Friday, November 30, 2018

Public talk on Decolonization, Resistance and Creativity

I will be speaking on a public panel event on "Big Data from the South: Decolonization, Resistance and Creativity" organized by Stefania Milan, the PI for the DATACTIVE ERC project at the University of Amsterdam and Emiliano Treré at the Data Justice Lab, Cardiff University. The wonderful panel of speakers include Nick Couldry (London School of Economics), Merlyna Lim (Carleton University) and Ulises A. Mejias (State University of New York, College at Oswego).

The premise of this panel is based on the fact that datafication has dramatically altered the way we understand the world around us. Understanding the so-called ‘big data’ means to explore the profound consequences of the computational turn, as well as the limitations, errors and biases that affect the gathering, interpretation and access to information on such a large scale. However, much of this critical scholarship has emerged along a Western axis ideally connecting Silicon Valley, Cambridge, MA and Northern Europe. What does it mean to think datafication from a Southern perspective? This roundtable interrogates the mythology and universalism of datafication and big data, moving beyond the Western centrism and digital universalism of the critical scholarship on datafication and digitalization. It asks how would datafication look like seen… ‘upside down’? What problems should we address? What questions would we ask?

This panel is part of a bigger workshop on ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’, held in Amsterdam on December 4-5.

Talk at Humboldt Berlin on Tech, Law and Access to Justice


On 28th and 29th of November 2018, I participated and spoke at a workshop titled  “The Future of Law: Technology, Innovation and Access to Justice” at the Humboldt University of Berlin.  The workshop was organised by the Chair for  Public Law and Comparative Law, Humboldt University of Berlin and the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung for Freedom. My talk was titled, "Above the law and below poverty: Databased obfuscations, activism and publicity from the global South." My talk argues that contrary to seeking to be protected through anonymity as the bulk of the current research alludes to, some of those at the margins may choose to put themselves at high risk by being visible and heard. The GDPR, rooted in the Western ideology of individual choice and rights, may have created a privacy universalism, begging the question of whether privacy is a privilege and a luxury. This talk draws from a decade of fieldwork and activism among vulnerable communities beyond the West to grapple with the question of whether privacy and activism are after all compatible.

Access to justice is understood as the ability for people to address their everyday legal problems, either through recourse to courts or other forums. It is estimated that globally, around 4 billion people live outside the reach of the law, and do not have the security, opportunity or protection to redress their grievances and injustices. Challenges of access to justice can manifest in multiple ways, these can include where courts and legal institutions are out of reach of litigants for reasons of costs, distance or even a lack of knowledge of rights and entitlements. It can also be caused because many judicial institutions are under-funded and as a result, there is poor infrastructure, inadequate staff and limited resources to meet the needs and demands of litigants who require such services. In many instances the text of law itself is riddled with complexities and that makes it difficult for it to be understood and used effectively. Access to justice  is therefore an expansive concept that has symbolic, financial, informational and structural implications for fights against poverty, inequality, violence and a lack of development. This significance has been recognized in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that see access to justice as a key driver for building peaceful and inclusive societies.

A key focus of this conference is to understand how technology, seen as a disruptor in several industries and economies, can leverage innovation to introduce solutions to some of the most intractable justice sector problems. The German government, particularly through its Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, has also identified the vast potential of digitalization and specifically targets the promotion of human rights and political participation in its recently published “Digital Agenda”. The conference aims to bring together leading lawyers, judges, academics, activists, technologists and researchers to discuss ways in which advances in technology, can bring greater access, efficiency and effectiveness to justice sector reform.


Invited to the COST Action Work group on Automation & Mobility

I have been invited to join the WISE-ACT project, “Wider Impacts and Scenario Evaluation of Autonomous and Connected Transport” and contribute my expertise on privacy, social inclusion and digital mobility in urban space and the future implications on how to organize mobility within public space. This is a new area for me to apply my expertise which is exciting as I have been doing research on how people are tracked with automated systems enabled by big data, be it with the tracking of illegal immigrant's movements via the biometric identity project in India or the banning of travel via the Social Credit system in China or the Smart card in South Africa. 

