become a data dealer

This is a great project! The online game DATA DEALER playfully deals with practices of user profiling, sellout of private data, privacy violations and all the other issues companies like Google, Facebook and other for-profit IT companies raise with their advertising-based business models. In the article Algorithmic Ideology I’ve shwon that the power of search engines (and social media platforms, &&&) is enacted and stabilized in a complex network of actors and social practices. I’ve argued that it’s not enough to blame Google (and other companies) for making profit and having gained a quasi-monopolist position on the internet market. Rather, it’s important to understand how various actors including programmers and business men, but also policy makers, journalists, jurists – and last but not least – users help to stabilize its powerful role by simply using their services and contributing their data to the sophisticated caplitalist accumulation cycle. Accordingly, critically examining and debating business models and practices of Google, Facebook & co is a valuable first step on the long road towards a better understanding of new media services and, ultimately, a change of existing and future practices, products and privacy settings. The reform of the EU data protection law, for example, is a long and winding endevour. Playing, supporting, and sharing DATA DEALER, on the contrary, is a quick move enabling us to think about and raise awareness on the matter. And it is fun too!

If you wanna join the undertaking go to their website, watch their video trailer, install the demo version or donate money. They’ve managed to raise $50 000 via crowdfunding just recently. I’m sure they’ll manage to create an awesome – non-profit (!) – online game! Good luck!!!

Ghostery & more

Last week I attended the Unlike Us conference in lovely Amsterdam. The event, aimed at bringing together researchers, activists and artists concerned with Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives, was covered pretty well by bloggers on site, as you can see here. Instead of repeating their work by blogging about the whole event, I just want to point you to a single tool I learned about: Ghostery.

Ghostery helps you tracking the trackers and gain back control over your privacy. “Ghostery tracks the trackers and gives you a roll-call of the ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers, and other companies interested in your activity.” It’s a browser plug-in (for various browsers) that shows you the invisible web – tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior – and helps you to block and/ or manage them. Instead of passively running in the background, the app brings them to the foreground, and hence puts you in the active position of handling them. You should really check it out, it’s the best privacy tool I’ve seen in a really long time!!!

Besides, it was very interesting to see Max Schrems talking about Facebook vs. Europe. He’s an Austrian law student, but pretty professional in what he does. I hope he manages to bring Facebook to its knees! Blogpost on his talk here.

Finally, I attended the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) conference “Interdisciplinary Insights on the Social Science of Digital Research”, where I talked about the Performative Character of Digital Methods (see blog post below). It was a great event, which covered a range of digital methods and their ethical implications. I particularly enjoyed seeing Mike Thelwall talking about his network mapping tools since I’ve read about his work for quite some time now.

goodtosee #12: geek girl meetup Umeå

Before leaving Umeå on Friday (!) I’ll turn into a geek girl tomorrow afternoon! According to the HUMlab blog (and Emma Ewadotter, who is in the Geek Girl Umeå steering committee) Geek girl

“started out in Stockholm in 2008 as a way for women interested in web, technology and innovation to meet and exchange ideas. It is for women, by women and all about professionalism and fun. It has become increasingly popular and the growing number of Geek Girls is a good indication that it is something that is here to stay. It is indeed  a marvelous concept that is already spreding over the world (there are Geek Girl initiatives in London, Gothenburg and Copenhagen just to mention a few).”

I’ve heard about Geek Girl Dinner in Vienna, which seems to be some kind of sister event, which was founded in London (2005) by Sarah Blow “who was tired of being the only woman at technical events” (Wikipedia). Since I haven’t attended any Geek Girl events yet I’m excited to present my work in this illustrious circle.

The motto of tomorrow’s meeting is search engines, and Google in particular. I’ll talk about the “Googlization of Everything” (Vaidhyanathan 2011) and about social search, as well as user profiling, surveillance and exploitation, most importantly. Moreover, Mikaela Pettersson will be speaking about search engine optimization. I’m looking forward to that! It should be fun (and will distract me a little from the annoying packing, tidying, cleaning, …, I’ve to do right now!) 😉

Documentation of the event: video & pics. Thx for a great evening & good luck with future Geek Girl events!!!

goodtosee #11: Petition: Austria’s Scientific Landscape in Jeopardy

According to the daily newspaper Der Standard 63 Institutes of the Austrian Academy of Sciences should be reduced to 22 in the near future. If you want to express your concern about that and protest to these drastic budget cuts then please sign the petition by Christian Balluch from Vienna. That’s an extract of the petition (more infos here):

