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Showing posts from 2018

Public talk on Decolonization, Resistance and Creativity

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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…

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

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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 …

Invited to the COST Action Work group on Automation & Mobility

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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 un…

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

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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, n…

Starting my fellowship at the University of Bremen this November

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This November, I start the ZEMKI Fellowship at the University of Bremen. 
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 Th…

First pre-launch book talk in Finland

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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 archai…

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…

Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture

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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 bu…

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

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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 a…

Invited to the Advisory Commission initiative by Facebook

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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 H…

Invited to talk on privacy at the EuroScience Open Forum

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I have been invited to talk on a EuroScience Open Forum panel that focuses on how big data affects travel behavior, transport planning and autonomous transport, while accounting for data quality, privacy and pan European standardization aspects. This is part of the COST initiative, an EU-funded programme that enables researchers to set up their interdisciplinary research networks in Europe and beyond.

ESOF (EuroScience Open Forum) is the largest interdisciplinary science meeting in Europe. It is dedicated to scientific research and innovation and offersa unique framework for interaction and debate for scientists, innovators, policy makers, business people and the general public.

Created in 2004 by EuroScience, this biennial European forum brings together over 4 000 researchers, educators, business actors, policy makers and journalists from all over the world to discuss breakthroughs in science.

My talk will cover the ethical implications on automating movement across society in public …

Talk on Talent at the Transfer of Rectorship

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Dutch academia takes their ceremonies seriously! I was invited to speak on talent at the transfer of rectorship event, where the outgoing rector of Erasmus University Rotterdam, Professor Huibert Pols handed over the position of Rector Magnificus to incoming Rector Professor Rutger Engels.

Each faculty wore their robes in their distinct colors marching in, the stage looked rather Oscar like than a setting at a university and there was the right mix of humor and emotion fitting to this occasion. 
I spoke on 'the pursuit of the extraordinary' drawing from my experiences and life choices, be it at an alternative commune in the South of India to being a struggling artist in San Francisco. Was fun to go down this path as I have a policy of not looking back. But sometimes, our past can give you perspective and maybe even courage to take on the ongoing and future battles ahead.








Social media campaign on diversity launched with students

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The diversity discourse at Erasmus University Rotterdam has been polarizing and is now tremendously heated. While these discussions go ahead, few students appear to be participating or driving these conversations. Hence, my organization Catalyst Lab alongside a group of highly driven masters students from the Erasmus Faculty of History Culture and Communication (ESHCC) have come up with a social media campaign to engage students on this very topic, supported by the faculty.

After all, we know so little about what diversity means to the youth. Working closely with young student film makers, comedians and with targeted mentoring and guidance by professional media people,this week ‘Diversify,’ this student led initiative has now gone live!

Click here to follow the campaign and see what youth think about diversity through their own narratives, personal experiences and identities. What is astonishing is how honest these students have been on topics that are very sensitive and way under-di…

EM Opinion Piece: The academic frontier

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COLUMN The academic frontier By acknowledging that the academic frontier isn’t as fair as it would like to appear, maybe we will be kinder to one another as we plod ahead.
Academia is all about marking territory. Grab hold of a trending topic and make it yours. Invent a term, coin a concept and hope it sticks. Knowledge is propertied. Sometimes the game gets vicious. Predatory. Perhaps a senior scholar in need of renewal may prey on the work of their doctoral student or younger colleagues. A ‘rock star’ academic can encroach on well established and poorly marketed scholarship and brand it around him or her. A major grant can buy an emerging scholar a ‘reputation’ overnight that others have spent years struggling to build through the long road of committed research.This is no free market. Scholars from less wealthy institutions and countries struggle to be visible, to be heard and often to hold on to the ownership of their ideas. In desperation, they may put their work on ResearchGate o…

New article out in the International Journal of Communication

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I am thrilled by this new article with my former Master's student Linnea Thompson, one of the brightest students I have come across over these years. A dream collaboration which went smoothly and resulted in a publication with a top tier journal in the Communications field - the International Journal of Communication

We got to present this in Manchester for the Digital Economies workshop organized by Richard Heeks, a fantastic platform for sharing this work.

