Search, share, shop

That’s gonna be my next seminar @ the Department of Science & Technology Studies, Vienna, winter term 2013/14. I’m already looking forward to interesting discussions! :)

Search, share, shop. Critically examining the internet as technology, medium and social practice

The internet has often been described in utopian or dystopian terms if we think of the Twitter revolution in the Arab Spring or the narrative of Google making us stupid. Both of these blunt examples illustrate techno-deterministic viewpoints that often accompany the internet in public and academic discourses. This seminar aims to challenge these viewpoints by conceptualizing search tools, social media and wikis not as external to society, but rather as enacted in society and hence mirroring social, political and economic values and ideas. ‘Technology is society made durable’ as Bruno Latour put it straightforwardly. At the same time, however, Google, Facebook and co. also materialize and hence solidify societal values, politics and ideologies. They may be seen as shaped by society, while at the same time shaping society.

The task of this seminar is to critically examine the web as technology, medium and social practice. Using literature and analytical concepts from STS and critical new media studies we will address the following questions: What values, politics and ideologies do technological tools like the PageRank algorithm embody and how do they get inscribed in their technical Gestalt? In what ways may search tools and social media be seen as ‘acting’ in terms of shaping user practices? How do Wikileaks and Twitter challenge classical politics and what are the features of the arising ‘networked news ecology’? How do open access, Wikipedia and social networks like Academia.edu affect and transform practices of knowledge production and dissemination? What are the business models of Google, Facebook and Amazon, how do users contribute to the ‘like economy’, and what consequences does this trigger in regard to the exploitation of digital labor and user data? And, finally, what classical and new methods may be used to study digital phenomena of all sorts?

To answer the above mentioned questions theoretical discussions will be mixed with empirical work, which will lead to a small research project each student will conduct in the seminar paper.

More information on dates, time etc. here.

net politics convent

Before I took off to Greece (two weeks of internet absence – yay!!!) I participated in a net politics convent of the Austrian civil society organized by the World-Information Institute, Vienna (participants from activist groups, research institutes, arts & culture, technology experts, engaged citizens; supported by servus.at). The primary aim of the gathering was to formulate claims in the context of net neutrality, data protection and privacy rights, open data and open knowledge and, finally, copyright. The claims are directed to Austrian politics. The time is right now since all parties have started campaigning for the elections in fall. Net political issues should be part of their strategy! And there is much to discuss as the vivid debates at the convent have shown! It was not easy, but we finally came up with three straight claims per issue that are summarized below (in German). For more in-depth information on and discussion of these claims go to the convent’s website. If you wanna support our claims, please sign the petition here and share it widely – via Facebook, Twitter or old-fashioned email and word of mouth!

Netzneutralität

  • Gleiches Internet für alle!
  • Das Netz muss öffentlicher Raum sein!
  • Keine Überholspur für Großkonzerne!

Datenschutz und Recht auf Privatsphäre

  • Privacy by Design!
  • Durchsetzungsfähige Behörde für Informationsfreiheit und Datenschutz!
  • Entbündelung von Datenmonopolen!

Offene Daten und Offenes Wissen

  • Transparenzgesetz und Öffnung der Datenbestände des öffentlichen Sektors!
  • Freier Zugang zu wissenschaftlicher Forschung und Produktionen aus öffentlichen Mitteln!
  • Freie Verfügbarkeit von Lehr- und Lern-Unterlagen öffentlicher Einrichtungen!

UrheberInnenrecht

  • Ausweitung der freien Werknutzung (z.B. Remix) bei entsprechender Vergütung!
  • Stärkung der Position der AutorInnen durch UrheberInnenvertragsrecht!
  • Kürzere Schutzdauer, mit Verlängerungsmöglichkeit durch UrheberInnen!

vor google

On the 9th of April the book “Vor Google. Eine Mediengeschichte der Suchmaschine im analogen Zeitalter” will be presented and discussed in the Wienbibliothek im Rathaus (in German). The book is edited by Thomas Brandstetter, Thomas Hübel & Anton Tantner and contains a number of essays on “analogue search engines” including bible citation indexes, state calendars of the 18th century and their hierarchical system, newspaper comptoirs, servants as crucial information centers, Vannevar Bush’s Memex and the politics of bibliometrics.

Since I’ll be giving a short review of the book and participate in the round table discussion (along with Jana Herwig and Stefan Zahlmann) I’m currently reading through the book.
The impression I immediately got while flipping through the pages is that thinking about search engines and their predecessors from a historic angle adds great value to common search engine research. Some of the past issues – e.g. how to organize indexes, the politics of search – still haunt present-day search tools, while others have only recently been introduced – e.g. the commercial dimension of search engines and the exploitation of user data. All in all there’s much to learn from juxtaposing contemporary and past search engines!

