Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Talk at the International Film Festival Rotterdam on algorithms and media consumption


Studio Erasmus hosted an event at the International Film Festival in Rotterdam (IFFR) on how does Netflix affect our film tastes? Filip Vermeylen and I were interviewed about the impact of algorithms on popular culture and to what degree did we believe this new innovation was disruptive? Are platforms like YouTube and Netflix restructuring the film and television world? What does the disappearance of traditional 'gatekeepers' mean? And do we actually allow ourselves to be surprised in an age where our media use is analysed in so much detail to create new blockbusters?

This was really timely as I have been working on this for awhile now and especially with my new book, I argue that we need to start looking at the worlds majority of young people as legitimate consumers who happen to be outside the West and often in low-income settings. For too long we have had a condescending view that they are criminals and immortal as they consume pirated goods rather than delving into their taste, their desires and so on...check it out.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Interview with BREAKER magazine on blockchain and equality

Did another interview today for the upcoming book 'The Next Billion Users: Digital life beyond the West' with Harvard University Press. It was with BREAKER, a New York based magazine with a cool mission...

"Why BREAKERMAG? Because the world is already in tumult—and along comes a new wave of technology promising yet more change. Blockchain—which includes crypto-assets, ledgers that track those assets, and many applications—is upending whole industries, sparking radically democratic ideas, and creating a new elite. As this uprising gathers momentum, BREAKER Magazine is here to tell the stories of this space and to argue about where the world is going."

My interview was part of BREAKER’s Social Good Week, a series looking at ways blockchain technology can engineer progress and help humanity. This was a good exercise to sharpen my argument and apply it to blockchain and other so called technological novelties that are marketed as being game changers and major disruptors of our society. If only it was that simple...check the article out and then decide for yourself.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Boston Globe article on my upcoming book release

I have always been a fan of Boston Globe and the Spotlight movie reaffirmed my enthusiasm for their committed coverage for quality and courageous journalism. So was thrilled to have them be the first media outlet to cover my upcoming book with Harvard University Press titled 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West'. 

It's getting real now! Good to have the word out there about something I care so much about.

Check out the article on my book via this link

Aimee Ortiz from Boston Globe: January 10, 2019

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Keynote for FAT/Asia at the Digital Asia Hub in Hong Kong


Was fantastic to go back to Hong Kong after more than a decade! I gave a keynote at the Fairness, Accountability and Transparency (FAT) Asia forum organized by Digital Asia Hub, a new and dynamic center on technology innovation and impact in the Asian region. This is the Asian version of the multi-disciplinary conference that brings together researchers and practitioners interested in fairness, accountability, and transparency in socio-technical systems.


It is led by Malavika Jayaram, the executive director of this hub and a brilliant legal mind on technology rights, ethics and responsibility. The theme for this conference goes beyond the futuristic enthusiasm for gadgets to more on responsibility with these new technologies. Their call explains how
"...there is growing concern about the implications of an algorithm-driven society. Scholars and thinkers are debating the potential impact of automated decision-making on equality, autonomy, and dignity, and addressing the need for oversight mechanisms that protect fundamental freedoms and human agency. A global community has converged around the themes of fairness, accountability, and transparency, as part of the attempt to address opaque systems, power and information asymmetries, and due process.

A series of FAT/ML conferences was instrumental in elevating a multidisciplinary approach (along with Ethics in NLP and similar convenings).  The FAT* initiative expanded the focus beyond machine learning and, since 2018, the (soon to be renamed) ACM FAT conference has been one of the most anticipated annual events in this area. Building on this community of scholarship and practice, we are thrilled to announce FAT/Asia!"

Very glad to be part of this exciting initiative.

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.