Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Speaker on Datafication and healthcare at the Royal Tropical Institute

Looks like May is blowing up on me. Getting intense but fascinating to be moving among very diverse circles from tech activists in Berlin to mobile healthcare ministries and healthcare donors. My book The Next Billion Users is definitely pushing me into many different worlds all grappling with similar questions on fairness, tradeoffs, privacy futures, user aspirations, cultural differentiation and data regulation to name a few.

So on May 9th I spoke at the Future of Health Coverage conference in Amsterdam. This is an event organized in partnership with the Financial Times, Joep Lange Institute, and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These organizations have been some of the ones who started to focus on the importance of financial innovation and the role of mobile technology in improving health systems in developing countries well before it became mainstream through mhealth initiatives and mobile apps.

Some questions explored together were How can we allow those in need to ‘pay’ with their data? How can we find a balance between privacy first, in the interest of the individual, and mandatory sharing of (health) data, in the interest of society?

I spoke on a panel on the Value of Data  for Health. Here is a brief synopsis of the panel:

Big Data has changed the way we manage, analyse and leverage data in any industry. For the first time in history, we have the opportunity in developing countries - due to digital technology - to collect and analyse large amounts of health data. How can we assure the value created with health data flows back to society, to strengthen the health system for the good of all?

And what is cool is that Her Majesty Queen Máxima of the Netherlands will be one of the Speakers too! Turns out she is also the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate
for Inclusive Finance for Development.


Talk at the iconic Volksbühne theatre on AI for the common good

On May 6th, I will be heading to Berlin to help launch the School of Disobedience initiative and fittingly it will be at Berlin's most iconic theatre - Volksbühne, home to art and activism in Germany for over a century. The event will feature a conversation with Lorena Jaume-Palasí , the founder of The Ethical Tech Society, a non-profit focused on the social impact of technology and Advisory Council member of AI for the Spanish government. 

We will be speaking about AI for the common good. I will be giving a talk before hand on the Next Billion Users, drawing from my new book on how this population will push us to rethink what constitutes as "good" practice in AI futures. Currently, artificial intelligence delivers lots of material for projections about the future of societies. It seems to disrupt our concept of space, time and borders. Predominant is the view that AI will become or even is already a tool to create dystopias of oppression. However, this is only the view of a few, albeit famous, scholars and intellectuals. But what about those who are supposed to be oppressed? Do they play an active role in the conversation? How is their perception of artificial intelligence and datafication? And what are their visions? 

I will be debunking many of these dominant discourses of pessimism and determinism of AI futures by taking on a more bottom up and cultural approach to this topic.

The School of Disobedience is an experimental format to test new ways of independent knowledge production in the 21st century. The inspiration is the spirit of Berlin, the city as an image for this time and this world, heterogeneous, international and politicized. The goal of the School of Disobedience is to concentrate this potential of the city and put it to use for working on a common future. The combination of humanistic and technological perspectives should help to support specific projects which are based on a progressive view of society and will further our sense of justice. This was launched in fall 2018 and continuing into 2019, the School of Disobedience will work in the Grünen Salon with a set of events to test formats and content of the para-academic practice. There will be seminars open for anybody interested in the connection of academic and activist thinking and working, a lab for technologists and theoreticians, a makerspace for people with experiences in different areas, from law to coding, from NGO to academia. Each month, a different academic expert leads a seminar on his or her research and invites people of all ages, professions and experience to join as its students. There will also be monthly public evening events in the evenings, which will allow the general audience an insight into that month’s 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Keynote at the BRESTOLON symposium network

Was nice to head back to ZEMKI Bremen where I did my fellowship last year to give a keynote talk on The Next Billion Users book with Harvard Press. This was for the BRESTOLON network which is an interesting formation of academic networks to sustain mentorship across diverse academic cultures and countries. The quality of questions and engagement was wonderful and am thrilled that one can accomplish such a network - a rare feat today!
Basically, Brestolon is a research network collaboration between members of the Media and Communications Departments of Södertörn University(Stockholm, Sweden); Bremen University (Bremen, Germany); London School of Economics (London, UK), and Goldsmiths, University of London(London, UK) and Catholic University of Portugal (Lisbon, Portugal).
The network was launched in 2013 with a grant by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Reserach and Education (STINT). Since then, it has gathered annually at the member universities in Stockholm (twice) and once in London, Bremen, and Lisbon. 

