(E07)
After data activism: reactions to civil society's engagement with data
Location Elizabeth Livingston Lecture Theatre (Bowland North)
Date and Start Time 28 Jul, 2018 at 09:30
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Guillén Torres (University of Amsterdam) email
  • Stefania Milan (University of Amsterdam) email

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Chair Katja Mayer (Technical University of Munich)

Short abstract

This panel focuses on data practices that hinder rather than foster civil society's political engagement. We invite you to discuss how data governance, data science and social technologies are co-producing asymmetries of power.

Long abstract

By foregrounding the constitutive power of information to shape social reality (Braman, 2006), recent approaches to datafication have highlighted data's active role in configuring new ways of engaging politically with -while dissolving the barriers between- public policy, economy, science, nature and culture (Milan & van der Velden, 2016). Thus, the term data activism has been used to study practices in which data plays a crucial role in shaping civil society's agenda, in particular when taking action against governmental or corporate practices of injustice or misinformation. Today, various actors embrace the "data as new oil" metaphor and we even witness multiple forms of "open-washing" of politics and economies (e.g. transparency). Other actors however, have lately shown reluctance to support civic engagement with data, implementing strategies of information control at different scales: from the enactment of government-wide policies that make difficult access to data, to recurrent denials of information requests, passing by the wilful production of the opaqueness of Automated Decision Making or scoring systems.

This panel focuses on how certain actors are taking advantage of information's capacity to shape social reality, with a special focus on data practices that resist rather than foster citizens' political engagement. We invite you to discuss how mechanisms of information control produce and sustain asymmetries of power, often in complicity with data science and social technologies. We further welcome contributions focused on experiences with data activism through the mobilisation of open data and public sector information, or dealing with the political aftermath of data-driven projects.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Digital citizenship in the scoring society

Author: Arne Hintz email
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Short abstract

What are the implications of the 'scoring society' for activism and citizenship? How does the increasing use of scoring systems affect notions of digital citizenship that are based on active engagement with digital environments and the self-enactment of citizens through digital tools?

Long abstract

The drive to turn vast amounts of human activity and behavior into data points that can be tracked and mined is transforming state-citizen relations and is becoming an integral part of governance. Data scores that combine data from a variety of both online and offline activities are emerging as a prime means of categorizing citizens, allocating services, and predicting future behavior. The social credit score being developed in China represents the most comprehensive attempt at data governance to date, but smaller scale forms of citizen scoring are already in place or being developed in other countries. These include financial credit scores, education and health scores, data scores used in the criminal justice system, and 'risk' scores of refugees and families.

What are the implications of the 'scoring society' for activism and citizenship? How does the increasing use of scoring systems affect notions of digital citizenship that are based on active engagement with digital environments and the self-enactment of citizens through digital tools? This paper will present preliminary results from the research project 'Data Scores as Governance' which maps and analyses the use of data scores across government departments in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Based on findings from extensive desk research and interviews with a variety of stakeholders, the paper will discuss public responses to data-driven citizen scoring and changes to citizenship in the context of data-based governance. It will present examples for scores and analyse the consequences for democracy as citizens' status and life opportunities are increasingly affected by scoring systems.

Anticipating the big law: flows of personal data

Authors: Katja Mayer (Technical University of Munich) email
Jürgen Pfeffer (Technical University of Munich) email
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Short abstract

By confronting journeys of personal data from devices to data markets with expectations of the new European e-privacy regulation we examine limits and opportunities of agency in regard to privacy protection.

Long abstract

This paper is based on a series of interviews with e-privacy activists and several experiments with day to day devices that collect and share end-user data. In preparation of the coming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and its suite of e-privacy regulation, our work maps several severe limits to controlling where and how our data flows.

We focus on the inextricability of the many services that make up mobile apps for daily use, such as bike sharing or fitness tracking. After meticulously investigating all operations happening in the usage of such apps that are not immediately visible to the end user, we confronted our findings with the main criteria of the coming privacy regulation. Predictably there are huge discrepancies. .... What are users' options in monitoring and controling their data flows? What new types of socio-technical agency do we need, that go beyond trusting the law and respective sanctions?

Forming a common good? Ideas and challenges of communal data sharing

Author: Chih-hsing Ho (Academia Sinica) email
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Short abstract

This paper analyses ideas and challenges of communal data sharing by studying how a community is formed and a collective decision is made.

Long abstract

With the rapid development of big data techniques, the systematic study of populations, social behaviours and public health through secondary analysis of massive data collections has become an emerging phenomenon nowadays. This technological revolution has brought new challenges in the legal arena for the due process data sharing, the right to privacy and personal data protection. It has also started to change the relationships between citizens and government and calls upon a new form of governance, which focuses not only on transparency and social accountability, but also community participation that goes beyond traditional approaches of privacy safeguards via individual consent and anonymity of identifiable personal information.