The Performance Agreement between the Austrian Federal Ministry for Science and Research and the Austrian Academy of Sciences, which was signed on the 4th November 2011 paves the way for the factual budget reduction of the largest and most eminent non-university research establishment in the country. The annual budget discrepancy of approx. 10–16 Mio. Euro, as part of the total budget of 74 Mio. Euro per year is leading to the threat of loss or closure of internationally acclaimed, and demonstrably excellent research organizations. In the words of the Academy Director of Finances the measures could lead to the loss of at least 300 self-financed, full-time equivalent staff members between 2012 and 2014.

There is even the risk, that up to 300 out of the Academy’s 789 self-financed full-time equivalent scientific employees (905 including admin. staff) are threatened by these financial straits. Such drastic employee cuts are unprecedented in Austrian history since 1945. The current economic climate does not serve to justify this severity, and cuts on this scale have not been made in any other areas. Since third-party funding totaling approx. 22 Mio. Euro was acquired by employees, who now stand to lose their jobs, further negative impacts are foreseeable. When project managers are made redundant and their projects are brought to a close, this will automatically lead to the loss of other project support staff. This amounts to a sustainable destruction of knowledge and infrastructure. The level of scientific excellence and the international competitiveness of Austrian scientific research are endangered.

To sign the petition follow the link below:

goodtosee #10: unlike us & disobedient data bodies

A new network initiative has been circulated in mailing lists over the past couple of days. It’s called “Unlike Us. Understanding social media monopolies and their alternatives” (Concept: Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol). Its critical approach to social media definitely deserves a #goodtosee blog post! The central aim of the initiative is to establish a network of artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. Planned are a series of events, a reader, workshops, online debates, campaigns etc. By pursuing these initiatives Unlike Us intends to both analyze the economic and cultural aspects of dominant social media platforms and to propagate the further development and proliferation of alternative, decentralized social media software, as may be read on its website. In doing so it wants to go beyond the culture of complaint and ask overarching questions about how to tackle fast-emerging monopoly powers:

Without falling into the romantic trap of some harmonious offline life, Unlike Us asks what sort of network architectures could be designed that contribute to ‘the common’, understood as a shared resource and system of collective production that supports new forms of social organizations (such as organized networks) without mining for data to sell. What aesthetic tactics could effectively end the expropriation of subjective and private dimensions that we experience daily in social networks? Why do we ignore networks that refuse the (hyper)growth model and instead seek to strengthen forms of free cooperation? Turning the tables, let’s code and develop other ‘network cultures’ whose protocols are no longer related to the logic of ‘weak ties’. What type of social relations do we want to foster and discover in the 21st century? Imagine dense, diverse networked exchanges between billions of people, outside corporate and state control. Imagine discourses returning subjectivities to their ‘natural’ status as open nodes based on dialogue and an ethics of free exchange.

The kick-off event will take place in Limassol (Cyprus) and focuses on how the facilitation of free exchanges and the commercial exploitation of social relationships, which lie at the heart of contemporary capitalism, belly social media (23 November 2011). For more infos on the kick-off meeting go to this page or subscribe to their mailing list.

I’m really happy to see a more critical approach to social media and will most certainly follow their activities! The questions they pose are highly relevant in an age of monopolist, for-profit internet technologies and go far beyond social media. Similar claims could – and should – be made about search engines, as I discussed in my recent article “Algorithmic Ideology“. The initiative Unlike Us further nicely relates to discussions we had at the Symposium Knowledge Machines between Freedom & Control in Hainburg (see also this blog post), where we arrived at similar questions and the need to think about and work on alternative technologies accountable to “the common” rather than monopolist companies making profit with our content and data. If you feel the urge to articulate your discomfort and complaints about Facebook, Google & co. and their privacy policy & business models you are more than welcome to contribute to the manifesto we created as part of the Hainburg event. It’s titled “Disobedient Data Bodies” and may be found here. Enjoy reading it, sharing it, continuing it, or adding some fancy background image since it’s still a little plain & white for a manifesto, as you can see below 😉 – both German & English texts are welcome!

goodtosee #9: Scroogle

I briefly talked about Scroogle in a previous blogpost, but it deserves its own post since it’s such a great tool! Scroogle was developed by Daniel Brandt and basically figures as a proxy for Google search.