Friday, April 12, 2019

Book launch at Athenaeum bookstore in Amsterdam

Seems like these days I am having a lot of "first" moments. My first studio talk with BBC, which will be broadcast in the next few weeks and then my first talk at a book store. Had my book launch at the Athenaeum bookstore  in Amsterdam. Was such an interesting experience. Completely casual and intimate. A load of chairs and comfy couches clustered tightly together so you could have a real conversation with people. The audience was eclectic from retired people, tech entrepreneurs, media agencies, students, academics, and just folk interested in the topic. The format was smart - Tina Harris, an anthropologist from University of Amsterdam engaged me in a conversation before we opened it up for questions. Nicely done overall. What better way to officially launch my book than to do it in such a lovely setting in my favorite city that I call home now!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

New paper on Data-Based Governance out in First Monday

Hallam Stevens from Nanjang Technological University and I co-edited a Special Issue in First Monday, one of the first Open Access journals on the internet. The theme of this issue is "Data-driven models of governance across borders: Datafication from the local to the global."

In essence, this special issue looks closely at contemporary data systems in diverse global contexts and through this set of papers, highlights the struggles we face as we negotiate efficiency and innovation with universal human rights and social inclusion. The studies presented in these essays are situated in diverse models of policy-making, governance, and/or activism across borders. Attention to big data governance in western contexts has tended to highlight how data increases state and corporate surveillance of citizens, affecting rights to privacy. By moving beyond Euro-American borders — to places such as Africa, India, China, and Singapore — we show here how data regimes are motivated and understood on very different terms.

It was wonderful to work with Hallam as we both were in sync on how to approach this theme and draw quality submissions and manage the review process to the final round. This theme first emerged from our panel that we held at Association of Internet Researchers in Tartu, Estonia in 2017.

Within this Issue, I also published my own individual paper on "Benign dataveillance? Examining novel data-driven governance systems in India and China." This paper has been in the works since but has since then been presented and reworked in a number of different workshops such as AoIR2017 , Data Justice Lab at Cardiff and Computational Social Science in London. In November 2018, as a Fellow in ZEMKI at the University of Bremen, I was able to sharpen it to completion.

This paper basically examines novel data-driven models of governance emerging from the Global South, specifically India and China, enabled by Net-based technologies. The first model, the biometric identity scheme or ‘Aadhaar’ project in India consolidates citizens’ digital identities to enable access to government services such as welfare benefits. The second model is China’s Social Credit System. By combining the citizens’ financial records, online shopping data, social media behaviour and employment history, the system will produce a personal score for each citizen. This rating system will be used to measure the citizens’ trustworthiness. This research unpacks these value-embedded systems posited as digital innovations to strengthen citizenship through new forms of political participation, inclusion and representation. In doing so, we are confronted with what constitutes as “democracy” in this datafied and global era, beyond the universalisms that are on offer today.


Monday, March 25, 2019

First Book Reviews out with Times Higher Ed & E&T magazine


Am thrilled to read these positive reviews of my new book "The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West" with Harvard University Press.  It is particularly wonderful to see one of the reviews emanate from the well read Times Higher Ed. 

I am also glad to see the Engineering and Tech magazine take this book up (as well as Tech Crunch a few weeks ago), which signals to me that the tech industry has a growing interest in broadening their worldviews beyond the technical aspects to that which is ethical, cultural and may I even dare to say, philosophical. I really am looking forward to future engagements with engineers, programmers and other stakeholders at the forefront of shaping our digital platforms.

Times Higher Education
“This powerful book explores actual online lives in China, India and Brazil and asks why many of us in the West are surprised and sometimes offended by the fact that the impoverished are just as committed as we are to the search for “moments of pleasure and joy." Click here to view this mention.

Engineering and Technology magazine

"Make no mistake. While we wring our hands in anguish over how we are somehow being let down by the fact that Dryden’s ‘noble savage’ is neither of those things, developers of social media platforms will be working out how to monetise the pleasure of the poor. Uncomfortable, myth-busting and compelling, ‘The Next Billion Users’ challenges our collective superiority complexes and questions the way we see technology in the connected world." Click here for the full review.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Podcast with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

The podcast interview with Nora Young from Spark Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is now out. You can listen to it by clicking here.
Porn and Cat Videos are Universal March 7: 2019 Podcast with CBC
As the number of people who are connected to the internet around the world grows, the 'next billion' users are likely to be in the developing world, young, with low incomes, and accessing the internet on mobile devices.
Payal Arora (Damjan Svarc)
In her new book, The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West, digital anthropologist Payal Aroralooked at the way young users actually use the internet in a number of developing-world countries, from Brazil to Saudi Arabia. She argues that we in the West have a lot of preconceptions about how those users do — or 'ought to' — behave online.
Arora spoke with Spark host Nora Young.
The core of your book is that there's a belief in the west that people in the developing world are using the internet for research, education, to find work, practical things. Overall, what did you find when you looked into actual online practices?
The rest of the article can be found here. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Book talk at the 10th anniversary of Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies


It was an honor to give my book talk at the special occasion of celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies.  The overriding theme was to "Think the world differently."

