and massive data collection?
  • Which conceptual and methodological frameworks are best suited to capture the complexity and the peculiarities of data activism in the Global South?
  • And which alternative understandings and epistemologies could help us to better address the contested terrain of data power and activism in the Global South, and Latin America in particular?

The shift involved not only a broadening of geographical and political lenses, but also entailed a broadening of frameworks to encompass – alongside the critical work of analyzing datafication regimes under development by state and corporate actors – new frameworks that could take new and existing practices around data activism seriously. Parallel with growing calls for broadening debates in information, technology and new media studies with “decolonial computing” frameworks (Amrute and Murillo 2018, Chan, 2018, Philip and Sengupta, 2018), such a broadened lens draws from work in Latin American and post-colonial studies around the “decolonization of knowledge” as a means to underscore the significance of the diverse ways through which citizens and researchers in the Global South engage in bottom-up data practices for social change as well as speak for the resistances to uses of big data that increase oppression, inequality, or social harm. Indeed, the prominent collective of global scholars who wrote of decolonial thinking and the “decolonial option” in 2007 did so urging a broader recognition of the diverse contexts and agents of knowledge production who long represented “a colonial subaltern epistemology.” They wrote to draw attention to the long and diverse histories of decolonial interventions that emerged to confront the “variegated faces of the colonial wound inflicted [over] five hundred years of… modernity as a weapon of imperial/colonial global expansion.” (Mignolo, 2007, Mignolo and Escobar, 2010)

Writing as researchers bridging conversations and debates across four continents, they renewed critiques of how the colonial underpinnings of global knowledge production continued to reassert Western frames of thought as universal scientific truths. And they underscored how this “historically worked to subordinate and negate ‘other’ frames [and] ‘other’ knowledge,… reproduc[ing] the meta-narratives of the West while discounting or overlooking the critical thinking produced by indigenous, Afro, and mestizos whose thinking… depart not from modernity alone but also from the long horizon of coloniality” (Walsh, 2007: 224). They thus stressed the vitality of “other” forms of knowledge production occurring “beyond the academy” (Mignolo and Escobar 2010:18), and highlighted the de-colonial options enacted by indigenous and other social movement actors as vital to future decolonial projects. Pressing on “the importance of thinking within” and alongside the perspective of these movements (Mignolo and Escobar 2010:19), they urged scholars not only to reimagine their roles as academic documentarians of movements (actors, that is, still dedicated to a reproduction of dominant forms of modern epistemologies) , but to decenter their own forms of knowledge practice by beginning to “think with [movements] theoretically and politically.” As such, decolonialists posed the significance of how cultivating a politics of decentralization – and a de-centering of the self as expert and knowledge practitioner – might offer an affront to modernity’s domination of other epistemologies – and might open up possibilities for a more radical politics of inclusion and intentionality of dialogues across lines of difference.

And indeed, the encounter in Barcelona last May drew forth vital and vibrant responses from a diverse range of scholars who together represented more than 20 different research institutions (public and private) across over more than a dozen national contexts, and four different continents. Building upon the prompt the editors of this volume following the first conference on Big Data from the South in Cartegena, Colombia to imagine what varied southern theories – in vital, vibrant, plurality — around big data would entail (Milan and Trere, 2017), the participants of our second workshop mapped collaboratively a terrain marked by a complex of readily identifiable contemporary challenges and possibilities alike. These included varied forms of new datafication practices undertaken by the state – but conducted in fundamental partnership with corporate data industries – that were read as explicitly deleterious to civic forms of critical intervention. These encompassed projects that participants marked as material and techno-cultural articulations of “Nation branding,” “Surveillance” in urban and online spaces alike, growing “Smart City Initiatives” that saw to the “Automation of State Functions within Urban Infrastructures,” growing CCTV-like “Centers of Control with Cameras,” and indeed, “Bureaucracy.”

Other participants marked emerging data-driven projects launched under state and private sector partnerships that – less than outright excluding or marginalizing civic participation – instead included narrowly-defined forms of citizen inclusion, that were typically based on recognizable forms of “innovation” practice. This included noticeably growing trends in “Open Government” and “Open Data” initiatives “and “Open Innovation Centers” as a means to transform citizens’ perceptions of and relations to the state.