That’s how it works according to their website:

Scroogle randomly grabs a Goo IP. Google issues a new cookie with a new ID, and sends the search results. We trash the cookie and save the results in a file that is deleted within the hour. Google records Scroogle’s IP address, the search terms, and the date and time. We parse the file and send the results to the searcher. We don’t use cookies, we don’t save the search terms, and logs are deleted within 48 hours.

Using Google through Scroogle hence protects users’ privacy because it disables the logging and archiving of cookies and IP addresses, which capture users’ search activities. It allows users to enjoy the full search service without feeding user data into the search engine. Contrary to reconfiguring browsers, deleting cookies and other strategies of “digital self-defense”, which often trigger inconveniences, Scroogle maintains the full service (except from Google’s annoying ads). Accordingly, Scroogle may  be seen as exploiting Google. In my perception this is only fair since Google exploits us too by using our web content, linking strategies and, most importantly, our data to create profit. The so-called “user profiling”, the creation of “profiles” out of users’ search terms, search history and locations, is the basis for user-targeted advertising that made Google one of the most profitable companies on earth.*

Scroogle thus enables users to opt out of this economic exploitation scheme, while still providing the benefits of Google search. A clever move! Besides, Scroogle is entertaining too. Its homepage shows a new comic each time you reload the page. Most of the comics make fun of Google, and some of them are truly hilarious:

But check it out yourself, it’s worth risking a look! Another great tool is the Firefox Add-on „TrackMeNot“, which messes up user profiles by sending random search queries to the search engine.

* For an academic discussion on Google’s exploitation scheme within the broader context of capitalist society see, for example:

Fuchs, Christian (forthcoming) A Contribution to the Critique of the Political Economy of Google, Fast Capitalism, vol. 8, no. 1.

Mager, Astrid (2011) Algorithmic Ideology. How Society Shapes Search Engines, Conference paper for the OII conference “A Decade in Internet Time” (Oxford, 21-24 September).

Pasquinelli, Matteo (2009) Google’s PageRank. Diagram of the Cognitive Capitalism and Rentier of the Common Intellect, in Deep Search: The Politics of Search Engines beyond Google, eds. K. Becker & F. Stalder, Studienverlag, Innsbruck, pp. 152-162.

goodtosee #8: academic role model

I’ve been thinking about my job lately. And my life. Or how to bring the two together more specifically. The “work-life balance”, as they call it nowadays. Looking around me I see young academics struggling to get their papers out, to find jobs, or to acquire research money. They work hard to make all that happen. The underlying assumption that keeps them going – that keeps us going – is the harder you work, the more rewarded you’ll get. Lately, however, I started doubting this assumption. In an academic world of scarcity it has become hard to succeed. Budget cuts, closing down of university positions, and a growing dependency on peer-reviewed journal publications and external research grants have created a bottleneck that is harder and harder to pass through. Not every ambitious scholar will make it, no matter how hard s/he works. Does that make me sound like a frustrated scholar? Yes, it does, but I share the frustration with the world. See what I found amongst the first results of the Google image search for “postdoc”:

Image credit:

However, it also makes me a realistic researcher. And it opens up the chance to act upon that reality. Instead of sacrificing more and more bits of my life to the career, it made me think about life in and of itself. (What might be related to the fact that I’m growing older too, but that’s a whole different story). What is important in life? Why do I get up in the morning? What keeps me going? The job is certainly an important part in my life. I love my job. I love writing, going to conferences and sharing ideas with my fellows. I want to continue doing that. But not at any price. Look at this one, that was the second hit in the image search:

Image credit:

Not if it requires working oneself to death, “writing like a madman”, as a colleague of mine put it once, and living in places I do not necessarily want to be – far away from my boyfriend, friends, and family. That may sound very naive, but it may also sound very healthy. I do think that my job should be organized around my life and not the other way round. Isn’t that interesting that the latter has become the standard practice though? That it has become normal to go wherever a job opens up or a fellowship is offered to you? – even if it’s just for one or two years? Without having the certainty – or even possibilty – to get a permanent position (ever)? That seems more and more insane to me.

That is why I try to focus on life from now on. What does that mean? I have no idea, but it feels great! And I’ll find out along the way, I guess. A good starting point for now is a sentence I’ve recently read on Norman T. White’s website. Below his name he says “celebrating 42 years without a full-time job”. (Further below he says “we fix toasters”).

