#43c3

IMG_4876This year I had the pleasure to attend the 34C3 – Chaos Communication Congress – in Leipzig. Between Xmas and New Years Eve I gathered with 1500 (!) hackers, nerds and other great people in the Messe Leipzig, which is huge! Thanks to @toyear btw who sold one of his tickets; buying my own was impossible since there were only three particular dates for buying regular tickets and the contingent was sold out immediately.

IMG_4845

The event was massive in all aspects. Large, glowing art works, huge assemblies of hacker communities, big speakers and wide audiences. I mainly attended to meet up with Michael Christen from the peer-to-peer search engine YaCy. Hanging out with him and Mario Behling – the two of them currently programming Susi.ai – was great fun! Altogether I got a really good insight in their work practices and the community at large. And: everyone was really friendly. Not fake friendly, I mean really friendly. And there were lots of kids too. To sum up, if you are interested in open tech, free software and hacking hardware that’s the place to go. Yes, the most useful thing I learnt there was lock picking!!

 

(un)making europe

greek-1289076_1920Tomorrow I’ll be going to the conference by the European Sociological Association in Athens. The conference theme is (Un)Making Europe. Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities. I’ll be giving a talk on the co-production of search technology and a European identity in the session “information technologies & society” organized by Harald Rohracher. It’s related to my article “search engine imaginary” that got published in Social Studies of Science just recently. It’s pretty unusual for me to give a talk about finished work, but I thought I had to submit something since this research corresponds to the overall conference topic so well. 😉

Here’s the conference abstract and the link to the full paper:

(Un)Making Europe in the Context of Search Engine Policy

This article discusses the co-production of search technology and a European identity in the context of the EU data protection reform. The negotiations of the EU data protection legislation ran from 2012 until 2015 and resulted in a unified data protection legislation directly binding for all European member states. I employ a discourse analysis to examine EU policy documents and Austrian media materials related to the reform process. Using the concept ‘sociotechnical imaginary’, I show how a European imaginary of search engines is forming in the EU policy domain, how a European identity is constructed in the envisioned politics of control, and how national specificities contribute to the making and unmaking of a European identity. I discuss the roles that national technopolitical identities play in shaping both search technology and Europe, taking as an example Austria, a small country with a long history in data protection and a tradition of restrained technology politics.

 

AOIR 2016, Berlin

internetrules_banner-11-1024x478I’m already looking forward to the AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers) conference in Berlin (6-8 October 2016). The overall theme of the conference is “Internet Rules!”. I’ll be part of the pre-conference workshop “The Internet Rules, But How? A Science and Technology Studies Take on Doing Internet Governance”; here‘s the program with its exciting line-up!! After one year of maternity leave this workshop will get me back on track.. hehe.

 

events events events

Much has happened in the past weeks! First, the presentation of the results of my project “Glocal Search” (funded by OeNB, nb 14702) has taken place at the end of April: “Europe against Google & Co?” (see blog post below). The event was a success; and not only because of my research on search engines in the European context, but also because we had a really good panel discussion with representatives from policy, data protection, consumer protection, and the Internet economy. As a consequence, my project was featured in several newspapers (e.g. Der Standard) and in the radio broadcast “Digital Leben” on Ö1. A short summary of my results can be found on the ITA Website (in German and in English; coming soon). In addition, my project was part of the video ITA produced to present the institute and our research on the website of the Austrian ministry of science, research, and economy.

At the beginning of June there were two more exciting events: 1) the Technology Assessment Conference (TA15) annually taking place at the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW); organized by ITA and 2) the IS4IS summit at the Technical University of Vienna with the title “THE INFORMATION SOCIETY AT THE CROSSROADS”. At this conference we organized a panel on “ICTs and power relations. Present dilemmas and future perspectives” (Doris Allhutter, Stefan Strauss & me). Since we got a great deal of abstracts we were able to put together three sessions, which was fun! I took the opportunity to present my work on the emergence of the European “sociotechnical imaginary” (Jasanoff & Kim) of search engines and its translation and transformation in the Austrian context (hopefully to be published soon!!). After that we decided to organize another panel at next year’s TA16 to further sharpen and extend our research focus.