Mapping more promising vectors, participants noted new growth in the use of “media archives” in film, video, literature, or music and civic data collections as resources newly utilized for new citizen-driven projects around “Data Literacy,” “Memory Mappings and Weavings from Neighborhoods” (including those especially marked by conflict and violence, such as those in urban Colombia), “Communal and Neighborhood Open Street Maps”, and “Feminist Mappings of Femicides” and sex-based hate crimes. Participants also marked the development of new practices or use of existing data sets (acquired from either government, public, or corporate data sources) – as practices that drew from existing data resources or infrastructures, and reoriented or hacked them to create fundamentally new technocultural and material resources. This included the “Reappropriation of Stolen Archives” and cultural artifacts taken (whether under colonial powers or in the name of national patrimony) from traditional and indigenous communities, the “Use of Drones to Map Marches” and document potential state abuses, the “Use of Analog Phone Communication between Taxi Drivers” as a means to circumvent smart city programs in Mexico City, and even the outright “Rejection and Refusal” of dominant technology products and solutions, until alternative civic uses might be defined.

Working together over the course of the afternoon-long session, the participants brought to life a number of principles underscored in the earliest iteration of Big Data from the South that alternatives theories and approaches to big data would entail. This included a considerations of the heterogeneity of data practices – coming from state, corporate and also civic actors – who could facilitate or resist “datafication” processes, to center decolonial thinking that would attend to alternative practices, imaginaries, and epistemologies in relation to data; to consider the work of infrastructure within diverse contexts in the Global South; and to be open to the dialogue the varied vectorizations it might have between actors representing diverse and complex realities between “northern” and “southern” worlds.

In conversation, and in consideration of the recent globally-scaled data scandals of 2018 that had brought the legitimacy of national elections and the authority of dominant Western data institutions – private and public alike – into question – the roomful of participants began to collectively map a series of other concerns and problematics that built upon earlier mappings. This included how data archives and practices had been influenced by community-defined communication infrastructures. It included too how other objects that defined people’s day to day contact with data resources might especially be mindful of how everything from seeds to digitally tagged farm animals (and objects beyond cell phones and urban smart city infrastructures) might be recognized as implicating datafication in more-than-human worlds. How might such considerations and practices developing within community contexts – and that draw attention to the rights, responsibilities and obligations around “community data” or “comuni-datos” – how might these emerge as a collective argument and resource to defend as an alternative to Western framework’s privileging of individual privacy rights (or data as personal property). How might recognizing the innovation within such work deepen a decolonial data project by decentering recognition of conventional data experts – as industry employed or IT-trained data scientist and engineer – to more everyday forms of data expert and practice centered around citizen and civic actors? And finally, could taking seriously the work of such processes as Data Dialogues help to forge new convergences, interfaces, or forms of technosocialities that could further deepen the ethical debates and intersectional, inter-allied work needed to energize the development of alternative data practices in the face of the evident global crises of dominant data institutions today confront?

It is worth noting that such a project and core of concerns within a Data from the South initiative finds ready resonances within existing debates in critical data studies, and the growing scholarship around algorithm studies, software and platform studies, and post-colonial computing. And while most of this scholarship has indeed emerged from institutions in the Global North, varied concerns scholars within such circles have signaled as key areas for future development, indeed point towards potentials for convergences. This includes a reinforced rejection of data fundamentalism (Crawford and boyd) and technological determinism infused within many analysis of algorithms in application, and a fundamental recentering of the human within data-fied worlds and data industries – that resists the urge to read “algorithms as fetishized objects… and firmly resist[s] putting the technology in the explanatory driver’s seat… A sociological analysis must not conceive of algorithms as abstract, technical achievements, but must unpack the warm human and institutional choices lie behind these cold mechanisms. (Gillespie 2013, Crawford 2016) It also involves treating data infrastructures and the underlying algorithms that give political life them intentionally as both ambiguous but approachable – to develop methodologies that “not only explore new empirical [and everyday] settings,” for data politics, including airport security, credit scoring, academic writing, and social media – “ but also find creative ways to make the figure of the algorithm productive for analysis… [and] show that mythologies like the algorithmic drama do not have to be reductive but can be rich and complex ‘stories that help people deal with contradictions in social life that can never fully be resolved’’ (Mosco 2005, 28; see also Lévi-Strauss 1955). Finally, in parallel with approaches for a post-colonial computing that STS and critical informatic scholars have called for have called for (Irani, Phillips and Dourish 2010) in developing decolonial computing frameworks that aim for growing “tactics… that expand the transdisciplinary scope of what one needs to know,” developing approaches around and with Data from the South might further aim to develop new interfaces with allied scholars – from across varied disciplines and regions – required to “think within” between and among in the diverse perspective of wide-ranging and widely-situated movements both inside and outside traditional research spaces. Writing now in the Fall of 2018, as renewed calls for alternative and urgently needed forms of global political imaginaries that no longer take for granted a presumed stability and centrality of Western liberalism and modernity are being called upon, such forms of open-ended relating and experimentation indeed yield valuable lessons.