Basically, the project theme is as follows: Autonomous vehicle (AV) trials are currently taking place worldwide and Europe has a key role in the development of relevant technology. Yet, very limited research exists regarding the wider implications of the deployment of such vehicles on existing road infrastructure, since it is unclear if and when the transition period will start and conclude. It is anticipated that improved accessibility and road safety will constitute the primary benefits of the widespread use of AVs, whilst co‐benefits may also include reduced energy consumption, improved air quality or better use of urban space. Therefore, the focus of this COST Action is on observed and anticipated future mobility trends and implications on travel behaviour, namely car sharing, travel time use or residential location choice to name a few. Other important issues to be explored under different deployment scenarios are social, ethical, institutional and business impacts. To achieve this, it is essential to culminate co‐operation between a wide range of stakeholders at a local, national and international level, including academics and practitioners. Consequently, this COST Action will facilitate collaboration within Europe and beyond about this emerging topic of global interest.

Friday, October 26, 2018

My paper 'Decolonizing Privacy Studies' is out in the TV & New Media Journal

My paper 'Decolonizing Privacy Studies' is out in the Television & New Media Journal ! This is part of Stefania Milan and Emiliano Trere's Special issue, ‘Big Data from the South: Beyond Data Universalism.' I presented this earlier at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference in October 2018 so thrilled its out in time.

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

This is part of a growing call for decolonizing the university, curriculum, the internet, and many more other critical realms. In other words, let's question the power structures that are normative and dictating our practice and seek to change it together so we can move forward with a more progressive and fairer science. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Starting my fellowship at the University of Bremen this November


The ZeMKI, Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research is an interdisciplinary research environment in the areas of media, communication and information. Involved disciplines include communication and media studies, computer science, cultural studies, educational science, studies in religion, and history. Since mid-2017, the ZeMKI has been inviting applications from researchers in the field of media, communication, and information around the world to participate in their program. 
During the Fellowship, I will be giving a talk on 'Benign dataveillance: a new kind of democracy? Examining the emerging data-based governance systems in India and China' as part of the ZEMKI lecture series. 

While I am there, I will also be heading to Hamburg to give a public talk under the 'Taming the machines' theme organized by Judith Simon and her team from the University of Hamburg. This is part of The Ethics in Information Technology – Public Lecture Series. The theme emerges due to the increasing dependency of society on information technology. Algorithms are now used in making decisions for and about people. Intelligent machines are supplementing or replacing humans at home or in the workplace. Personal data are being collected, processed, and readied for commercial and civil purposes. Tech optimists and evangelists think that artificial intelligence, robots, and other gadgets can only make life and society better, but their convictions should be taken with a grain of salt. My talk here, "Regulated Data - Regulated Activism? Digital Activism in the GDPR Era is about flipping the script on privacy through the light of activism in the global south. My abstract for the talk is as follows:
In a favela ruled by the drug lords in Rio de Janeiro, an activist uses Facebook Live to capture the dealings in his neighborhood, putting himself and some of his community members at risk. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a few teenage girls instagram the fashions of the week, unveiled, an act that can be persecuted by the morality police. In Jammu and Kashmir, some activists through the hashtag #justiceforkathua draw attention to the case of an eight-year old nomadic girl who was gang raped, defying the privacy law on revealing identities of minors. These are just some of the many cases that shed light on the gray area between privacy and protest. Contrary to seeking to be protected through anonymity as the bulk of the current research alludes to, some of those at the margins may choose to put themselves at high risk by being visible and heard. The GDPR, rooted in the Western ideology of individual choice and rights, may have created a privacy universalism, begging the question of whether privacy is a privilege and a luxury. This talk draws from a decade of fieldwork and activism among vulnerable communities beyond the West to grapple with the question of whether privacy and activism are after all compatible. 

Overall, should be fun! Lots of talking, thinking and turning thoughts around :) 

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

First pre-launch book talk in Finland

I delivered my first pre-launch book talk on 'The global poor need less innovation: A critique of Silicon Valley’s human laboratories.' This is drawn from one of my chapters on innovation from below from the upcoming book with Harvard University Press 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West.' This was at the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University of Tampere.