Finally, I presented my work on alternative search engines and their ideologies at the book launch of Anton Tantner, who is a historian working on early, pre-Internet search technologies like AdressbĂŒros or FragĂ€mter (whatever that is in English). Since our research nicely fits together, we were invited to be studio guests in the radio broadcast “Dispositiv” by Herbert Gnauer (Radio Orange 94.0), which was really nice! Download here.

Now I’m done with presenting and communicating my results to various publics 😉 After my holidays I’ll get back to writing again. YAY!

information society @ the crossroads, 3-7 june 2015

We’re happy that we got almost 20 papers for our panel “ICTs and power relations. Present dilemmas and future perspectives” (a panel I co-organize with my ITA colleagues Doris Allhutter & Stefan Strauss). Thanks to the conference organizers we’ll be able to put together two (maybe even three) sessions! YAY. We’ll go through all the abstracts in the next couple of weeks.. I’m already looking forward to that!

That’s the abstract I submitted. I hope it will make it through our tough review process! 😉 Comments & thoughts are highly welcome!!

Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions and values in the co-production of search engine politics and Europe

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been described as transcending and transforming national borders, political regimes, and power relations. They have been envisioned as creating a global network society with hubs and links rather than cities and peripheries; “technological zones” (Barry 2006) rather than political territories. This reordering of distance and space was described as going hand in hand with processes of reordering social life. Such deep entanglements of technological and social arrangements have been coined as processes of co-production (Jasanoff 2005). While this “sociotechnical imaginary of the internet” (Felt 2014) was framed as all-encompassing and world-spanning at first, it is now increasingly seen as conflicting with the diversity of cultural, political, and social values on the ground. Accordingly, alternative interpretations of ICTs and their multiple socio-political implications have emerged over the past years.

Especially in the European context, tensions between US-American internet services, Google and its “algorithmic ideology” (Mager 2012, 2014) most importantly, and European visions and values may be observed. After the NSA scandal critical voices have become louder and louder; both in the policy and the public arena. Out of a sudden, issues like privacy, data protection, informational self-determination, and the right to be forgotten have been conceptualized as core European values (even though European secret services heavily surveilled its citizens too – arguable more intensely than the NSA in the British case). This shows that there is a European voice forming that aims at distancing and emancipating Europe from US-American tech companies and their business models based on user-targeted advertising and large-scale citizen surveillance. However, it further shows that there are tensions running through European countries and their national interests, identities and ideologies too. One reason is that Europe is neither a clear-cut, homogeneous entity, nor fixed and stable. In the context of biotechnology policy Jasanoff (2005: 10) argues: “Europe in particular is a multiply imagined community in the minds of the many actors who are struggling to institutionalize their particular versions of Europe, and how far national specificities should become submerged in a single European nationhood – economically, politically, ethically – remains far from settled.”

So how is Europe imagined in the context of search engine politics and how are search engines imagined in Europe? And how does the European imaginary relate to national visions and values of search engines? These are the main questions to be answered in the presented analysis by taking Austria as a case study. Analyzing European policy discourses the study examines how search engines – Google in particular – are imagined in the European policy context, what visions and values guide search engine politics, and how Europe is constructed in these narratives. Analyzing Austrian media debates the project investigates how the European imaginary is translated into and transformed in the Austrian context, how Google is portrayed in these debates, and what national specificities shape the narratives. A particular focus is put on the ongoing negotiation of the European data protection reform since this is a central arena where search engines (and other data processing technologies like social media etc) and the European identity are co-constructed these days, but also a site where European disparities, national interests, and local value-systems are at stake. Using a discourse analytical approach and the concept of “sociotechnical imaginaries” (Jasanoff and Kim 2009) this study will give insights in the way ICTs and Europe are co-produced, but also what tensions and contradictions appear between the European imaginary and national interests. While European policy documents try to speak with one voice, the Austrian media shows more nuanced stories of power relations, struggles, and friction that open up the view on the fragility of the European identity when it comes to sensitive, value-laden areas like search engine politics.

