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.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture


A few days ago, I delivered a keynote on ‘Automating culture: How Digital Platforms are Shaping the Art World’ for an international conference organized by Prof. Filip Vermeylen. For about a decade now, we both have been working on the democratization possibilities of the art world through the rise of social media and globalization through the new cultural commons project.

The talk was about how the art world has entered the platform economy. The art industry is being subjected to similar fears and possible opportunities of automation as other cultural industries such as the music, film and the publishing business. Hence, it asks some key questions: Can the traditional art intermediaries still compete in the platform economy as data mining companies enter the fray? Has the divide between the high and the popular culture collapsed as user behavior, platform design and engineering staff circulate between these worlds? Do customers no longer care about the aura of the art piece before buying it online? In other words,

...do algorithms rule today and are they making the art world more democratic?

With the rise of automation and platformization, the International Art Market Studies Association (TIAMSA) second international conference organized itself around the theme and key question of, “Art for the People? Questioning the Democratization of the Art Market.”

The call reflects some of the contemporary issues and debates taking place in the art world nowadays. The art world and the market have traditionally been the domain of the elites and have thrived on exclusivity. However, the art world has arguably become much more democratic in recent years thanks to the digital revolution, the inclusion of emerging economies in the world art market system, and the vastly improved access to art and information. The price histories of works of art can nowadays easily be reconstructed using online databases; the threshold for art buying is significantly lowered by online sales platforms; and new buyers in emerging economies are making the art market much less Western-oriented. Moreover, an ever broader range of artworks in different price categories has put (fine) art within reach of the middle classes across the globe. At the same time, art institutions such as museums are under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive. Some of these democratizing tendencies are of course not new. For instance, publishing houses in Europe started disseminating prints on a massive scale already in the sixteenth century, thereby enabling larger segments of the population to acquire images. Whether or not the internet and globalization are genuine game changers in the contemporary art world, we can assume that new platforms through which art is mediated – both offline and online – are reconstituting the manner in which art is being viewed, valorized, acquired and enjoyed. These developments could have far reaching implications.

TIAMSA’s second annual conference explored to what extent the art market was affected by comparable developments in the past, how it is embracing today’s democratic potential, and at what cost. Are digital innovations, from search engines and big data analytics to virtual auctions, transforming the long-existing modus operandi of the art world and the traditional structure of the art market? And if the art market is indeed living up to its democratic promise, is it also becoming less opaque and therefore more transparent?

This event was held in Vienna from Thursday 27 Sept –  Saturday 29 Sept 2018. It was the result of a joint collaboration of the Belvedere ResearchCenter, the Dorotheum and the Department of Art History at Vienna University. The conference presented a selection of papers approaching the theme from different, fascinating viewpoints, and combined it with two special events, namely a guided tour of Viennacontemporary, Austria’s international art fair, and a tour of the Belvedere Research Center. There was also a round table on the art market and the internet. 



Friday, September 14, 2018

Appointed Editor for the Communication and Media Section in the new University of California Press Journal-Global Perspectives


Global Perspectives (GP) is an online-only, peer-reviewed, transdisciplinary journal seeking to advance social science research and debates in a globalizing world, specifically in terms of concepts, theories, methodologies, and evidence bases. GP is devoted to the study of global patterns and developments across a wide range of topics and fields, among them trade and markets, security and sustainability, communication and media, justice and law, governance and regulation, culture and value systems, identities, environmental interfaces, technology-society interfaces, shifting geographies and migration.

I will be leading the Communication and media section with Helmut K. Anheier from the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany serving as the Editor-in-Chief. 

GP sets out to help overcome national and disciplinary fragmentation and isolation.  GP starts from the premise that the world that gave rise to the social sciences in their present form is no more. The national and disciplinary approaches that developed over the last century are increasingly insufficient to capture the complexities of the global realities of a world that has changed significantly in a relatively short period of time.  New concepts, approaches and forms of academic discourse may be called for. GP has been organized by subject sections carrying equal weight, which are informed by major conceptual or empirical issues or grounded in traditional disciplines, while always inviting significant interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches.

I have an amazing board of global and renowned scholars to work with for the launch of this new endeavor. The members are as follows:

-          Lina Dencik, Cardiff University, UK
-          Terry Flew, Queensland University of Technology, Australia
-          Mark Graham, University of Oxford, UK
-          MinJiang, UNC Charlotte, USA
-          KoenLeurs, Utrecht University, Netherlands
-          Cornelius Puschmann, Hans Bredow Institute for Media Research, Germany
-          Nimmi Rangaswamy, IIIT Hyderabad, India
-          Anita Say Chan, University of Illinois, USA
-          Fabro Steibel, Institute for Technology and Society, Brazil
-          Wendy Willems, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
-          Guobin Yang, University of Pennsylvania, USA

I have written a brief theoretical launching point for this section:

The ‘global turn’ in media and communication demands new ways of conceptualizing relations and boundaries between the local, the national and the transnational. In recent years, ubiquitous computing, mobile technologies and social media have amplified the urgency to unpack the globalizing of media platforms, communication patterns and processes as well as their underlying politics and policies.
While the media continues to be implicated in the “disjunctures between economy, culture, and politics” as Arjun Appadurai astutely observed a quarter century ago, their digital cultures have created new opportunities and discontinuities at a global scale that require a prolonged and thoughtful investigation.
Speculations about the fate of traditional mass media like print, radio and television continue to be of rising concern in academic and industrial research. The rise of user-generated content has challenged conventional framings of media producers and audiences bound by the nation state. For example, bloggers, podcasters, online celebrities, digital activists and citizen journalists can shape global public opinion and the media landscape at large.

