Showing posts with label privacy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label privacy. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Talking to Tech: Keynote at EMERCE Next in Amsterdam

Wonderful experience speaking as one of the few academics in a room full of young tech entrepreneurs at the EMERCE Next event in Amsterdam. I gave a talk based on my new book 'The Next Billion Users' published by Harvard Press earlier this year. I spoke about the myths that aid agencies and tech industries perpetuate about these new user groups based on their biased understandings of them and rooted in little empirical evidence. Worse yet, even in the face of vast evidence that contradicts these worldviews, this thinking still persists so I hope I was able to disrupt a little bit these conventional approaches. I got questions on Article 13 on copyright policies under the new GDPR which indeed is so far from the world of media piracy in developing countries. I emphasized how we need to look also at why these policies are barely enforced based on historical and unfair media business models in the global south. Other questions grappled with the ways the "West" and the "Rest" are the same and yet different and so how can we build tech going forward?

I learnt a lot from this conference that "brings the technology from tomorrow to today" and how "pioneers and experts, innovators and early adopters talk about the success of ML, VR, AI, IoT, AR, Blockchain and Quantum in marketing and business."

1. Academia has a Pessimism Bias while the Tech world has a Hyper-Optimism bias.

2. When asked how do you know you’re "doing good," Jip Samhoud of Samhoud Media said that it’s about writing down your values and knowing in your heart you are making the world better. Clearly academic discussions on Ethics and Tech have NOT made inroads with young tech peeps.

3. A big part of the blame falls on the shoulders of academia. We urgently need to find common ground/ language with the tech world that speaks about "growth hacking" instead of "surveillance capitalism"; that looks at the future through data maximization instead of data justice.

4. Academia and the Tech industry can be mutually beneficial: Scholars work slow and steady; thereby offer critical/ ethical guidelines. Tech peeps move fast and disruptive; thereby they offer insight on customer desires, needs, demands that scholars should give weight to in their theorizing. We can help them be more reflective while they can help us be more empathetic to the market.

5. Learnt that EU H2020 are funding data analytic entrepreneurs who are innovating and solving problems for the car industry (e.g. Media Distillery) on the taxpayers dime. We should use EU money to pioneer solutions to bridge the growing data inequality that corporations would never fund. I start to wonder what the market of venture capitalism looks like and if taxpayers are indeed subsidizing innovation, what kind of shares and benefits do the tax payers receive when these innovations get adopted and monetized by the private sector?

Anyway, was enlightening...

Friday, November 30, 2018

Invited to the COST Action Work group on Automation & Mobility

I have been invited to join the WISE-ACT project, “Wider Impacts and Scenario Evaluation of Autonomous and Connected Transport” and contribute my expertise on privacy, social inclusion and digital mobility in urban space and the future implications on how to organize mobility within public space. This is a new area for me to apply my expertise which is exciting as I have been doing research on how people are tracked with automated systems enabled by big data, be it with the tracking of illegal immigrant's movements via the biometric identity project in India or the banning of travel via the Social Credit system in China or the Smart card in South Africa. 

Basically, the project theme is as follows: Autonomous vehicle (AV) trials are currently taking place worldwide and Europe has a key role in the development of relevant technology. Yet, very limited research exists regarding the wider implications of the deployment of such vehicles on existing road infrastructure, since it is unclear if and when the transition period will start and conclude. It is anticipated that improved accessibility and road safety will constitute the primary benefits of the widespread use of AVs, whilst co‐benefits may also include reduced energy consumption, improved air quality or better use of urban space. Therefore, the focus of this COST Action is on observed and anticipated future mobility trends and implications on travel behaviour, namely car sharing, travel time use or residential location choice to name a few. Other important issues to be explored under different deployment scenarios are social, ethical, institutional and business impacts. To achieve this, it is essential to culminate co‐operation between a wide range of stakeholders at a local, national and international level, including academics and practitioners. Consequently, this COST Action will facilitate collaboration within Europe and beyond about this emerging topic of global interest.

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! 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Invited to talk on privacy at the EuroScience Open Forum

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 offers a 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 space, considering notions of anonymity, data aggregation, privacy harms and concerns and other factors that help us consider the future of our transport economy.

I think this will be a fascinating discussion in a very policy oriented setting!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

LSEImpactBlog out on Facebook as the Internet and the digital romance economy

Check out my blog on the London School of Economics Impact Blog regarding Facebook and the Digital Romance Economy.

Brief overview...

Through the controversial initiative, Facebook now serves as The Internet to the majority of the world’s marginalized demographic. The Politics of Data series continues with Payal Arora discussing the role of Facebook and internet regulation in the global South. While the West have had privacy laws in place since the 1970s, the emerging markets are only now seriously grappling with this. This piece explores some of the unfolding areas of vulnerability in the digital romance economy.