Nevertheless, how to constitute a responsible approach to balance the risk and usability of secondary data and institutionalise that demand by improving public participation remains a question. By critically reviewing existing data access policies and practices used in health-related data commons, for example those with rare diseases who would like to exchange information about medical conditions and treatments, this paper analyses how a community may maintain or fail to maintain a coherent boundary for trustful group sharing of sensitive data, and how collective decisions are being made by the community members. While a group decision making process has gradually been reduced to an e-voting behavior, it provides a shallow sense of participation, which is limited to vote casting only, rather than taking part in a deeper collective engagement and participation as the so-called participant-centric governance for communal data sharing is claimed.

Closing the circle: Dave Eggers trumps Orwell in China

Author: David Kurt Herold (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) email
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Short abstract

In 2014 the Chinese government announced a new policy initiative to create a nation-wide credit-rating system based on an amalgamation of traditional financial data and social media data mining, which will establish a surveillance system scary in its reach but with an absent Big Brother.

Long abstract

An ever-present trope in Chinese Internet studies is the tension between techno-social developments of ICTs and policies and their enactments by Chinese authorities. Since the assumption of power by Xi Jinping, 'Big Brother' has won the fight and activism has decreased markedly. The cap stone of government control is the so-called Social Credit System (SCS) announced in 2014 and intended to go nationwide in 2020. Partial trials are currently being run by Internet giants such as Alibaba and Tencent.

Based on published documents about the system and the currently running trials this paper wants to argue that the SCS is made worse by the absence of Big Brother from day-to-day practices of control. The SCS will operationalize individual people's competitiveness and desire for convenience through technology to enforce compliance and surveillance of one's friends and acquaintances without involving the authorities - as in Dave Egger's novel The Circle. Resisting individuals will no longer have to be punished by the authorities. Instead, they will lose day-to-day amenities through the lowering of their credit score and their friends and acquaintances whose credit score they threaten to lower through their behavior. By the time an individual becomes a dissident worthy of government attention, they will have lost the ability to order and pay for food or transport online, be unable to obtain mortgages or even plane tickets, be branded as untrustworthy on online sites and have lost those most of their friends. The new normal China… - way beyond Orwell's worst nightmares.

The influence of data practices on the relationship between civil society organisations and their audiences

Author: Amber Macintyre (Royal Holloway, University of London) email
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Short abstract

This paper presents an ethnography exploring the influence of data practices on a civil society organisation’s internal practices. The findings show divergent approaches to using personal data based on two initial starting points: the team and the individual’s perceived role of the audience.

Long abstract

The influence of data practices, particularly those involving personal data, provides opportunities and challenges for how civil society organisations form relationships with their audiences. On one hand, the use of data can have substantial effects for listening to people, reaching new groups and mobilising audiences at the right time to create social change. On the other, embracing these data practices can lead to problematic assumptions about how to create and monitor relationships as documented in critical reviews of profiling, microtargeting and privacy.To address this tension, more empirical understanding is needed of what data practices exist and how they are approached. This paper presents the findings of an ethnography in a civil society organisation answering the following two questions:How do staff within the organisation engage with new data practices? How does the organisation's relationship with members impact their use of data?

Respectively, the findings show that firstly, the relationship to data practices differs greatly across different teams and secondly, the approach to data is caught in a familiar tension in civil society organisations between the importance of experts and the role of broader membership movements.

Can a state resist its citizens? On the ontological multiplicity of Open Government

Author: Guillén Torres (University of Amsterdam) email
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Short abstract

This conference paper focuses on various instances in which Mexican institutions have (willingly or not) obstructed citizens' access to government information, thus preventing them to join decision making processes

Long abstract

This conference paper focuses on various instances in which Mexican institutions have (willingly or not) obstructed citizens' access to government information, thus preventing them to join decision making processes. On the basis of interviews with Mexican information activists, I argue that the State can be experienced as a resisting agent that implements subtle and seemingly non political strategies to create and maintain power asymmetries vis a vis citizens. By mobilizing the notion of ontological multiplicity, I question what kind of State is being enacted through different relational practices at different moments during the interaction between citizens and institutions. Thus, I show that democracy, citizenship, information, openness and transparency, acquire different realities for each actor throughout the process, and that such multiplicity has problematic effects over the performance of Open Government, since it becomes a tool that can be used both to achieve the empowerment or the disempowerment of citizens.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.