If you wanna participate in this exciting endevour please join us on the 9th of April, 7pm, Lesesaal der Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, Eingang Lichtenfelsgasse 2, Stiege 6 (Lift), 1. Stock, 1010 Wien. (= sounds complicated, but will hopefully be doable 😉 )

Here’s the book outline from the Wienbibliothek Website, where you can find more information:

Ein Alltag ohne digitale Suchmaschinen ist heute nur noch schwer vorstellbar. Dabei lassen sich zahlreiche Einrichtungen, Personen und Techniken ausmachen, die lange vor Google und Co ähnliche Funktionen übernommen haben – Staatshandbücher und Diener etwa, aber auch Bibliothekskataloge, Fragebögen oder Zeitungskomptoire. Welche strukturellen Ähnlichkeiten gibt es zwischen diesen früheren und den heutigen Suchmaschinen? Welche Utopien knüpften sich an die Suchmaschinen des analogen Zeitalters? Welche Formen von Kontrolle ermöglichten sie? Das vorgestellte Buch widmet sich diesen und weiteren Fragen und liefert damit nicht nur neue Erkenntnisse über die Medien der Vergangenheit, sondern vertieft auch die Analysen der gegenwärtigen medialen Lage.

momentum 13

I’ve been invited to moderate the track “technology and regulation” at the Momentum 13 symposium. I’ve never heard of this conference before, but it seems to be an exciting platform for political discourse concerning societal challenges of all sorts. Its panelists include scientists, policy makers, activists and labor unionists. This year’s topic is “progress” in its broadest sense. The abstract on their website reads like this:

The conference-series “Momentum” is dedicated to the integration of academic knowledge and political practice and invites contributions from researchers, labor unionists, political practitioners and activists. Momentum is interdisciplinary, particularly open to submissions from young scholars and decidedly invites not only academic but also policy-oriented papers. The Momentum conference series has been launched in 2008 and is held in German (although English contributions are also welcome).

The call for papers is open until the 19th of April 2013, the deadline for finalized papers is the 7th September. An overview of the ten thematically distinct tracks (democracy, economy, art, social movements, technology, feminism and more) may be found here. The symposium is led by Barbara Blaha, Josef Weidenholzer and their team. The location Hallstatt is scenic, as these pics show.

Would be fun to see you there!

Technoscientific Promotion and Biofuel Policy

Jenny Eklöf and I have been collaborating on a project during my HUMlab fellowship (2010-2012). Our study investigated how the biofuel controversy plays out in the Swedish press and Google search results. The results will be published in the journal Media, Culture & Society (mid of next year). The exact phrasing of the editor goes like this:

“It will be several issues, and certainly several months, before your piece is prepared for publication and the proofs sent on to you. Please do not contact us for a specified issue number and date until 5 months or so after this note of acceptance.”

Well, if you don’t want to wait that long please let us know and we’ll send you a copy!

That’s the abstract:

What are the conditions for the public understanding of biofuels and how do the media shape these conditions under the influence of a new production of knowledge? This article investigates how the biofuel controversy plays out in the Swedish press and Google search engine results and analyses winners and losers in the tight attention economy of contemporary media. It describes different visibility strategies biofuel stakeholders employ in both media arenas, and identifies a form of technoscientific promotion that hybrid actors use to succeed in the day-to- day struggle for media attention. To conclude, it raises broader societal questions of the contemporary blurring of knowledge boundaries and the emergence of new information hierarchies and their biases. By understanding how contemporary media shape controversies, we can address the democratic potential of both mass media and science.

Out of Control – What the Web Knows about You

Yesterday I’ve attended the opening of the new Ars Electronica exhibition “Out of Control”. According to its website the exhibition aims at “demonstrating what exactly is being captured in conjunction with telecommunications data retention and all the interesting information about us that online services like Facebook and Google just happen to be amassing. Exhibition visitors will also find out what steps they can take to protect their privacy.” Concretely, visitors were presented with a range of installations, visualizations and talks about digital data, “user profiles”, privacy and techniques of digital self defense. Information to all these works could be found online.

I particularly liked the piece Surveillance Awareness Database (SAD) by the Technical University Vienna. It’s a website that allows users to upload photos and coordinates of surveillance cameras to create a digital map showing all surveillance cameras in the region. Further, the piece Handytracking was quite cool. Malte Spitz, a member of the German Green Pary and an opponent of the data retention law, forced T-Mobile to release all data stored about him from August 2009 to February 2010. The result is an impressive graphic that provides “highly detailed information about where Malte Spitz was, when and how long he was there, how often he called someone or was called by others, how many SMSs he wrote and how much time he spent online. Combined with his Tweets and blog entries, this data coalesces into a comprehensive picture of what Malte Spitz was up to.” You may watch the animated image on the Zeit.de Website.