As a few digital platforms control the vast amount of data generated through everyday communicative practices worldwide, scholars across disciplines are rightfully concerned about who gets to collect, curate, store and moderate such media content. What is driving the expansions in media infrastructures and policies and is there a unified and shared logic to their organization? What are the implications of new media technologies for politics and governance at national and international levels?  

We have witnessed a significant shift in discourses surrounding globalization and media, from a celebratory to a more critical stance. Only a decade ago, studies were tethered to the notion of the “networked society” of collective intelligence, participatory knowledge-making, community-building and activism. Today, we appear less optimistic, as scholars sound the alarm on new forms of discrimination, alienation, and victimization through uninterrupted datafication, predictive analytics and automation of the “surveillance society.”
While big data did not reify into an “end of theory” as prematurely envisioned, we hesitate to ask the big questions that can best encapsulate the interconnectedness of information flows and the intersectionality of their datasets. It remains a challenge to “decenter” and “decolonize” the global to stay clear of a singular and universal logic to explain the social order of global media. This endeavour beseeches a re-examination of past formulations of information/media systems, as well as a critical assessment with the velocity, variety and volume and other such rubrics posited to define new media architectures and practices.

Global Perspectives invite scholars across disciplines and fields to submit their empirical and theoretical studies that are at the fulcrum of deliberations on the “global” in media and communication networks. We find ourselves at an important juncture that requires moving beyond staid dualities, traditional framings, and descriptive media comparative work.

How do we transcend the binaries of the online-offline, the public-private media sphere, “data rich” and “data poor,” producer and consumer, homogenization and heterogenization, media convergence and divergence, disembodiments and the situated materiality of media imaginaries to the contextual integrity of the media event? What alternative frameworks, systems, etymologies and ontologies are on offer to reconfigure our understandings of how global media are organizing the power relations in society?

In this context, we invite papers to propose methodological innovations and conceptual alternatives to the approach of the dialect between media and the global. Should we continue to use the nation state as a central unit of analysis or push for a provincializing or translocating of the global in Media studies? Are we giving too much primacy to data in untangling global digital cultures and overestimating their influence? How do we conceptualize the global transformations of the traditional media without being too medium or user centric? These are some of the many issues contributor to the Global Perspectives are welcome to address.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Invited to the Advisory Commission initiative by Facebook

I have been invited to be on the new advisory committee by Facebook to help scholars independently assess Facebook’s impact on elections, misinformation, privacy and other contemporary and critical issues regarding its usage.
 In April, Facebook announced it would be working with a group of academics to establish an independent research commission to look into issues of social and political significance using the company’s own extensive data collection. That commission, called Social Science One has just launched in early July. I will be on the Asian regional committee and partake in collaborations to assess the impact of Facebook in this region.

In the last two years, Facebook tools have not just helped politicians connect with their constituents — and different communities to debate the issues but as we have witnessed, it can be misused to manipulate and deceive. 

To keep this independent, it will be funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, Democracy Fund, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

At the heart of this initiative will be a group of prominent and global scholars who will:
-          Define the research agenda;
-          Solicit proposals for independent research on a range of different topics; and
-          Manage a peer review process to select scholars who will receive funding for their research, as well as access to privacy-protected datasets from Facebook which they can analyze.

Facebook will not have any right to review or approve their research findings prior to publication. In consultation with the foundations funding the initiative, Facebook has invited respected academic experts to form a commission which will then develop a research agenda about the impact of social media on society — starting with elections. I am excited to be part of the commission to closely examine Facebook activities and its implications on democracy to help in constructing future policy decisions on platform transparency and accountability.

The issues to be addressed range across diverse research areas, namely Political Advertising, Civic Engagement, Election Integrity, Polarization and Disinformation. The regional advisory committees include Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

Along with a team of other academic experts, I will assist in surfacing research questions and variable requests for the datasets that will be shared as part of the project.  Scholars serving on these committees can apply for grants and data access as part of these processes.

The advisory committee will provide critical advice on how the project might be best tailored to deal with concerns and issues specific to different regions.  For example, as specific elections occur in the respective regions, country-specific datasets are developed for analysis. Moreover, certain academic surveys are region-specific and these committees may help facilitate the joining of Facebook data with such surveys. Finally, because different countries’ legal regulations, concerning privacy and research such as this, differ greatly, the advisory committee will assist the project in working with regulators to understand the limits and opportunities for the project in the respective regions. 

Anyway, a new adventure awaits with this unique opportunity!