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YouTube Algorithm Exposed: DMI Summer School project week 1

DATACTIVE participated in the first week of the Digital Methods Initiative summer school 2019 with a data sprint related to the side project ALEX. DATACTIVE’s insiders Davide and Jeroen, together with research associate and ALEX’s software developer Claudio Agosti, pitched a project aimed at exploring the logic of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, using the ALEX-related browser extension youtube.tracking.exposed. ytTREX allows you to produce copies of the set of recommended videos, with the main purpose to investigate the logic of personalization and tracking behind the algorithm. During the week, together with a number of highly motivated students and researchers, we engaged in collective reflection, experiments and analysis, fueled by Brexit talks, Gangnam Style beats, and the secret life of octopuses. Our main findings (previewed below, and detailed later in a wiki report) pertain look into which factors (language settings, browsing behavior, previous views, domain of videos, etc.) help trigger the highest level of personalization in the recommended results.

 

Algorithm exposed_ investigasting Youtube – slides

 

 

 

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Stefania at the Summer School on Methods for the Study of Political Participation and Mobilization, Florence

On June 4, Stefania gives a lecture on ethical issues in social movement and political participation research at the Summer School on Methods for the Study of Political Participation and Mobilization, in Florence, Italy.

The school is organised by the ECPR Standing Group on Participation and Mobilization and the Dipartimento di Scienze Politico-Sociali at the Scuola Normale Superiore.

 

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fbTREX reaction to Facebook collaboration

Research associate Claudio Agosti argues the need for independent critical research in a reaction to the news that Facebook is opening its door to scholars for academic research. The statement on the EU19 tracking exposed project website portrays why academic research should not be delimited by corporate conditions for research only;  we should engage in independent critical research to platforms that important for our online public democratic spaces.

Claudio on Twitter: “Last week Facebook announced would share some data with some researchers: don’t be fooled, it is not a gift.”

Read the full statement here

facebook.tracking.exposed allows re-purposing social media data for critical research goals. It is currently employed in a use-case for analyzing the European Elections 2019. Claudio Agosti is DATACTIVE research associate, and fbTREX is hosted by DATACTIVE / ALEX as a form of data activism in-practice.

Technologische soevereiniteit vol2

Constructing Technological Sovereignty

By Lonneke van der Velden, DATACTIVE   

A couple of weeks, ago a part of the DATACTIVE team attended the book launch of the Dutch translation of ‘Technological Sovereignty’ at the Hackerspace TechInc in Amsterdam. The main talk at the book launch was given by one of the authors of the book, Spideralex, a feminist researcher on ICT for the public good. In her talk, Spideralex introduced the notion of technological sovereignty as being inspired by some reflections by Margarita Padilla, a feminist thinker and programmer. Padilla’s claim is that we ‘lost’ technological sovereignty: people are increasingly dependent on (digital) technologies, and even the seemingly active use of these tools is passive, because the people do not control the resources. Control is mainly delegated to big corporations. In response to this, increasingly, perceived loss, Spideralex and others went on a conceptual and practical journey to find, redefine, and reclaim technological sovereignty.

Conceptually, they situated the notion of technological sovereignty in relation to other notions of sovereignty, such as, sovereignty in relation to land or territory, in relation to the body, and in relation to food. Especially the latter form and the existing cooperatives enacting food sovereignty in Catalonia have been inspirational for the authors to rethink the relation between technology, labor, fair production and distribution.

She referred to La Via Campesina, an international peasant’s movement, in which this notion is defined as follows:

‘Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation’ (Via Campesina, cited in “For Free Information and Open Internet” 2014, p.166).

Along similar lines, Spideralex explained that technologies should not only be of tactical use; they should become a domain that is produced and controlled by the people, and dedicated to social change.

Practically, a whole range of examples passed by. Such as a local alternative WIFI community network Guifi and feminist servers (run by feminists and dedicated to host websites supporting feminist issues). Sophie Toupin, a researcher from McGill University joining the talk, discussed a historical example of ‘project Vula’, an encrypted communication system used in the liberation struggle during the Apartheid regime (see Toupin 2016). Spideralex also addressed artisan techniques and reevaluated them as methods being learned within, and owned by, small communities.

Finally she spoke about Calafou, an ‘eco-industrial postcapitalist colony’ in Spain just outside of Barcelona. In the ruins of an old industrial workers colony, the Calafou collective built their own post-capitalist society. They live together as a community, and they organise festivals and events. There is a hacklab, they work on free libraries, trans-hack feminism, and they run a biolab in which they measure and target pollution, especially metals in the environment.

