Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

Monday, May 7, 2018

Interview on Internet Romance Fraud on BBC's 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 people that their new relationship is so realistic that they become willing to hand over large amounts of money to someone who they may never meet. Shari Vahl explores why people fall for such frauds, hearing the stories of two women and the online relationship they believed would bring them a new future – and which turned out to be an costly false hope. Shari hears from cyber-psychology expert Monica Whitty and people hacker Jennifer Radcliffe, as well as from police in the UK and USA. What are the hooks that these international criminal gangs use to defraud their victims and what happens when victims discover that the truth about their online relationship.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Opinion Piece: EM magazine

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

New paper out on big data and the global South

My paper, "Bottom of the Data Pyramid, Big data and the Global South" has been published in the International Journal of Communication, an open access journal. This work is a build-up from the blog that I wrote earlier on regarding this topic for  Discover Society as well as a couple of keynotes I gave in 2015 at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference in Berkeley and IS4IS Summit in Vienna. 

Basically, this paper argues that so far, little attention has been given to the impact of big data in the Global South, about 60% of whose residents are below the poverty line. Big data manifests in novel and unprecedented ways in these neglected contexts. For instance, India has created biometric national identities for her 1.2 billion people, linking them to welfare schemes, and social entrepreneurial initiatives like the Ushahidi project that leveraged crowdsourcing to provide real-time crisis maps for humanitarian relief. While these projects are indeed inspirational, this article argues that in the context of the Global South there is a bias in the framing of big data as an instrument of empowerment. Here, the poor, or the “bottom of the pyramid” populace are the new consumer base, agents of social change instead of passive beneficiaries. This neoliberal outlook of big data facilitating inclusive capitalism for the common good sidelines critical perspectives urgently needed if we are to channel big data as a positive social force in emerging economies. This article proposes to assess these new technological developments through the lens of databased democracies, databased identities, and databased geographies to make evident normative assumptions and perspectives in this under-examined context.

Hope you enjoy the article.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

New article out on big data and the global south

Last year, I initiated the Privacy and the global South Project with fieldwork on digital privacy in the favelas of Brazil, townships of South Africa and the slums of India. Its been an exciting year and while at it, big data is one of those topics that dominate this discussion. So, wrote a thought piece on this for Discover Society which just came out. Check it out if you are interested in how conversations on surveillance, privacy, big data and trust transfer to this much neglected setting and populace. 
Big data and the global south project

Thursday, April 2, 2015

New Publication out on Digital Leisure and Slums of Urban India

Nimmi Rangaswamy from Xerox Research Labs in India and I have been working for some years now on this theme and topic of digital leisure in the global South. We have been arguing for a shift in perspective on internet behavior of emerging market consumers, particularly those who are marginalized socio-economically. Instead of looking at their behavior through a mainly utilitarian lens, we argue that even (or arguably especially) the poor engage with new technologies for more social, playful and entertainment ends. 

Here is our paper published by the International Journal of Cultural Studies that substantiates this argument with fieldwork data in urban slums of India, validating our call for a new approach in examining digital practices among these 'newbie' consumers of the global south. 

The abstract for this paper is as follows: 
The wild and the everyday point at once to twinned aspects of life and, in this article, to a technological imaginary drawing upon the use of the mobile internet in urban slums of India. The article responds to the rather untethered way, from the point of view of state regulation, in which the telecom market in India has devolved to include poor populations, stoking a repertoire of unconventional daily use of the internet by youth living in slums. This article serves to locate the ‘wild and everyday’ as a specific sociocultural space in relation to use of mobile Facebook among young populations invisible to mainstream research on internet and culture. While development, as conventionally understood, is not focused on purposive outcomes of digital leisure practice (romance, play, entertainment), we argue that online engagements such as these are powerful precursors to ecologies of learning, reconstituting our understandings of global and mobile internet practice.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Big data and the Politics of Participation: Plenary Talk at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference, Berkeley

It was a wonderful experience to serve as a Plenary Speaker for the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference held this time at the University of Berkeley, California. The theme was 'Big Data and the Politics of Participation in a Digital Age.' Since the other plenary speaker Deirdre K. Mulligan from Berkeley's School of Information was talking primarily on the legality of big data and how diverse corporations interpret compliance in the United States and Europe, it was nice to contrast this with perspectives from the global South. After all, most of the conversation around big data seems to be hijacked by Western concerns, issues and contexts.

