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Book chapter: Data for the Social Good: Towards a data activist research agenda

Lonneke van der Velden, Guillén Torres, Becky Kazansky, Kersti Wissenbach, and Stefania Milan have together co-authored a new chapter appearing in the newly published Good Data book, edited by Angela Daly, S. Kate Devitt and Monique Mann.

‘Big data’ is a hyped buzzword – or rather, it has been for a while, before being supplanted by ‘newer’ acclaimed concepts such as artificial intelligence. The popularity of the term says something about the widespread fascination with the seemingly infinite possibilities of automatized data collection and analysis. This enchantment affects not only the corporate sector, where many technology companies have centered their business model on data mining, and governments, whose intelligence agencies have adopted sophisticated machin- ery to monitor citizens. Many civic society organizations, too, are increasingly trying to take advantage of the opportunities brought about by datafication, using data to improve society. From crowdsourced maps about gender-based violence (‘feminicide’) in Latin America, to the analysis of audio-visual footage to map drone attacks in conflict zones, individuals and groups regularly produce, collect, process and repurpose data to fuel research for the social good. Problematizing the mainstream connotations of big data, these examples of ‘data activ- ism’ take a critical stance towards massive data collection and represent the new frontier of citizens’ engagement with information and technological innovation.

In this chapter we survey diverse experiences and methodologies of what we call ‘data-activist research’ – an approach to research that combines embeddedness in the social world with the research methods typical of academia and the innovative repertoires of data activists. We argue that such approach to knowledge production fosters community building and knowledge sharing, while providing a way to fruitfully interrogate datafication and democratic participation. By exploring what we can learn from data-activist projects and investigating the conditions for collaboration between activist communities and academia, we aim at laying the groundwork for a data-activist research agenda whose dynamics are socially responsible and empowering for all the parties involved.

Continue reading here and explore the larger Good Data volume here

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 by Kaique Rocha from Pexels

Lonneke on Open Sourcing Open Source Intelligence

In late September, I gave a talk in which she considered the connections between Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and data activism at the ‘DIGITAL CULTURES: Knowledge / Culture / Technology’ conference at Leuphana University Lüneburg. The presentation asked how OSINT might be understood through the prism of ‘data activist epistemologies’ (Milan and Van der Velden 2016).

The starting point for this interrogation is that Open Source Intelligence, despite its name, appears to have little in common with ‘open source’ cultures as we know them, for example through open source technologies. Open Source Intelligence simply means intelligence, for states or businesses, that is gathered from ‘open’ or publicly available sources. The initial question in the paper is, thus, one of terminology: What is really ‘open source’ about OSINT? And how might a critical interrogation of ‘open source’ change the way we think about OSINT? Hence the title of the talk: ‘Open Sourcing Open Source Intelligence’.

As a type of data activism, open source can be described as having its associated ‘epistemic culture’. This is a concept which refers to the diversity in modes of knowledge-making. ‘Epistemic culture’ originally comes from studies into scientific practices, and it directs attention to the ‘specific strategies that generate, validate, and communicate scientific accomplishments’ (Knorr-Cetina and Reichmann 2015, 873). It guides one’s focus toward the complex ‘relationships between experts, organisational formats, and epistemic objects’ (ibid. 873-4).

What we encounter in open source cultures is that knowledge is not legitimated institutionally, but technologically: the (open source) software function as a token of trust. The knowledge is legitimated because the software and the verification model can be reviewed, the methods are shared publicly, many of the findings are publicly shared, public learning is crucial and, ideally, expertise thus becomes distributed.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), by contrast, is a practice that seems to belong to – and to be legitimated by – formal and relatively closed institutions such as intelligence agencies. Yet the label can usefully be reclaimed to describe activist projects – such as the Syrian Archive – which seek to put open source tools and principles in the service of a different kind of knowledge-making, one that is genuinely public-oriented and collective. The question thus becomes: What can we learn from the interface between OSINT and open source? What kind of knowledge is being made, how? And how might activist forms of OSINT inform our understanding of data activism broadly speaking?

Stay tuned for the forthcoming paper, which is being co-authored with Jeff Deutch from the Syrian Archive. It will no doubt be enriched by a good discussion with the conference audience.

The abstract for the talk is available through the full conference programme (pp. 215-6).

 

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:

Knorr Cetina, Karin, and Werner Reichmann (2015) Epistemic cultures, in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, ed. James D. Wright. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 873-880.

Milan, Stefania, and Lonneke Van der Velden (2016) The Alternative Epistemologies of Data Activism. Digital Culture & Society 2(2) pp. 57-74.

Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak from Pexels

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

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

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

Photo by Ngai Man Yan from Pexels

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

by Lonneke van der Velden

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

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

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

Re-evaluating encryption?

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

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

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

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

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

Realizing organized networks

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

APC final photo (2)

Why we won’t be at APC 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Amsterdam and Cardiff, 19 September 2018

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

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Data Colonialism – the first article of the Special Issue on “Big Data from the South” is out

By London School of Economics Library and Political Science - https://www.flickr.com/photos/lselibrary/3925726761/in/set-72157622828540200/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10180000
Photo by London School of Economics Library and Political Science

Nick Couldry and Ulisse A. Mejias re-frame the Data from the South debate within the context of modern day colonialism: data colonialism; an alarming stage where human life is “appropriated through data” and life is, eventually, “capitalized without limit”.

This essay marks the beginning of a series of articles under a special issue on Big Data from the South, edited by Stefania Milan and Emiliano Trerè and published on the Television and New Media Journal. This article will be freely accessible for the first month, so we encourage you to put it high up on your to-read list.

The special issue promises interesting takes and approaches from renowned scholars and experts in the filed, such as Angela Daly and Monique Mann, Payal Arora, Stefania Milan and Emiliano Trerè, Jean-Marie Chenou and Carolina Cepeda, Paola Ricaurte Quijano, Jacobo Najera and Jesús Robles Maloof, with a special commentary by Anita Say Chan. Stay tuned for our announcements of these articles as they come up.

lara

DATACTIVE welcomes a new member to the team

DATACTIVE welcomes its newest addition, Lara AlMalakeh, who joins the team as a Managing Editor of the three blogs of the project.

Lara has just obtained a MA in Comparative Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam. Before that she obtained a Post Graduate in Principles and Practice of Translation from City University London. Lara wears many hats as she initially studied Fine Arts in Damascus University and graduated with specialization in oil painting. She then built a career in administration spanning over 12 years in Dubai, UAE. During that time, she joined Global Voices as the Arabic language editor and started translating for NGOs specialized in advocacy and digital rights, namely Electronic Frontier Foundation and First Draft News.

DATACTIVE is glad with the diversity that this new addition brings to its ensemble of academics and activists. The team is looking forward to leveraging on the various skills and attributes Lara brings along, whether from her professional background or her various involvements in the activism sphere.

Lara is a proud mother of two girls under 10. She enjoys discussing politics and debating art over a beer. Her new found love is philosophy and she dreads bikes.