The discussion afterwards was very interesting. People discussed to what extent the notions of sovereignty and autonomy differed, and the localization of the term: in some places people might be more inclined to use sovereignty to describe their own practices than in other places. The situatedness of the understanding of the term also matters, of course, to the extent we can use it as an analytical concept. From a perspective on data activism, it is interesting to see how activists coin and develop conceptual notions to deal with the challenges of our time, in tandem with practical work; hence, to see ‘concept production’ in network cultures (Lovink and Rossiter 2012) in the making.

Information about the book

The book is available in multiple languages: https://sobtec.gitbooks.io/sobtec2/. It was translated into Dutch by Kel, Ivom, Winston, Ptrc, Lara, Kwadro, and is downloadable here . This volume 2 is a follow up to a first volume that was produced in 2014 and is available in French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian (also available in the git repo). Half of the articles were also translated to English in For Free Information and Open Internet: Independent journalists, community media and hacktivists take action.

The event was hosted by TechInc. More information about the event here.

 

 

Lonneke van der Velden is postdoctoral researcher with DATACTIVE and a lecturer at the department of media studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research deals with internet surveillance and activism. She is part of the editorial board of Krisis, Journal for Contemporary Philosophy, and is on the Board of Directors of Bits of Freedom.   

 

References

“For Free Information and Open Internet: Independent journalists, community media and hacktivists take action” (2014). Ritmo, The Passerelle Collection, no. 11. https://www.coredem.info/IMG/pdf/pass11_an-2.pdf

Lovink, Geert and Ned Rossiter (2011). “In Praise of Concept Production: Formats, Schools and Non-Representational Media Studies. https://nedrossiter.org/?p=242

Spideralex (Ed). Technologische Soevereiniteit, Vol. 2, 2019. https://sobtec.gitbooks.io/sobtec2/nl/

Toupin, Sophie (2016). “Gesturing Towards ‘Anti-Colonial Hacking’ and Its Infrastructure’, The Journal of Peer Production (9).

http_workshop_2x

HTTP workshop hosted by DATACTIVE

This week, the fourth HTTP Workshop is taking place in Amsterdam, hosted by DATACTIVE in the University of Amsterdam. This event gathers people who work on and use the Web’s protocol to talk about how it’s working, what needs improving and where it might go in the future. As such, it’s an open, frank round table of people who work on Web browsers, servers, proxies, content management systems, and CDNs, along with those who use it to deploy Web sites big and small, as well as use HTTP for things like APIs.

This is different from a standards body, where normative decisions about the design of the Internet and Web are made; rather, it’s an informal discussion that’s designed to gather input from and inform those who don’t have time or money to go to multiple standards meetings.

Although many topics are likely to be discussed, one of the primary things we always focus on is security and privacy. In the past, we’ve explored how to improve adoption of HTTPS after the Snowden revelations. This time, current topics are likely to include even stronger measures against network attackers and observers, such as Encrypted SNI, DNS-over-HTTP (DoH), and anti-traffic analysis measures.

We’re also scheduled to talk about the continued deployment of HTTP/2 and its implications, along with the upcoming HTTP/3, and a large number of blue-sky proposals to evolve the protocol. We’ll also examine how we can grow to be more diverse and inclusive. It’s usually an exciting event and we’re looking forward to the discussion, as well as our time in Amsterdam.

For more information about the HTTP Workshop, see https://httpworkshop.github.io/
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Subversion in Vienna

Niels ten Oever held a talk on the subversion of equality and freedom of users in the Internet architecture at the Privacy and Sustainable Computing Lab of the Vienna University of Economics and Business. The talk built on a mixed methods analysis of the Internet architecture and its technical governance, and showed how the Internet protocol community structurally did not uphold the values it professes, such as end-to-end, permissionless innovation, and openness. This opened up a discussion how such governance institutions could then be expected to safeguard external principles, such as the public values, which might run counter to the interests of many of the represented stakeholders. This sparked a lively discussion among the attending academics and policy makers about value frameworks and analytical tools and approaches that transverse the fields of technologists, policy makers, the law, and academia.