My talk, 'Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big data perspectives from the global South' played with the much hyped Development idea on the bop as a new consumer base, inverting decades of viewing the poor in the global South as passive beneficiaries to now active co-creators of their own data.What do we know after all of the impact of big data on most of the world's population, about 60% of them being below the poverty line and residing primarily in emerging economies?

With India's newly launched and much celebrated scheme to create biometric identities for its 1.2 billion people, Brazil's problematic partnership with Phorm, a British spyware company that uses big data to track all navigation activities of Brazilian users to Africa's social entrepreneurial sites such as Ushahidi, designed to turn data from different channels into real-time crisis maps that can assist humanitarian relief efforts, there was much to discuss! Going into such cases was the building blocks of my talk, pushing what constitutes as data identities, data democracies and whether the global South is experiencing such a thing as a data commons?

 Look out for my article on this soon. will keep you posted!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The City & South Asia: Digital romance in the Indian city

Nimmi Rangaswamy and I wrote a chapter on 'digital romance in the Indian city' based on our years of fieldwork in slums of India - on how the youth are engaging and participating on social media in ways that are creative, romantic and deeply social. This series, The City & South Asia is an exciting and accessible anthology of voices from diverse scholars on urbanism, South Asia and contemporary issues and developments in emerging markets. The best part is this is open access -what all scholarship should be in the 21st Century -good going Harvard University Press!

Digital romance in the Indian City

Sunday, May 13, 2012

New Paper Out in the Development in Practice Journal: Is the doctor on?

My paper "Is the doctor on? In Search for Users of Rural Medical Diagnostic Software in Central Himalayas" has come out in the Development in Practice Journal.

Abstract: The Indian healthcare sector provides ripe ground for development as access to high-quality and timely medical diagnosis remains unrequited among its vast rural populace. With an acute shortage of doctors in rural areas, medical diagnostic software has been created as a surrogate, propelling non-physician workers to step in. For diagnostic software to function effectively, it is paramount to identify the user. Using an intended pilot programme of RightChoice software in the central Himalayas, the present article focuses on the political and economic complexities involved in identifying users of such software.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Communes. Communities. Cults

A few colleagues and I went out for dinner some time back and bonded over the usual small talk of renting and work and relationships. One of my colleagues made the conversation rather spicy by telling us that he lived in a commune in Amsterdam where there were about 10 people and that they often had dinner together in the evenings. He admitted that it was partly due to the cheap rent that drew him to this commune as much as the ideals. This got me thinking of a commune I encountered in my fieldwork two years ago when writing my book. I had gone to the Central Himalayas for research where I encountered the Mirtola ashram, a place where people voluntarily left their 'material' life behind in the cities and dedicated to living a simple and 'honest' life through the tilling of the land, growing their own produce, living with and within nature and praying to the Gods through a ritualistic practice every evening. Within a matter of months, much infighting began. Some did less and some did more. In this forced egalitarianism, hierarchies pushed forth. A leader was born to maintain harmony amongst equals. Irony was born.
And then my mind wandered further into my past when I was eighteen and left home to join a Marxist artist community in Kerala, an unusual and heady state in the South of India which has been uniquely a voluntary communist regime within the larger capitalistic space of India. This community in a way was a small slice of the larger Kerala ethos of high education, strong emotion and deep political leanings. We all pursued our art on the side while we earned our living through odd jobs of sorts. I taught in Mary Roy’s school at that time, the mother of the now famous Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize winner of God of Small Things. There was something magical about living with artists…the passion and sharing of resources, ideas and inspiration; jointly marveling at fireflies that took over the skies at night as the electricity went out as part of our daily routine, and of course, sharing common indignation on the state of reality – the roads, the price of rice, the traffic jams, the soulless commute, the burdened families, the dowry system. Until, one day, we got the rude awakening that our commune was not sufficient to protect our kind from the common worries of the day when we came home one day to see our artist friend lying on the ground with his wrists slashed, blood gushing around him. He survived but the commune did not. One went to Mumbai and became a professional artist; another went to join another commune called Auroville, the City of Dawn in an adjacent State; another became a founder of a business, abandoning all art, while another became a web designer. Myself, I left for San Francisco to pursue my art, hoping to become a muralist or painter.
When I went to San Francisco, I lived in Tenderloin for the first two years. In 1996, this was the blind spot for cops where in principle, there seemed to be a live and let live agreement between the authorities, the prostitutes, and drug dealers. On my second day, my apartment was broken into. At the end of the week, my roommate got harassed by the local gang, pushing her off the edge, making her head back to New Jersey where she came from. Yet, behind this all, a communal feeling was formed. I got free muffins from the café next door; I got a free pass into the nightclubs around there and was protected by the watchful gaze of the bouncers and pimps around. It seemed that my ticket into this commune was my waitress and immigrant status and my artist naiveté. Today, there is little chance that I’d get entry into that same commune regardless of their familiarity with me. I no longer belong.
So one can’t help but think about what makes a commune and why is that different from a community? When does a commune become a cult? What does it take for a commune to be a commune and what is its staying power? Why do people have this need to share certain ideals over others and what is the role of economics in this social membership? Is economics really at the heart of this? Or are these micro experiments on reconstructing society the way we’d like to see it, an artistic product shall we say? As we move and (re)settle, year after year, often propelled by jobs, families and/or passion, how many of us continue to desire and seek for communes and more importantly are willing to commit to the larger rules of someone else's game?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review of My book "Dot Com Mantra" in The British Journal of Educational Technology