It was a large gathering and nice mix of their past and current Fellows spanning 10 years, private sector companies and media persons brought together to discuss investment in the future of this region and its transformation brought by an influx of new technologies and people.

I spoke on my book 'The Next Billion users: Digital life beyond the West' By Harvard University Press as part of the “Digital culture, humanist culture” panel. The theme of this panel was as follows "Digital technology stupefies us with its promises and its threats, particularly for the humanities. Testimonials, demonstrations and viewpoints from the South to help us think differently."

There was a brief introduction by Françoise Rubellin, the director of the Institute and professor at l’Université de Nantes, moderated by Clément Lesort. It was definitely an ecclectic panel which made for an interesting cross disciplinary conversation: Jan Clarke (Fellow of the Institute, Durham University, England), Mylène Pardoen (CNRS, Institut des Sciences de l’Homme in Lyon), Paul François (architect and engineer, Laboratoire des sciences du numérique in Nantes), Jeffrey Leichman (Fellow of the Institute, Louisiana State University, United States), and Catherine Becchetti-Bizot (inspector general, ex-director of Digital Technology for Education).

Overall, great questions and as usual, the French impress me with their high stamina for long intellectual talks that can go on for hours without interruption, four course lunches with wine which made the talk post lunch rather challenging and of course, just pure interest in new ideas.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

New Book with Harvard Press out

My US publicist clicked this photo at Barnes & Noble in
New York, Union Square
These months have been absolutely exciting as my new book 'The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West' with Harvard University Press has come out!

This is my first non-academic book, written for a wider audience interested in technology, society and globalization. After two years and multiple revisions later, guided by the brilliant ruthlessness of my editor, I have emerged with my sanity restored again. Now its time to reap the benefits and sit back and relax a bit. I had to really rethink what good writing is and to be honest, unlearn some seriously bad writing habits I picked up with my time in academia.

What is my book about? Check out the book cover which states...

A digital anthropologist examines the online lives of millions of people in China, India, Brazil, and across the Middle East—home to most of the world’s internet users—and discovers that what they are doing is not what we imagine. New-media pundits obsess over online privacy and security, cyberbullying, and revenge porn, but do these things really matter in most of the world? The Next Billion Users reveals that many assumptions about internet use in developing countries are wrong. After immersing herself in factory towns, slums, townships, and favelas, Payal Arora assesses real patterns of internet usage in India, China, South Africa, Brazil, and the Middle East. She finds Himalayan teens growing closer by sharing a single computer with common passwords and profiles. In China’s gaming factories, the line between work and leisure disappears. In Riyadh, a group of young women organizes a YouTube fashion show. Why do citizens of states with strict surveillance policies appear to care so little about their digital privacy? Why do Brazilians eschew geo-tagging on social media? What drives young Indians to friend “foreign” strangers on Facebook and give “missed calls” to people? The Next Billion Users answers these questions and many more. Through extensive fieldwork, Arora demonstrates that the global poor are far from virtuous utilitarians who mainly go online to study, find jobs, and obtain health information. She reveals habits of use bound to intrigue everyone from casual internet users to developers of global digital platforms to organizations seeking to reach the next billion internet users.

or, better yet, check out my TEDx talk on this book

Publicity of the book

Never thought I would be talking about my "multiple publicists" in the United States and the UK who are handling Asia, Europe, Latin America, US etc. What a team of fantastic hard working people at Harvard who are really dedicated to getting this work out. So far, some pretty cool interviews with (check out the hyperlinks for the full articles) BREAKER magazine The Boston Globe , Tech Crunch. and TechCabal. What is particularly cool is that I lived in both New York and Boston, the places where these media outlets are based.

What is particularly touching for me is the full length thought piece on my book in Vrij Nederland which is a reputable and major Dutch newspaper. It has been almost a decade since I moved from New York to the Netherlands, and now call Amsterdam my home. So this dutch endorsement means a lot from my adopted homeland. Another article which came out recently is in the NRC which is an amazing paper with an impressive liberal legacy in the Netherlands.

My first podcasts came out with Monocle24 and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Also, thrilled to reach out to German readers via F.A.Z and Belgians via De Standaard among other outlets. Have got an east Asian book tour coming up in August, with my book getting translated into Chinese in 2021 by China University of Political Science and Law Press. Then early next year, will be in India. Can't wait to see how this year will play out.


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.