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Excited to be an ITS Global Fellow in Rio this July!

I have been working for over a decade on the intersection of new communication technologies, social activism, the public sphere and policy. While I have much fieldwork experience in India in this area, I would like to gain a sustained comparative perspective with another emerging market to extend critical understandings across a wider cultural context.

Early last year, I initiated a small comparative project on perspectives on privacy among youth from the slums in Hyderabad,India with youth in favelas in Belo Horizonte and Rio, Brazil. Given that much scholarship on digital privacy pertains to concerns in the West, I saw this as an opportunity to delve into an underrepresented context for a more cross-cultural and transnational dialogue on privacy. Besides, our understandings on ‘digital privacy’ need to go beyond the online realm, and explore the diverse social norms and spheres these private behaviors inhabit.

While fieldwork continues in these two contexts through research assistants and guided by excellent local mentors (Nimmi Rangaswamy in India and Laura Scheiber in Brazil), I recognized the need to immerse myself further into the working dynamics within the Brazilian and ICT policy context so as to serve as an effective project leader. As luck would have it, The Institute of Technology and Society put out their annual call for Fellows for 2015 offering,

" intensive 4-week program for our fellows, which includes visits to the biggest technology companies operating in Brazil, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee ( and visits to São Paulo and Brasília, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and Congressmen who are advocating for policies related to internet and technology."

Now that would be perfect for me to gain an overview of the Brazilian context regarding internet usage, privacy and ICT policy!

Dot Com MantraFortunately, I was selected as one of the six fellows for this year to go there! This serves as an ideal and timely opportunity to create new and long term collaborations and future publications. For years now I have been approaching this area from simultaneously a policy and grassroots practice angle. For instance, my first book in 2010, ‘Dot Com Mantra: Social computingin the Central Himalayas,’ juxtaposed social practices with new technologies in rural Himalayas with technology policy in India regarding e-health, e-agriculture and e-learning initiatives. Since then, I have written extensively on democratic aspirations and collective participation through social media across cultures, manifesting in constructs such as the digital commons or what I term as the ‘leisure commons’ and the ‘cultural commons’ (e.g. see my 2014 book on the ‘Leisure Commons: A spatial history of web 2.0’).

However, what continues to be amiss is more critical and empirical work on how effective collective governance is pioneered, managed and sustained via digital platforms across cultures and contexts, with particular attention to emerging economies in the global south. Brazil is an excellent context to explore such an undertaking given its high connectivity and usage of social media, controversies on apps like Secret and wide socio-economic and cultural diversity.

Very much looking forward to meeting the ITS Team, my co-fellows and experiencing Brazil for the first time!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Frontiers of New Media Symposium at University of Utah

So am back from the University of Utah, having participated in their Frontiers of New Media symposium. The location of Utah is not a coincidence. In 1969, the University of Utah was the fourth of four nodes of the ARPANet. It is popularly believed that the birth of the ARPANet, and later the Internet, marked the beginning of this "new frontier." To top it off, this year, the National Security Agency’s “Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center” will be completed in Bluffdale, Utah. This data center will be a key archive of the electronic communications of individuals all over the world.

In light of the PRISM/NSA scandal, this years symposum theme was "The Beginning and End(s) of the Internet: Surveillance, Censorship, and the Future of Cyber-Utopia." The speakers came from diverse disciplines including law, sociology, cultural studies and communication. Ron Deibert opened the symposium with an alarming keynote on the extent to which we are being watched. He drew from research taking place in his Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary research and development hothouse working at the intersection of the Internet, global security, and human rights. Pretty exciting stuff going on in that lab I must say and very relevant given the pervading issues on security and privacy. Geert Lovink followed this with a more hopeful tone in his keynote, emphasizing the activism, hacktivism and other initiatives that are going on to keep the internet diverse and open. One of the many interesting examples that he gave was the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine  that allows you to actually erase your digital past completely and guides you systematically so through this process. What an amazing idea! Interestingly though, Lovink mentioned that Facebook has slapped a lawsuit...just goes to show us how powerful these social media companies are but more importantly, a small grassroots act can rattle the biggest of corporations.

Of course there is an ongoing battle on the right to being forgotten which is by no means resolved but is well worth the fight. There is a new book out -Virtual of forgetting in the digital age by Prof. Mayer-Schönberger, which actually has a promo on YouTube (cool strategy in academia I have to say! I should remember that when promoting my book :-)

Anyway, my presentation, “From the Wild Wild West to the Global City: Spatial Metaphors across Internet history on the globalizing and architecting of digital space” is drawn from my upcoming book, "The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0" by Routledge. Here is an abstract of my talk. The video should be out soon. Will keep you posted!