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Arora, Payal (2010) Dot com mantra Ashgate (Farnham, Surrey & Burlington VT) ISBN 978-1-4094-0107-0 190 pp £55 gb&pagecount=1&title_id=9768&edition_id=12842

This book presents an ethnographic study on the use of computers, carried out in a marginalised town in the central Himalayas—hence among a group of remote, new computer users—with the aim to allow new perspectives to emerge and old views to be revisited. The study does not investigate if computers are good or bad, but spots the range of constraints and opportunities entailed by their use. It highlights relations between old and new technologies together with people’s beliefs, perceptions and modes of use, and reflects on the nature and implications of the learning induced. In order to reveal a perspective that is not biased by formal institutional difficulties, the study is concerned with computer use in public contexts outside school settings (cybercafés, NGOs and cyber kiosks), where it is possible to observe how people actually interact with computers for a variety of purposes. Emphasis is put on social learning—seen as a dialectic process enacting human ingenuity—which shapes the use of technology and is shaped by it. The author concentrates on understanding the place and space of technology, its boundaries, frame of reference, interpretation, functionalities and optimisation. The focus in not much on tools, but rather on human imagination, which is the root of people’s activity with the tools. The attention to everyday popular uses helps to de-romanticise and demystify the promise of computers as pathways to change.

The book starts by describing the nature and character of local people and their relationship with a variety of old and new technologies. Then it examines the links with policies related to education and development. Finally, it explores the range of activities that local people car ry out within cybercafés; these seem to be mostly not utilitarian but centred on social and entertainment purposes. What also emerges from the study is that computers are not neutral tools but a social phenomenon, a means of persuasion, seduction and remembrance. What people learn while interacting with them can widely differ from what we may expect them to learn. Multiple literacies entailed by computer use are not a set of universal skills but depend on the context of that use and on the power relations within it. There is an intricate relationship between leisure, labour and learning. Leisure, which is a demand and a necessity for all, can be deeply educative and provide long term accomplishments and deep-rooted skills through gratification. This implies that computers should be re-conceptualised so that they better fuse labour and leisure.

The book alternates descriptive parts, which are easy to read and entertaining, with dense reflections, which are thought-provoking but rather laborious. As you can guess from the above description, this is not the usual study on learning with computers. Traditional readers will likely fail to appreciate the ethnographic aspects of this study. The book, however, makes a pleasant and stimulating read for whoever wishes to reflect on educational technologies from a different perspective.