Google is a particularly interesting technology in this respect since Google was one of the first US-American tech companies that came under scrutiny in the European context. In 2010 Google tried to launch its street view service on the European market. Rather than euphorically embracing the service, however, European citizens, NGOs, and policy makers went on the barricades and started protesting against Google cars in various cities and regions. An Austrian farmer, for example, sparked media publicity by attacking a Google car with a pickaxe. After Google’s illegal scraping of open WiFi data Google cars were banned from Austrian streets for some time (not surprisingly the service was continued later on after Google accepted some restrictions). While the street view debate was the first one that had values like privacy and data protection at its core, the issue was handled nationally back then. Every European country took different actions according to their stance towards the service (varying from unrestricted acceptance in some countries to (initial) blockage in others).

Despite these differences among European countries (or also because of them), a European vision – a European “algorithmic imaginary” – started to form in the aftermath of the street view debate. While it was only a silent voice at first, it grew into a stronger message that took its written form in the first draft of the European data protection reform that was launched in early 2012. Since then various actors tried to force their interests into the legislative text – most prominently the US-American IT industry, but also European NGOs and national stakeholders; some of them started lobbying even before the European Commission presented its very first draft. These heavy negotiations show how important this piece of text is for multinational actors doing business on the European market. Even though the reform is far from being finished, the judgment of the “right to be forgotten” that forced Google to obey European law may be seen as a first step towards putting the European imaginary into practice. The Austrian media frames this case as a success in showing US-American IT companies like Google that making business on the European market requires obeying European law. Looking more closely and integrating national visions and values into the analysis, however, indicates how fragile the European imaginary still is, and what tensions and contradictions it faces when being translated into national and local contexts. It shows that Europe tries to speak with a strong voice when addressing other countries and continents, the US most importantly, but how weak its voice becomes when it is confronted with itself. The ongoing reform of the data protection reform offers particularly rich materials to trace this dynamic. It is an arena where search engines, business models, and algorithmic logics are negotiated, but also an arena where Europe is forming and falling apart – both at the same time.

So if our information society is at the crossroads, as stated in the conference abstract, we need to understand tight entanglements between technological and social arrangements before taking the next junction. Only when (re)grounding global ICTs in specific socio-political contexts alternative routes may be taken towards more democratic, more sustainable, and more culturally sensitive network technologies (whether this requires stricter regulations of US-American technologies or developing alternative “European” services, or both, remains to be seen). What we may learn from the geopolitics of search engines in terms of global power relations, European identity construction, and concepts of nationhood will be finally discussed.

Acknowledgment
The  research  presented  in  this  paper  is supported by the Jubilee Fund of  the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), project number 14702.

References

Barry, A. (2006) Technological Zones. European Journal of Social Theory 9(2): 239-253.

Felt, U. (forthcoming) Sociotechnical imaginaries of “the internet”, digital health information and the making of citizen patients, to appear in Hilgartner S., Miller, C., and Hagendijk, R.: Science and Democracy: Making Knowledge and Making Power in the Biosciences and Beyond, London/ New York: Routledge.

Jasanoff, S. (2005) Designs on Nature. Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States, Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press.

Jasanoff, S. and S. Kim (2009) Containing the Atom: Sociotechnical imaginaries and Nuclear Power in the United States and South Korea, Minerva 47(2): 119-146.

Mager, A. (2012) Algorithmic Ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines, Information, Communication & Society 15(5): 769-787.