 

References

Amrute S. and L. R. Murillo. (2018). “Computing in/from the South.” Catalyst, 4(2).

Andrejevic, M. (2012). Exploitation in the data-mine. In C. Fuchs, K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund, & M. Sandoval (Eds.), Internet and Surveillance: The Challenges of Web 2.0 and Social Media (pp. 71–88). New York: Routledge.

Arora, P. (2016). Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big Data and the Global South. International Journal of Communication, 10, 19.

Boyd, d., & Crawford, K. (2012). Critical questions for big data: Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon. Information, Communication & Society, 15(5), 662–679.

Chan, A. (2014). Networking Peripheries: Technological Futures and the Myth of Digital Universalism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chan, A. 2018. “Decolonial Computing and Networking Beyond Digital Universalism.” Catalyst, 4(2).

Crawford, K. 2016. Can an Algorithm be Agonistic? Ten Scenes from Life in Calculated Publics, Science, Technology & Human Values, 41(1), 77-92.

Crawford, K., Miltner, K., and M. Gray. (2014). “Critiquing Big Data: Politics, Ethics, Epistemology,” International Journal of Communication 8, 1663–1672.

Dourish, P. (2016). “Algorithms and their others: Algorithmic culture in context.” Big Data & Society, July–December 2016: 1–11.

Eubanks, V. (2018). Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police and Punish the Poor. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Gillespie, T. (2014). The relevance of algorithms. In T. Gillespie, P. Boczkowski, & K. Foot (Eds.), Media technologies: Essays on communication, materiality, and society (pp. 167–194). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mignolo, W. D. (2007). Introduction: Coloniality of power and de-colonial thinking. Cultural Studies, 21, (2 -3 March/May), 155 -167.

Mignolo, W. D. & E. A. Escobar (Eds.). (2010). Globalization and the decolonial. London, GB: Routledge Press.

Milan, S., & Trere, E. (2017). Big Data from the South: The Beginning of a Conversation We Must Have.

Mosco, V. 2005. The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Noble, S. (2018). Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: NYU Press.

O’Neil, Cathy. (2016). Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. London: Allen Lane.

Philip, K., Irani, L. & Dourish, P. (2010). Postcolonial computing: A tactical survey. Science, Technology, & Human Values. 37(1), 3–29.

Philip, K. and A. Sengupta. 2018. “Afterword: Computing in/from the South.” Catalyst, 4(2).

Schäfer, M. & K. van Es, eds. (2017). The Datafied Society: Studying Culture through Data. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Walsh, C. (2007). Shifting the geopolitics of critical knowledge: Decolonial thought and cultural studies “others” in the Andes. Cultural Studies 21, (2-3 March/May), 224 -239.

Ziewitz, M. (2015). “Governing algorithms: Myth, mess, and methods.” Science, Technology & Human Values 41(4): 3– 16.

 

About the author

Anita Say Chan is an Associate Research Professor of Communications in the Department of Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her research and teaching interests include globalization and digital cultures, innovation networks and the “periphery”, science and technology studies in Latin America, and hybrid pedagogies in building digital literacies. She received her PhD in 2008 from the MIT Doctoral Program in History; Anthropology; and Science, Technology, and Society. Her first book the competing imaginaries of global connection and information technologies in network-age Peru, Networking Peripheries: Technological Futures and the Myth of Digital Universalism was released by MIT Press in 2014. Her research has been awarded support from the Center for the Study of Law & Culture at Columbia University’s School of Law and the National Science Foundation, and she has held postdoctoral fellowships at The CUNY Graduate Center’s Committee on Globalization & Social Change, and at Stanford University’s Introduction to Humanities Program. She is faculty affiliate at the Institute for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (I-CHASS), the Illinois Informatics Institute, the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory, and the Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy (CHAMP). She was a 2015-16 Faculty Fellow with the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities. She will be 2017-18 Faculty Fellow with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and a 2017-19 Faculty Fellow with the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory.