In any case, I’ve met Norman a couple of weeks ago in Vienna. He is a well-known pioneer in robotics living in Toronto. He creates a lot of cool stuff including a “helpless robot”, a “sumo robot”, a tool for “arm wrestling over distance”, and many other “clearly pointless and useless” objects. I only met him briefly, but I perceived him as a creative thinker and a fun guy to have around. And he seems healthy and happy with life. That’s why I take him – and his anniversary – as a role model or spirit to follow. And everyone is welcome to join!

goodtosee #7: art & aesthetics online

Today I’d like to share two tumblr blogs with you. The first one is “the threshold of the visible” by Fliegender. This is a huge & great collection of artistic images ranging from the fields of architecture, classical and concept art, history, war, new media and computing, such as the one showing Alan Turing (see below) – just to feature one of the truly amazing, often historic images.

Henrik Olesen, Some Illustrations to the Life of Alan Turing (A virtual system, capable of simulating the behaviour of any other machine, even, and including itself), 2008. via Fliegender & We Find Wilderness

The second one is curated by my HUMlab colleague Mike Frangos, who collects videos on his blog “Social Media Aesthetics“. The assemblage includes interesting pieces such as Robot Flâneur, an explorer for Google Street View, Larry Lessig on Scientific Publishing, the Kristoffer West Johnson-animated video “Berlin Wall”, MACHFELD’s M1+1 performances, the Cults with footage from Anna (Pierre Koralnik, 1967, below), and many more. Mike has also started a collection of “Beckett on Youtube” here. I hope you enjoy rummaging through these rich art collections as much as I do!

Cults – Abducted from George Tanasie on Vimeo.

goodtosee #6: netpolitics in practice

I do really like when netpolitics turns into an actual practice, such as the one I’ve just recently learned about in my firefox browser. It’s called Make Your Mark and encourages people to leave a mark to show “support for a people’s web”.

The project is a collaboration between the non-profit organization Mozilla and Evan Roth, an artist and researcher investigating the intersection between free culture and popular culture. Further, the project is supported by the open net advocate Lawrence Lessig. By making your mark you are indicating that you also believe that (according to their website):

The Web is an integral part of modern life.
It is an educator, a communicator, an entertainer, an inspirer, a collaboration of all our creative efforts.
It sparks movements and enables us to share our ideas, our thoughts, our dreams.

The Web is our creation.
We are all contributors, the ones who use the Web every day.
And all the comments and uploads we make add up to something bigger.
This is why we believe that the Web must remain open and accessible to all.

Mark Up is a celebration of that freedom.
Each person’s mark is an individual expression on a continuous line symbolizing solidarity.
It is a declaration and a chance to show your support for a people’s Web.

So if you identify with that then leave a trace on the web, as I did (maybe an even more creative one 😉 ):

Another really great example of netpolitics in practice is the Firefox add-on: Track me Not. This application was created by Daniel C. Howe, Helen Nissenbaum and Janoss and helps you to protect yourself from surveillance and data-profiling by search engines. It does so by irritating search engines such as Google by creating noise and obfuscation.

Practically, this means that the app sends random search queries to search engines such as “Muddy River uses” – the one that’s displayed in my own browser right now. You see, it’s not only useful, it may also be highly entertaining given the stupid queries it sends 😉 More info and download here. Because using the web and getting exploited by big Internet companies must not necessarily be the same, even though it is often case unfortunately..

goodtosee #5: video archive of HUMlab lectures/ digital humanities 2002-?

Yesterday I gave a talk in HUMlab: “Search technology in society. Constructing search engines, shaping knowledge”. I was excited to present and discuss my research in this vibrant space and get feed-back from the wonderful HUMlab crowd! I really enjoyed the discussions that even continued after the talk – thanks for that!

Since the lab is not only a physical space, but also a highly digital space or “media place” – as the director Patrik Svensson himself often calls it – the HUMlab seminars are also live streamed and archived. I highly recommend to check out this rich repertoire of HUMlab lectures that goes back to the year of 2002 (!). The seminars are primarily dealing with research/ theories of the digital humanities, but also new media studies, digital sociology and related fields. This video archive assembles exciting scholars such as Whitney Trettien, Alan Liu, Rita Raley – just to name a few of the most recent speakers – and covers a wide variety of issues such as reading and writing in the digital age, cyberarcheology, digital modernism, online art production, file sharing communities and many more as you will find out here.. I’m really happy to be now part of this truly great video archive :)