From show on landing page

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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

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

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

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

Citation: Gutierrez, Milan and Stefania Milan (2019). Playing with data and its consequences, First Monday, Volume 24, Number 1 – 7 January 2019, https://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/9554/7716
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v24i1.9554

 

2019

A year in review

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

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

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

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

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

Yours truly, the DATACTIVE team
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.

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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.

 

 

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Save the date: Good Data Book Launch on January 24

For the past few months we worked in a new collective DATACTIVE publication: Data for the Social Good: Toward a data-activist research agenda. It will be one of the chapters in the forthcoming Good Data book, edited by Angela Daly, Kate Devitt and Monique Mann, and published by the Institute of Network Cultures in Amsterdam within their “Theory on Demand” series.

Our text builds upon the Data for the Social Good two-day focused encounter we organised in November 2017 (read the report here). During the first day of that event last year we discussed with Charlotte Ryan, Lorenzo Pezanni, Jeff Deutsch and Nico Para about the ways in which research and activism intersect in projects which rely on data. On the second day, we were joined by a diverse group of researchers and activists for a workshop exploring what a data-activist agenda would look like (seriously, read the report here!).

In Data for the Social Good: Toward a data-activist research agenda, we took that conversation and expanded it two fronts. First, we grounded theoretically our take on what it means to be a (data) activist, which implied clarifying what data activism means in the first place, as well as briefly revising the origin and evolution of engaged research. Secondly,  we reflected more deeply upon the ethics of collaborative investigations, paying particular attention to the power relations between the actors involved throughout the process.

The Good Data book will be launched in Amsterdam at 5pm of the 24th of January, at the cultural centre Spui25. It includes 20 different chapters exploring what good data practices are, from manifestos to smart city reflections (and nope, not a single reference to blockchain).  Both the editors and DATACTIVE will be around to discuss more about how to use data for good rather than evil, so join us if you’re interested in knowing more (or getting the book)!

Cheers!

DATACTIVE

 

 

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

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

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

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

Read more.

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#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.

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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.