Here is the gist of the talk
The twenty-first century is the age of innovation. Technology pundits are working hard to make innovation serve the common good. Ryan Allis—the current chairperson of Connect and Hive in San Francisco and an angel investor in twenty-five companies, provides a startup guide to ease us into this new era. All we need to do is reimagine “everything,” says Allis. With just “a laptop, a smartphone, and the cloud,” we can access any service anytime—including, of course, education. In the last decade, much has been written on the long-awaited disruption of that archaic institution—the school. The educational system in low-income communities in developing countries is regarded as a market “failure.” Fortunately, the market “success” of new technology will step in and take its place. Smart technology will replace not-so-smart teachers. Educational technology entrepreneurs are busy making all-inclusive, self-contained schooling apps for the global poor. Self-help is the foundation of the innovation age. Centralized schooling should be discarded for personalized play-driven learning. Playlists take precedence over playgrounds. This gospel seeks to do away with the school, the teacher, the community. This talk will delve deeper into the contemporary ideologies and initiatives that drive technology innovation for the social good and brings to question whether what constitutes as innovation today serves the global poor.

The next day, I got to serve as an Opponent for a Phd Defense where an external scholar interrogates a Phd student in public for hours before nominating the dissertation for approval. Landed up being a fascinating process and dialogue between the candidate and myself. It is interesting how different these rituals are across contexts - I have so far participated in the Dutch, American, and Belgian context so this made for a whole new level of experience of Finnish defenses.

Overall great experience as usual in Finland. Always nice to go back there!


Friday, October 5, 2018

Speaking on panels at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference

Amsterdam Privacy conference kicks off this weekend. Am doing a number of presentations at this conference which makes this quite a hectic few days to come. To start with, I am presenting with my co-author René König on "Imagining the “diversity algorithm: Alternatives in ideological governance and their challenges." Basically, we bring together two discourses and fields of study that have rarely intersected – sociology of diversity and computing studies to arrive at new understandings of the challenges that we face in the embedding of ‘diversity’ as a value in the design of net-based technologies. Our paper maps tensions among different diversity-driven cultures alongside the challenges that come with operationalizing them through technological design. This demands a re-examining of what constitutes as exclusion and inclusion, what is boundary-making for fair representation, is visibility empowering, and other such critical questions.  The fact is that diversity is a rising concern, with the demand for re-examining boundaries of representation, perspectives and voices that shape society. Silicon Valley, for instance, is under fire for their homogenous programming teams inscribing their biases into the algorithms that influence our behaviour (Crawford 2016). Universities, boardrooms, and political parties are working at restructuring their organizational cultures and systems given their abysmal record on diversity (Ferreira 2015; Abbott, Green, and Keohane 2016). While this is a growing momentum, it is worth asking how this diversity movement will influence our digital infrastructures. Will the diversity-driven models lead to strengthening democracy? How do we situate meritocracy within these proposed digital configurations? As we play these specific imaginaries out, we present possible outcomes, begging the question of the kind of digital future that awaits with each of these ideological turns.

I also organized a panel on Data and the Global South alongside Linnet Taylor and her data justice team. Today, we see how a select number of Western-based technology companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple have achieved the monopolization of entire publics. Under the banner of ‘connecting the unconnected’, corporate social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp justify their growing expansion in the Global South. While harvesting our attention for profit is the global template, technology companies’ control over Global South nations has a far more powerful impact as they rule these lands with few laws and regulations impeding them. At times, they collude with the state by adhering to and even strengthening their surveillance practices, possibly fostering an even more fragile civic liberty. This process is complicated with the rise of privacy and data protection laws in many countries in the Global South. This panel brings together scholars working on the rising datafication within diverse regions such as Asia, Africa and Latin America. We will jointly investigate how contemporary global configurations of digital technology impact social inequalities and possibly create new forms of discrimination as well as opportunities for data justice. We will touch upon privacy rights in the Global South, surveillance of data subjects, global digital economies of exploitation, extraction and extension, decolonial computing and colonization of internets, algorithms and discrimination and data justice and resistance.

Lastly, will be on a group privacy panel to explore how to take this discourse forward. My paper argues that popular contemporary approaches to the digital privacy culture of the global poor is at risk of falling along a long reproduced socio-political continuum. Specifically, three dominant templates make the round concerning privacy values of the global poor: privacy is a luxury for this disadvantaged group, they dont care about their privacy and that privacy to them is utility driven.