Over the decades we have learnt to conceptualize the Internet with the aid of metaphors, including that of the city to grasp its information highways, networks, the underlying logic dictating movement and nodes of concentrated social action (Arora, 2011, 2012; Castells, 2009; Mitchell, 1996; Lessig, 2006). By equating the Internet to the city, we are compelled to extend our imagination by applying our understandings of urban planning and geography to current conversations on the shaping of Internet spaces. The persistence of this parallel has matured significantly from the utopic notion of the web as a frontier of limitless and depoliticized western space (Barlow, 1996; Rheingold, 1993) to a more architected and socio-economic phenomenon of a propertied and contextual digital place. As we enter the political economy of algorithms, the erection of walled gardens and state firewalls to confine as well as protect, and hyperlinked networks that capture concentrations and flows of digital power worldwide, there is an urgent need to frame such global mappings of the Internet and its varied implications. This paper uses the metaphorical parallel of the city as Internet and capitalizes on the rich literature surrounding the globalization of the cityscape or what is referred to as the global city (Sassen, 2011), command centers that serve as fulcrums for the industrial, creative, leisurely, and the privileged as well as the laboring and migrant class. This effort allows us to borrow from the field of urban studies and extend important debates surrounding globalization of the geographical domain to its virtual counterpart- the Internet, to better confront its political, socio-cultural and economic dimensions and online/offline intermediations. Further, this paper historically maps out the shift in spatial metaphors that have been instrumental in conceptually architecting digital space and highlights the policy consequences of such shifts.
In drawing parallels between the Internet and global city, we see the persistence of the core-periphery nodes and hierarchies dictated by factors that are political, corporate, affective and culturally based. While certain command centers persist such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter, we also see the rise of digital leisure networks that are becoming more issue, interest, group and location based such as Nextdoor, Black Planet, and Beautiful People. We also witness the indigenization of dominant networks such as Facebook wherein its usage allows for a diverse spatial representation that may have little resemblance to the original Facebook ethos. In a sense, the more global these command centers get, the more nebulous its ideology becomes as it’s impossible to impose its unique socio-cultural norms onto its substantive transnational and transcultural digital inhabitants. Additionally, it is argued that far from being disembedded from the nation state, the Internet seems represent a nation’s culture; several digital platforms have been designed for specific regions and audiences such as South Korean’s Cyworld, Latin America’s Migente, and Germany’s Studivz, as well as Google’s Orkut in Brazil. That said, we need to view these command centers not as individual nodes of power but as strategic clusters of circulating networks and capital. In the age of the hyperlinked and hybermobile community we need to pay attention to the flows between these sites and not solely that of its individual structures as the former allows for more dynamism and change. We need to consider Internet mediations between the physical and the virtual, where offline moments transform into digital memories to be consumed and played with and vice versa. Also, while new ICTs make possible the impressive blurring of lines between the real and the virtual, much of the world’s inhabitants reside in a pre-digital world and are invisible publics that have somehow slipped past the database that appears omnipresent. Poverty, rurality, criminality, and the perverse gain little attention within this larger discourse on the globalizing of the Internet. Going back to the analogy, it’s much like examining a city without taking heed of their vast slums, often where half their inhabitants live, work and play. Hence, this paper argues for the strategic use of spatial metaphors such as the global city to enrich our understandings of contemporary Internet spaces and its globalizing trajectories by being more encompassing of the marginal and the diverse, the labor and the leisurely, and the virtual and the material.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cookie in a cookie jar

We’re all labeled apparently; income level, sex, age, single, married, children and more. To sum up, we are seen to add up to nothing but a cookie that travels with a click of a mouse. WE are our own worst enemy. Naïve about our journeys online, we have supposedly become a gold mine for the government, advertising companies, and more who want so desperately to get to know us better. We are, literally, worth knowing. Our web choices, our little escapades into online dating and shopping are being tracked and profiled. This seems like our fate. The world is spilling with our data. There are no coincidences anymore. You don’t just happen to see online that there is a sale at Macy in San Francisco or that SRK, the Bollywood king just came out with a new movie. It’s all part of the design of public life online. But before we really get caught up with this Big Brother Orwellian notion, let’s take a moment to think of ourselves in all our complexity. I love Beatles, old Hindi songs, Aamir Khan Ads, burritos, Spanish tiles, Oaxacan chocolate, Irish folk music, and Timbuktu bags. I can be cheap. I love free events in New York. But I like spending my money on good winter coats. I love Paris and I love Almora, a small town in the Himalayas, India. What can you say about me so far? What cookie jar do I belong to?