Giuliana Dettori (received February 2011)
Researcher at the Institute for Educational Technology of CNR, Genoa, Italy

Review of my book "Dot Com Mantra" in The Journal of Education, Community & Values

Dot Com Mantra. Social Computing in the Central Himalayas
Berglund Authority Level 4
Review by Jeffrey Barlow

Dot Com Mantra is an excellent work by Payal Arora, a much-published [1] Indian anthropologist who writes frequently on social computing, that is, the connection between society and the use of computers. This study is an ethnography (a branch of anthropology dealing with the scientific description of individual cultures [2]) done in the town complex of Almora, in a fairly isolated area of Uttrakhand, India, formerly Uttar Pradesh.Dr. Arora is well qualified to write this particular work. She has studied at Cambridge (Certificate in Teaching ESL), at Harvard (M.A. in International Policy, Education) and at Columbia (Doctorate in Language, Literacy & Technology). This work is derived from her Ph.D. Dissertation, Social Computing in the Central Himalayas.

Dot Com Mantra focuses largely on the social, economic, and political aspect of development considered within a global framework. Dr. Arora speaks the language of the area and fully immersed herself in its day-to-day life, moving among farmers’ organization, development groups (non-governmental organizations-NGOs), teachers and students, and even volunteering her time working in an Internet café, from all of which she derived deep understandings. In many cases, Arora’s conclusions are counter-intuitive and the book sparkles with frequent flashes of insight. We learn also that many of the approaches of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and of the Government of India are ineffective in the area, because they have ignored the social aspects of technology.It is not that the area is under-computerized; many groups have distributed machines in a variety of settings, but these attempts fall afoul of existing social conditions. For example, schools are given computers, but one-quarter of the teachers never show up to teach. Of those who do, fully half do not teach even when present [3]. Most of them are held personally responsible for the books and machines sent them and will have to pay if they are damaged, so they lock them safely away. Aware of these issues, NGOs and the Government of India previously sponsored a variety of access points—via the Hole-in-the-Wall/HiWel program among many others [4]—to encourage children to teach themselves [5]. These meet with initial success, but in order to be safe from vandalism or theft, the centers have to be placed on school-grounds where the same conditions which vitiate the educational process also impact the use of the “free” computing facilities.

Arora’s insights are deeply rooted in a close knowledge of both practical and theoretical pedagogy and anyone interested in education could benefit from understanding this aspect of her research. Part of her progress here might be said to be “unlearning,” as she finds that many of her assumptions are simply irrelevant in the social context of village India. For example, after working in the Internet café, she comes to understand the limitations of Western attitudes toward plagiarism. Arora has focused closely on gender issues in her previous research. In her ethnographic research in Almora, she also derives a new understanding of gender issues. This comes about when she watches female students, usually treated in the critical literature as deliberately marginalized in the world of technology, ably manipulate not the machines so much as those who work in the cafes (including the author), on the model of traditional Indian mistress-servant relationships. She concludes that choosing not to work directly with technology is also a means of using technology, and a valid choice in many situations. The author also begins to understand the complexity of globalization when she assists two local girls prepare school papers on “Western” art by selecting a variety of graphics, including cowboy-style horse paintings done by a contemporary Chinese artist, side by side with the Mona Lisa and the works of a noted Indian painter [6].

The weakness of NGO and governmental assumptions about the link between development and I.T. development are treated directly in a section on farming. Farmers are given access to computers by the government in the belief that, with better information about markets and prices, they can avoid exploitation by traditional middlemen.However, the author learns, the middlemen are also a critical element in farming practices, advising farmers of how to develop new crops, for example. And even with perfect knowledge of the market, the farmers are still producing on such a small scale that they cannot take any better advantage of the information.Dot Com Mantra really comes alive and makes a significant contribution when Arora begins to reconceptualize the Internet cafes and their most frequent use as places not of learning so much as of recreation. Here she undermines one of the major assumptions of developmental economics: that the poor are so desperate that given the opportunity they will always choose to look first after basic needs and that idling away time is the province only of the wealthy. Arora concludes: “There is an assumption that the poor will somehow behave differently from their wealthier counterparts. Herein lies a deep bind of contemporary ICT development thinking [7].”