Mager, A. (2014) Defining Algorithmic Ideology: Using Ideology Critique to Scrutinize Corporate Search Engines, Triple C. Cognition, Communication and Co-Operation 12(1).

ICTs and power relations

Together with my ITA colleagues Doris Allhutter and Stefan Strauss I put together a panel for the “THE INFORMATION SOCIETY AT THE CROSSROADS” conference that will take place in  Vienna next year (3-7 June). The title of our panel is ICTs and power relations. Present dilemmas & future perspectives. The deadline is 27th of February.

I hope to see you there! Here’s the abstract:

The increasing presence of ICTs in a multitude of societal contexts alters the relation between social, political, technical, legal, economic arenas. As cross-sectional technologies, ICTs enter and link different societal domains often entailing a number of tensions and controversies, e.g. due to conflicting interests, hegemonic discourses, socio-political cultures and practices. Novel forms of interactions are accompanied by increasing complexity, diversity and overlaps between public and private spheres. The capacity of ICTs as a political tool is multidimensional: it can boost civil society participation (e.g. the Arab Spring) as well as amplify mass surveillance and privacy intrusion (e.g. revealed by Snowden).

This panel is interested in the manifold interplay between societal power structures and ICTs. In line with the umbrella issue “at the crossroads” particular focus lies on contributions that present controversies, dilemmas, and imaginary futures that open up paths towards socio-technical alternatives.

Target groups

The panel embraces different scientific disciplines and welcomes theoretical as well as empirical contributions bridging different perspectives (e.g. computing and philosophy, technology assessment and science and technology studies, social, political, economic and techno science).

Subjects and scope

Topics of interest thus include but are not limited to:

  • Values in design and responsible technology innovation
  • Socio-technical alternatives (e.g. peer production, commons, free software, etc.)
  • ICT-related political participation, activism and policy making
  • Norms, standards and hegemonies in ICT infrastructures, software, algorithms and code
  • ICT commercialization and ideologies
  • ICT at the intersection of global, European and local contexts
  • Co-emergence of ICTs with gender, sex, age, class, race, dis/ability (social sorting, standardization, etc.)
  • Emerging privacy and security challenges (privacy-by-design, encryption, EU data protection reform, etc.)
  • Technical and regulatory oversight and limits of surveillance technologies and practices

Important Dates

Submission deadline: 27 February 2015
Notification of acceptance: 20 March 2015

digital labor & research under neoliberal conditions

There are two exciting events coming up! (Unfortunately at the same time)

The first one is the digital labor conference in NYC organized by Trebor Scholz and his team. It’s taking place at the New School and critically examines emerging forms of labor in digital environments – ranging from crowdsourced mini tasks for a few cents (e.g. Amazon Mechanical Turk) to mundane forms of labor performed by social media users on a daily basis (e.g. Facebook). Here’s the program. I’m on the panel “search, data flows and vertical extraction” and will be part of the final reflections. I’m pretty sure that’s gonna be a cool conference! :)

The second event is a workshop organized by Helga Köcher and colleagues in Vienna. It aims at bringing together researchers interested in exploring and critically examining the growing economization of research practices and knowledge creation. It’s ambitious (utopian) goal is to create an interdisciplinary scientific advisory board for the European Union. In a first step, however, it wants to interest researchers from various disciplines, discuss implications of the neoliberal paradigm in academia, and (hopefully) develop strategies to overcome the dilemma. More information on the workshop here.