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Thinking global while also acting local: DATACTIVE and the Amsterdam digital agenda

The municipality of Amsterdam published its Digital Agenda in which it presents its ambitions to become a free, inclusive, and creative digital city. Amsterdam is grounding its ambitions on the early experiences with networking technology in the Netherlands, after which the agenda was called: The Digital City (De Digitale Stad). At DATACTIVE Niels ten Oever thoroughly analyzed the agenda and commend the city for its ambition to base the digital city of the future on digital rights. The approach of the city is anchored in concepts such as privacy, inclusivity, transparency, sovereignty, autonomy, universal access, transparency, openness, participation, and security, which are to be developed in a ‘Cities Coalition for Digital Rights’, and through interviews and cocreation sessions.

While the ambition is very laudable, the agenda has little to no references to existing legal, ethical, or technical standards on which this work can build. This could lead to a duplication of efforts, and a repetition of (expensive) mistakes that have already been made. This is why Jeroen de Vos represented DATACTIVE at the meeting of the Amsterdam Municipal Commission on Art, Diversity, and Democratization and offered suggestions that could assist the successful design, implementation, and evaluation of the Digital Agenda. The full text of the contribution can be read underneath (in Dutch). In the contribution DATACTIVE reiterates the importance of human rights in general and the United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, the international standards for state and corporate accountability in specific, in the implementation of technical infrastructures.

We hope and trust that our analysis of the report, which we shared with the municipality, will be our first contribution to the construction of a public information infrastructure in Amsterdam.

The original text of the oral contribution as read by Jeroen de Vos:

Geachte leden van de Raadscommissie Kunst Diversiteit en Democratisering,

Ik spreek hier namens DATACTIVE, een onderzoeksgroep aan de universiteit van Amsterdam die de sociale en democratische consequenties van datastromen onderzoekt. Wij namen dan ook met grote waardering kennis van de ambitie van de gemeente om een digitale strategie te ontwikkelen waarin mensenrechten een belangrijke plek krijgen. De gemeente plaatst zich hiermee midden een debat over de technologische infrastructuur van onze samenleving.

Wij hopen dat de gemeente niet zal proberen het wiel opnieuw uit te vinden: er zijn reeds veel digitale vrijheidsverklaringen, mensenrechtenverdragen, en technische standaarden ontwikkeld op dit gebied die de gemeente zo kan overnemen. Hierover wordt niets gezegd in de digitale agenda. Dat zou een gemiste kans zijn.

Wij willen van harte aanbevelen dat de gemeente in kaart brengt op welke verdragen, implementatieraamwerken, en technische standaarden ze zich gaat baseren. Dat kan worden gedaan als aanvulling op de agenda en meegenomen worden bij de uitvoering. Dit zal ook de implementatie van de agenda ten goede komen, omdat er dan heldere indicatoren en evaluatie criteria zijn en daarmee goed duidelijk wordt wat de digitale agenda gaat betekenen voor Amsterdammers.

Een van de belangrijke raamwerken die al bestaan, zijn de zogenaamde Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights van de Verenigde Naties. Dat is wereldwijd zowel in bij overheden als bij bedrijven de gouden standaard voor de implementatie van digitale rechten. Het zou goed zijn als deze wordt betrokken bij de uitvoering van de Agenda Digitale Stad.

Als de gemeente dat niet doet, zal zij geen kennis hebben van best practices, vanaf het begin achterlopen met de implementatie, en reeds gemaakte fouten en werk dupliceren.

Wij zijn natuurlijk bereid mee te denken, Amsterdam te situeren in de voorhoede van de infrastructurele digitale mensenrechten discussie.

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#JustPublished! “Accounting for power in transnational civic tech activism (…)” by Kersti Wissenbach

Fresh from the DATACTIVE press: Kersti Wissenbach introduces the concept of ‘acting within’ to contemporary media practice approaches on the intersection of communication and social movement studies. She argues for the need to take distance from pre-assigned indications of exclusion and builds on the de-westernisation discourse of communication scholarship in her strive to provide a framework that allows the surfacing of roots of power in diverse country and inner-country contexts. The article examines the need for an explicit conceptualisation of communication in the field of social movement research in order to grasp power dynamics within transnational civic tech activism communities. Civic tech activism is an instance of organised collective action that acts on institutionally regulated governance processes through the crafting of technologies and tactics supporting citizens’ direct political participation.

This theoretical discussion builds the foundation of Kersti’s research into transnational data activist collectives, nurtured by her background in critical development, post-colonialism, and communication for social change.

Read the article!

How to cite it:

Wissenbach, K. R. (2019). Accounting for power in transnational civic tech activism: A communication-based analytical framework for media practice. International Communication Gazette. https://doi.org/10.1177/1748048519832779