unspecified

Workshop ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’, Amsterdam, December 4-5

How would datafication look like seen… ‘upside down’? What questions would we ask? What concepts, theories and methods would we embrace or have to devise? These questions are at the core of the two-day research seminar ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’, scheduled to take place at the University of Amsterdam on December 4-5, 2018. The event is the third gathering of the Big Data from the South Initiative, launched in 2017 by Stefania Milan and Emiliano Treré (Cardiff University). It interrogates ‘Big Data from the South’, moving beyond the Western centrism and ‘digital universalism’ (Say Chan, 2013) of much of the critical scholarship on datafication and digitalization. It allows the Initiative to advance with charting its field of inquiry, including in the conversation practitioners from various corners of the globe and scholars from media studies, development studies, law, globalization studies, philosophy, science and technology studies, critical data studies (and counting).

Watch the event here.

The event is made possible by the generous funding of the Amsterdam Center for Globalization Studies, the Amsterdam Center for European Studies, the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, and the European Research Council. With the participation of SPUI25 and Terre Lente.

Rationale

The workshop builds on the work of DATACTIVE and the Data Justice Lab in thinking the relation between data, citizenship and participation, but goes beyond engaging with a much needed debate at the intersection of feminist theory, critical theory, and decolonial thinking, which, ‘thinking in radical exteriority’ (Vallega, 2015, p. x), interrogates the coloniality of power. It intends to contribute also to the ongoing epistemological repositioning of the humanities and the social sciences in light of the raising inequality. We depart from the observation that, ‘while the majority of the world’s population resides outside the West, we continue to frame key debates on democracy and surveillance—and the associated demands for alternative models and practices—by means of Western concerns, contexts, user behavior patterns, and theories’  (Milan and Treré, 2017) . If on the one hand, ‘we need concerted and sustained scholarship on the role and impact of big data on the Global South’ (Arora, 2015, p. 1693), on the other ‘new’ theory and ‘new’ understandings are key, as ‘if the injustices of the past continue into the present and are in need of repair (and reparation), that reparative work must also be extended to the disciplinary structure that obscure as much as illuminate the path ahead’ (Bhambra & De Sousa Santos, 2017, p. 9). Thus, this event will be a stepping stone towards rethinking the sociotechnical dynamics of datafication in light of ‘the historical processes of dispossession, enslavement, appropriation and extraction […] central to the emergence of the modern world’ (Ibid.).

But what South are we referring to? First, our definition of ‘South’ is a flexible and expansive one, inspired to the writings of globalization sociologist Boaventura De Sousa Santos (2014) who is at the forefront of the reflection on the emergence and the urgency of epistemologies from the South against the ‘epistemicide’ of neoliberalism. Including but also going beyond the geographical South and emphasising the plurality of the South(s), our South is a place for and a metaphor of resistance, subversion, and creativity . Secondly, our notion emerges in dialectic interaction with the continuous critical interrogating and situating of our privilege as Western academics vs. the imperative to do ‘nothing about them without them’ (see Milan and Treré, 2017).

Participants (in alphabetical order)

Carla Alvial (NUMIES, Chile), Payal Arora (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Sérgio Barbosa (University of Coimbra), Davide Beraldo (UvA), Enrico Calandro (Research ICT Africa), Bernardo Caycedo (UvA), Fabien Cante (University of Birmingham), Alberto Cossu (UvA), Nick Couldry (LSE), Álvaro Crovo (ISUR, Colombia), Monika Halkort (American University of Lebanon), Becky Kazansky (UvA), Anja Kovacs (The Internet Democracy Project), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University), Joan Lopez (Fundacion Karisma), Aaron Martin (Tilburg University), Silvia Masiero (Loughborough University), Ulises Mejias (SUNY Oswego), Stefania Milan (UvA), Hellen Mukiri-Smith (Tilburg University), Nelli Piattoeva (University of Tampere), Anita Say Chan (Illinois, Urbana-Champagne), Gabriela Sued (Tecnologico de Monterrey), Anna Suman (Tilburg University), Linnet Taylor (Tilburg University), Gunes Tavmen (Birbeck College), Niels ten Oever (UvA), Emiliano Treré (Cardiff University), Guillen Torres (UvA), Etienne von Bertrab (UCL), Norbert Wildermuth (Roskilde University), Kersti Wissenbach (UvA)

Schedule 

DAY 1, December 4th
15.00-16.30

@UvA library, Singel 425, room ‘Belle van Zuylen’

Open session: Can Data be Decolonized? Data Relations and the Emerging Social Order of Capitalism, with Nick Couldry (London School of Economics and Political Science) & 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.