This is my written input to support the project, while physically being in NYC:

Publish or perish
I do research on new media (Google & co) in sociopolitical contexts. Capitalist dynamics are central, but the stabilization of “service-for-profile” business models in social practices (our own behavior) too. Similar dynamics may be observed in present knowledge societies. Contrary to data, publications are accumulated; contrary to capital, CVs, projects and jobs are generated – so the hope. Publish or perish has become a familiar expression. Peer-review publications, impact factors, citation indexes dominate our everyday life; especially at the beginning of the career. That is how one gets socialized in an academic system that prioritizes quantity instead of quality. As a consequence, knowledge production gets structured in smaller and smaller, “project-oriented” portions. Implications go right into the heart of the epistemic core of science, but also of our research life. They create a research reality that provides neither security, nor satisfaction. Short-term contracts and the lack of career perspectives fuel the hunt after publications and mechanisms of self-exploitation. But why don’t we step out of the treadmill of an academic enterprise that discharged knowledge and truth long ago? That makes us to accomplices of a neoliberal system oriented towards economic factors and getting rid of surplus workforce? Because we still believe in this system that promises us prizes and professorships if we work hard enough? But aren’t these hopes inherent in the system; part of a competitive society that rewards the strongest (or the fastest quickly packing their stuff to start a job at the end of the world; without heavy luggage such as family or kids)? And what happens if the system fails and doesn’t provide us with gratification for our efforts? Individual risk? I would call that into question. I hope the workshop will help to explore these questions and socialize the supposedly individual risk to some extent.

I’d love to hear what you think about the increasing economization of both research & researchers!!

happy birthday ITA

Yesterday my home institution (ITA, ÖAW) celebrated its 20th anniversary! The big party took place in the “Festsaal” of the Austrian Academy of Sciences – a truly bombastic and pretty Viennese location. The evening was composed of Michael Nentwich talking about ITA’s history & future, panel discussions with ITA researchers, policy makers, and colleagues from German and Swiss technology assessment (TA) institutions, as well as Renate Mayntz talking about limits and challenges of TA procedures. The music was arranged and performed by Richard Eigner aka Ritornell:

The party is followed by a two-day conference, the annual NTA/ TA conference, which is taking place today & tomorrow. This year it is concerned with the rising EU policy buzzword “responsible research & innovation” (RRI):

„Responsible Research and Innovation“ (RRI) ist jĂŒngst zu einem wichtigen Schlagwort der EU-Forschungspolitik geworden. Das Ziel: Technische Innovationen sollen sich an ethischen und gesellschaftlichen Erfordernissen orientieren und nicht allein durch kommerzielle Interessen bestimmt sein. RRI verlangt nach einer systematischen und frĂŒhzeitigen Einbindung von TechnikfolgenabschĂ€tzung (TA) in Innovationsprozesse. Besondere Bedeutung erhĂ€lt der Einsatz partizipativer Verfahren. Schließlich sollen sich technische Innovationen an deliberativ entwickelten Konzepten fĂŒr eine wĂŒnschenswerte Zukunft orientieren.

The quote is taken from the ITA website; please go there for further information.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ITA!!! & all the best for the next 20 years!

STS graz & SOTQ reader

This week I spent two sunny days in Graz to attend the STS conference “Critical Issues in Science and Technology Studies”. Doris Allhutter and I organized a panel on the “politics of ICTs”, which turned out to be really interesting! Great presentations, great topics, great participants. Also, we discovered quite a number of overlapping issues and shared interests, which is not always the case with regard to conference panels. I particularly liked the presentations on the material/ technological dimension of ideology and gender relations, sociotechnical/ digital work practices and cultural specificities, and questions on power relations in design practices of ICTs. Anne Dippel struggling with computer problems while talking about bugs in the CERN software and how they affect physicists’ work practices was just one highlight of our panel 😉 I still hope Doris and I will manage to put together a special issue on the fascinating co-emergence of social and digital cultures.

The second highlight of the week was the arrival of the Society of the Query Reader (eds RenĂ© König & Miriam Rasch; Institute of Network Cultures (INC) reader #9). It’s great to see my contribution on big search and its alternatives in such a nicely designed book. Didn’t the conference designers even get an award for the beautiful flyers, badges and stuff? Anyway, the reader is a wonderful compilation of essays on corporate search engines and alternative styles of search. If interested, you can order or download the book for free (!) more information here..