The article, Crowdsourcing as a Platform for Digital Labor Unions is about how crowdsourcing is used as a tool to reconfigure relations between outsourced factory workers and corporations through innovative platform designs and the challenges that ensue. Below is the full abstract and link to the full paper:


Global complex supply chains have made it difficult to know the realities in factories. This structure obfuscates the networks, channels, and flows of communication between employers, workers, nongovernmental organization…

Interview on Internet Romance Fraud on BBC's Why Factor

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Romance Fraud: The Why Factor
I was interviewed for this BBC podcast some weeks ago  on internet romance scams in India. I am around 11:18 min onward.The topic for this podcast is ‘Romance Frauds.’ I was invited to share my research on internet romance scams in low income communities in India where young males are being scammed by fake profiles of attractive women as they get on Facebook through their mobile phones. In contexts such as these where dating is forbidden to the extent that even talking to a girl can impact her reputation, Facebook promises romance for these teens as well as new ways to being deceived and even exploited.
Basically, this is the synopsis of the episodeWhy do people fall for online romance frauds? With false online profiles, doctored photographs, and convincing background stories, online fraudsters target people who are looking for love and online relationships. Once they have hooked their victims, they set about stealing money from them. But what convinces p…
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COLUMN Internet academic scams: why do scholars fall for them? The open access initiative, whilst being a worthwhile alternative to exploitative publishing models, has also opened the doors to bogus journals and other predators. https://www.erasmusmagazine.nl/en/2018/04/24/internetoplichting-in-de-wetenschappelijke-wereld-waarom-trappen-wetenschappers-erin/ Last year I received an email from someone who claimed to be part of a foundation that  tackles romance scams. It started like this: “To Dr Payal Arora, Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is X. I am also a victim of a cyber crime, a romance scam stemming from Nigeria. The reason I am contacting you is to bring attention to cyber crime, more specifically romance scams. Cyber exploits of this nature target mostly women, to lure them emotionally. Exploiting that vulnerability is what the con artists know best…As we speak, I am preparing for a trial to be heard in Abuja Nigeria…” What did this person want from me? She wanted m…

Opinion Piece: EM Magazine

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Look who’s talking! The burden of representationAs we trudge along in the line of scholarly duty, shall we dare to ask, who do we actually represent? Levien WillemsePayal Arora 17-04-20182 minute read Who do you represent when you write and speak? Even talking about yourself cannot be confined to your life, because people draw meaning from your lived experience in ways that are out of your control. This is the trade-off for listening. When you write, you filter reality. When you speak, you become a proxy for your ‘kind.’ It is natural to process the world through learnt cues.
When you are in a position of authority, what you say and do becomes ‘truth.’ Academics are in the business of making truth. There is much hubris involved in dedicating our lives to becoming the voice for the voiceless. During the colonial days, anthropologists were enlisted to unravel the mysteries behind the ‘exotic’ subjects in occupied regions of the world and filter these understandings in ways palatable to the…

Keynote talk at the University of Saltzburg

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I have been invited to deliver a keynote address for the Democracy and (Des-) Information Society: On the Function and Dissemination of Big Data, Fake News and Conspiracy Theories”Conference to be held at the University of Salzburg on April 26th, 2018. This conference investigates "fake news" and the growing influence of social media and search engine technologies on political life. Among other things, the conference will focus on the following questions: Which forms of disinformation exist and how do they differ? Is there actually a new quality of manipulation? What opportunities, challenges and limitations are associated with big data analysis? How do digital technologies and the practices they facilitate change the culture of communication and knowledge production in democratic societies? Which forms of foreign and self-regulation are meaningful and desirable in order to put a stop to disinformational tendencies but at the same time make use of progressive potentials of …

Opinion Piece: EM magazine

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COLUMN Going beyond the vagina dialogues ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support each other,’ argues Pip Jamieson, a female tech founder. But what is being supportive? My partner and I moved to a new apartment recently. We decided to have our neighbours over for drinks. One of them is a pregnant dentist. Over the course of the night, she confessed that she had gone part time. She immediately said that she was aware that too many Dutch women go part time and that that’s considered a problem, but she was happy. I could feel it was difficult for her to explain her situation. A week ago I was in New York for a conference. I met up with a good friend who was celebrating her promotion to Research Director with a top multinational architectural firm. She was in her late sixties and was feeling great. She spoke about how some of her clients had propositioned her. She said the flirting was all in good fun though and she would never trade that kind of banter for anything in …