On October 23-25, Stefania will be in Tel Aviv to take part in the international workshop “Algorithmic Knowledge in Culture and in the Media” at the Open University of Israel. The invitation-only workshop is organized by Eran Fisher, Anat Ben-David and Norma Musih. Stefania will present a paper on the ALEX project, DATACTIVE’s spin-off, as an experiment into algorithmic knowledge.
Unpacking the Effects of Personalization Algorithms: Experimental Methodologies and Their Ethical Challenges
Stefania Milan, University of Amsterdam
With social media platforms playing an ever-prominent role in today’s public sphere, concerns have been raised by multiple parties regarding the role of personalization algorithms in shaping people’s perception of the world around them. Personalization algorithms are accused of promoting the so-called ‘filter bubble’ (Pariser 2011) and suspected of intensifying political polarization. What’s more, said algorithms are shielded behind trade secrets, which contributes to their technical undecipherability (Pasquale 2015). Against this backdrop, the ALgorithms EXposed (ALEX) project, has set off trying to unpack the effects of personalization algorithms, experimenting with methodologies, software developments, and collaborations with hackers, nongovernmental organizations, and small enterprises. In this presentation, I will reflect on four aspects of the ALEX project as an experiment into algorithmic knowledge, and namely: i) software development, illustrating the working of the browser extensions facebook.tracking.exposed and youtube.tracking.exposed; ii) experimental collaborations within and beyond academia; iii) methodological challenges, including the use of bots; and iv) ethical challenges, in particular the development of data reuse protocols allowing users to volunteer their data for scientific research while individual safeguarding data sovereignty.
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
On July 12-14 Stefania will be at X in Mountain View, in Silicon Valley, as one of the invitees to Sci Foo. Science Foo is a series of interdisciplinary conferences organized by O’Reilly Media, Digital Science, Nature Publishing Group and Google. It is an “unconference focused on emerging technology, and is designed to encourage collaboration between scientists who would not typically work together”. Stefania plans to propose a session on ‘decolonizing data’.
Niels and Stefania organized a panel in occasion of the Dutch Day of Sociology, which this year is hosted by the University of Amsterdam on June the 27th.
The panel, entitled Society rebooted. Digital infrastructure and its governmentality, featured an interdisciplinary conversation with, among others, Sally Waytt (Maastricht University) and Linnet Taylor (TILT).
On June 5th, Stefania was at the University of Hamburg, to give a public lecture for the Taming the Machines series. She talked about ‘People vs. Algorithms: Data Witchcraft and the Future of Data Activism. Check it out here. The video of the lecture is online.
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.
We would like to thank the Amsterdam Center for European Studies (ACES – https://aces.uva.nl) for supporting interviews transcription at DATACTIVE with a small grant.
On April 9, Stefania was in Berlin to give a talk at the Magnus-Haus, the headquarters of the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (German Physical Society), as part of the Physik und Gesellschaft series.
The talk was entitled /Error 404: Social Life Not Found/ – How to bring politics back into the datafied society, and was moderated by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Eberhardt.
Datafication – or the process of rendering into data aspects of social life that have never been quantified before – has altered the way we experience ourselves and exercise our citizenship today. Blanket surveillance and privacy infringements, however, are making citizens grow aware of the critical role of information as the new fabric of social life. As the advent of datafication and the automation turn threaten social life as we know it, how can we re-invent citizenship? How can we bring progressive politics back, to inform, among others, technological development and public policies? In this talk I will reflect on how politics and citizen agency are re-designed in light of the challenges and possibilities of big data and machine learning.
On March the 20th, Stefania visited King’s College, in London, to conclude the graduate course on data activism designed and taught by Jonathan Gray, Lecturer of Critical Infrastructure and formerly a postdoc with us at DATACTIVE <3. Check out the course here. Stefania was asked to talk about emerging forms of data activism.
Lonneke presented preliminary work on Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) at the Amsterdam Platform for Privacy Research meeting. It is part of an ongoing study into how OSINT takes place “in the public” by citizen journalists and activists, what kind of methods are being used, and what kind of epistemologies play a role.