As with the issue of plagiarism, however, when the author situates the recreations of the Internet cafes in the local social context, she comes to see the play as also a valid social choice for the use of computing. We learn, for example, that due to widespread broadband access in Almora, local children and teens are now fully conversant in many elements of Indian urban culture, their rural dialects are now inflected by urban usages, and they are also fairly aware of international pop culture. These may seem to a developmental economist to be an inadequate result for billions of dollars of investment in I.T., but in fact, as Arora points out, in their own way, these consequences represent considerable progress. The work betrays its origins in that it is extremely dense and steeped in academic jargon. However, it should be of interest to a variety of audiences, including most especially those concerned with development, with I.T. investment, with teaching and pedagogy (in any context—many of the weaknesses she spots in constructivist practices in education are as relevant in London or New York as in village India—and generally interested, as are we, in the impact of the Internet). But given its cost ($99.95) most readers should probably seek it out in an academic library, where it properly belongs.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mirror Mirror on the wall, who is the cheapest of them all?

Today’s world is the world of consumerism. “Access,” even in the most economically disadvantaged areas is less about the basics. In fact, there is a thin line between what constitutes as necessity versus luxury. The farmer wants a mobile to listen to Radio1 94.3; the housemaid in Bandra wants a TV to watch her favorite soap opera; the watchman in Electronic City aims to get a car one day. With India’s massive consumer base of a billion strong, the economy of scale as a perennial cliché kicks in as predictably as ever. So there is nothing new in the fact that new technologies can become accessible at a faster rate in emerging markets than its western counterpart. What is new however is that products today are being developed from the start to be accessible – in one word –CHEAP. Patience is a thing of the past apparently. The new consumer has made the economy of scale redundant here.

The burgeoning middle class laps up the Tata Nano, the people’s car at $2500, an unprecedented figure for an automobile today. The legendary chairman, Ratan Tata remarks: “Today, we indeed have a People’s Car, which is affordable and yet built to meet safety requirements and emission norms, to be fuel efficient and low on emissions,” Mr. Tata added. “We are happy to present the People’s Car to India and we hope it brings the joy, pride and utility of owning a car to many families who need personal mobility.”

And this seems to be just the start. In the hardware world, the brainpower universities of IIT & IISc have pioneered the tablet computer at the cost of a mere $35 with promises of getting even cheaper for the students. And if we cross over to the medical world, we see pioneering innovations of cost effective treatment in major sectors, from prosthetic legs to eye treatment to HIV drugs, an invaluable model to learn for the West where healthcare is perhaps one of the biggest contentious issues of the day.

Best yet, cheap is no longer automatically equated to lower quality. In fact, the demanding consumer expects more apps, more features, and more gadgetry for less. Competition and choice have fueled such expectations, raising the bar for innovators. And rightly so. When we look in the mirror, we now want to see not the present but the future. The question is, who will present the fairest future for us all?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Book Release: Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas

At last, eight months in the Central Himalayas spent examining how people use computers and the Internet has panned out - my first book published by Ashgate publishing (UK) has just got released.

ABSTRACT: Billions of dollars are being spent nationally and globally on providing computing access to digitally disadvantaged groups and cultures with an expectation that computers and the Internet can lead to higher socio-economic mobility. This ethnographic study of social computing in the Central Himalayas, India, investigates alternative social practices with new technologies and media amongst a population that is for the most part undocumented. In doing so, this book offers fresh and critical perspectives in areas of contemporary debate: informal learning with computers, cyberleisure, gender access and empowerment, digital intermediaries, and glocalization of information and media.


'A towering piece of research and writing, imbued with theoretical and methodological vigor, and sensitively illuminating the intersections of digital media and human ingenuity in the Central Himalayas. A must read.'
Arvind Singhal, University of Texas at El Paso, USA, and Clinton School of Public Service, USA

'In every age, innovative technology has been met with an awkward mixture of enthusiasm, indifference, scepticism and hostility. The advent in our time of cheap, mobile computing and cellular telephones has drawn a similar response, especially in the international development community. In Dot Com Mantra, Payal Arora goes beyond the familiar juxtapositions to show how poor individuals and communities actively negotiate their engagement with twenty-first century technology, documenting the conditions under which they use, abuse and reject it in their everyday lives. The result is a book that is fascinating in its own right, but also highly instructive to a new generation of development policymakers, in rich and poor countries alike, caught between an imperative for easy answers and the reality of messy complexity.'
Michael Woolcock, World Bank