Sunday, June 23, 2019

6 marathon presentations at the ICA-Washington

It was one of my busiest times I have had at the International Communication Association, the largest annual gathering of communication and media scholars. This year it was held in Washington DC. I presented a diverse set of papers at the main and pre-conference and also landed up having a pre-launch for the new University of California Press journal Global Perspectives where I will serve as the Section Editor for the media and communication section.

It kick-started with me speaking alongside a wonderful panel of speakers - Frank Pasquale and Thomas Poell on 'The Moral order of Datafied Publics' at the Justice and Order in the Datafied Society Pre-conference.  My talk was drawn from the recently published paper with First Monday on Benign Dataveillance? Examining novel data-driven governance systems in India and China. Additionally, did some intellectual judo with Joseph Turow as we clearly had different perspectives on how we viewed the datafication systems in developing countries. While I critiqued the Western-centrism and moral righteousness of the West towards these countries on their approach to democracy and the inherent pessimism bias embedded in Western media studies scholarship, Turow had a far darker and deterministic perspective of this "surveillance capitalism" regime.

Other presentations involved me speaking about my upcoming chapter on Oromo activism and social media for the Sage Handbook of Media and Migration due to come out in 2020. Another paper I was very proud to present on was driven by a very smart student of mine Saskia Muhlbach on Platformization of Cultural Production. Our work was chosen out of more than a 100 paper submissions for their Special Issue. Lastly, I presented on my recently published work Decolonizing privacy studies where I push for a rethinking of the field and re-examining the embedded biases in the approaches to this topic. 

Overall pretty crazy time changing gears from one topic to another but worked out well in the end. Was glad to engage with such a variety of disciplinary experts on topics of datafication and democracy, cultural platformization, digital privacy and surveillance and activism and rights.




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.