Chair: Stefania Milan (DATACTIVE, University of Amsterdam)

17.00-19.30 @Terre Lente, Westerstraat 55 Informal research session with light dinner & drinks (for subscribed participants only)
20-21.30 @SPUI25, Spui 25 Public event: Big Data from the South: Decolonization, Resistance and Creativity, Payal Arora (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Nick Couldry (London School of Economics), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University) and Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York, College at Oswego).

Datafication has dramatically altered the way we understand the world around us. Understanding the so-called ‘big data’ means to explore the profound consequences of the computational turn, as well as the limitations, errors and biases that affect the gathering, interpretation and access to information on such a large scale. However, much of this critical scholarship has emerged along a Western axis ideally connecting Silicon Valley, Cambridge, MA and Northern Europe. What does it mean to think datafication from a Southern perspective? This roundtable interrogates the mythology and universalism of datafication and big data, moving beyond the Western centrism and ‘digital universalism’ (Say Chan, 2013) of the critical scholarship on datafication and digitalization. It asks how would datafication look like seen… ‘upside down’? What problems should we address? What questions would we ask? We will explore these questions in conversation with four engaged academics: Payal Arora (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Nick Couldry (London School of Economics), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University), and Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York, Oswego).

Chair: Stefania Milan (DATACTIVE, University of Amsterdam)
Moderator: Emiliano Treré (Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University)

Drinks will follow!

DAY 2, December 5th @e-lab, UvA Media Studies, Turfdraagsterpad 9 (for subscribed participants only)
10.00-10.15 Welcome by Stefania Milan (coffee & tea in the room!)
10.15-11.00 Setting the scene by Stefania and Emiliano Treré
11.00-11.45 Workgroup slot 1
11.45-12.30 Workgroup slot 2
12.30-13.40 Short presentation by Tecnológico de Monterrey(Mexico)
12.40-13.30 Lunch served in the room (by Terre Lente)
13.30-14.15 Workgroup slot 3
14.15-15.00 Workgroup slot 4
15.00-15.45 Workgroup slot 5
15.45-16.00 Stretching break
16.00-17.00 Plenary session: Reporting back and next steps

Follow the conversation online with the hashtag #BigDataSur

Check out the blog and subscribe to the mailing list!

 

DTI-V4-1-300x285

two more articles of the special issue “Big Data from the South” are online!

After the “teaser” by Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias, two more articles of the Special Issue on “Big Data from the South” have now gone online! Happy reading!

This paper calls for an epistemic disobedience in privacy studies by decolonizing the approach to privacy. As technology companies expand their reach worldwide, the notion of privacy continues to be viewed through an ethnocentric lens. It disproportionately draws from empirical evidence on Western-based, white, and middle-class demographics. We need to break away from the market-driven neoliberal ideology and the Development paradigm long dictating media studies if we are to foster more inclusive privacy policies. This paper offers a set of propositions to de-naturalize and estrange data from demographic generalizations and cultural assumptions, namely, (1) predicting privacy harms through the history of social practice, (2) recalibrating the core-periphery as evolving and moving targets, and (3) de-exoticizing “natives” by situating privacy in ludic digital cultures. In essence, decolonizing privacy studies is as much an act of reimagining people and place as it is of dismantling essentialisms that are regurgitated through scholarship.

(Big) Data and the North-in-South: Australia’s Informational Imperialism and Digital Colonialism by Monique Mann and Angela Daly

Australia is a country firmly part of the Global North, yet geographically located in the Global South. This North-in-South divide plays out internally within Australia given its status as a British settler-colonial society which continues to perpetrate imperial and colonial practices vis-à-vis the Indigenous peoples and vis-à-vis Australia’s neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific region. This article draws on and discusses five seminal examples forming a case study on Australia to examine big data practices through the lens of Southern Theory from a criminological perspective. We argue that Australia’s use of big data cements its status as a North-in-South environment where colonial domination is continued via modern technologies to effect enduring informational imperialism and digital colonialism. We conclude by outlining some promising ways in which data practices can be decolonized through Indigenous Data Sovereignty but acknowledge these are not currently the norm; so Australia’s digital colonialism/coloniality endures for the time being.

Unknown

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.

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)