Moreover, the pieces Faceless, Face to Facebook and the, by now well known, initiative Europe vs. Facebook are worth mentioning. Manu Luksch used surveillance cameras to produce a movie. The filming was done by surveillance cameras in London. Right after all the scenes were captured the artist claimed her right to obtain all footage in which she appeared. For the piece Face to Facebook Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico “harvested a million Facebook profiles, filtered them with facial recognition software, and then grouped them according to similarities of the data as well as the faces. Finally, the profiles reordered in this way were displayed on a dating site the duo set up, and the profiled individuals were introduced to each other via e-mail.” Finally, Max Schrems presented his Europe vs. Facebook project on a really huge screen. The law student asked Facebook to send him all his data the company holds. Thereafter he filed a number of complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commission since Facebook is running an Irish Company to benefit from tax advantages. If you’re interested in how far Max and his colleagues got so far check their really informative website.

Since my new project Glocal Search is concerned with search engines, data protection and related issues as well I got in touch with Christoph Kremer, one of the heads of Ars Electronica Center. This morning we had a very nice discussion and decided that we – me and my colleagues from ITA – will present selected projects concerned with technology and society as part of the AEC fall program. I’m very excited about this outcome and I’m already looking forward to this event. Thanks Ars Electronica for some inspiring hours in the past few days! I’ll definitely return..

(Credits for all images: Ars Electronica)

Themenabend: Black Box Suchmaschine, 25.4.2012, 18.30, MQ/ Raum D

I’m already looking forward to the event “Black Box Suchmaschine. Google & co. im gesellschaftspolitischen Kontext” I’m organizing together with René König (in cooperation with our research group Internet Research).

Here’s the abstract & the program featuring great speakers!!! (in German)

Termin: 25.04.2012, 18.30
Ort:
Museumsquartier Wien, Raum D
Zudem Online-Anbindung durch Streaming und/oder Microblogging.

(Image credit: Anja Goller. Something interesting..)

Suchmaschinen wie Google prägen das Netz wie kaum ein anderer Dienst. Zwar gewinnen soziale Netzwerkseiten wie Facebook zunehmend an Bedeutung, doch werden Nutzungsstatistiken noch immer von Suchmaschinen dominiert. „Googeln“ ist eine alltägliche Praxis geworden, die nur selten hinterfragt wird. Dabei strukturieren Suchmaschinen unseren Zugang zu Netzinformationen maßgeblich. In der Privatwirtschaft ist diese Erkenntnis längst etabliert und Firmen geben viel Geld für sogenannte Suchmaschinenoptimierung aus. Aus gutem Grund, denn bisherige Nutzungsforschung zeigt deutlich, dass mehrheitlich den hierarchischen Ordnungen der Ergebnislisten gefolgt wird. Gleichzeitig wird dabei häufig eine fragwürdige Datenpolitik betrieben, die immer wieder für Kontroversen sorgt. Erst kürzlich hat sich etwa Google mit seinen geänderten Nutzungsbedingungen wieder ins Zentrum des öffentlichen Interesses katapultiert. Denn seit März müssen angemeldete NutzerInnen zustimmen, dass das Unternehmen umfangreiche User-Daten aus seinen verschiedenen Diensten (dazu gehört nicht nur Google Web Search sondern auch beispielsweise Google Maps, Google Mail, YouTube, Google+ uvm.) zusammenführt, was DatenschützerInnen auf die Barrikaden steigen lässt. Entsprechend kommt Suchmaschinen wie Google eine erhebliche gesellschaftspolitische Bedeutung zu, mit der sich unser Themenabend „Black Box Suchmaschine“ aus unterschiedlichen Blickwinkeln auseinander setzen möchte. Dazu geben WissenschaftlerInnen Einblicke in aktuelle Forschungen, die wir zur Diskussion stellen wollen. Schließlich wird im Anschluss das Netzwerk „[Re]Search“ gegründet, an dem sich alle Interessierten beteiligen können.

Programm

18.30 Begrüßung

18.35 Keynote:

Asymmetrische Beziehungen – Klassifizierungskämpfe in Informationsgesellschaften
Konrad Becker
Institut für neue Kulturtechnologien & World-Information.Org (Wien)

18.50-19.30 Block 1: Wie Suchmaschinen unser Wissen gestalten

Ganz persönlich? Alte und neue Soziometriken der Suchmaschinen
Katja Mayer
Universität Wien, Wissenschaftsforschung

Das suchende Individuum – Subjektive Perspektiven zwischen globalen Strukturen und Personalisierung
René König
Karlsruher Institut für Technologie

Vertrauen, Diversität und Empfehlungssoftware
Judith Simon
Universität Wien / Karlsruher Institut für Technologie

19.30-20.10 Block 2: Wie Google & co. mit unseren Daten Geld verdienen

Suche und Werbung: Fundamentale Interessenkonflikte im Google-Empire
Bernhard Rieder
Universität Amsterdam

Suchmaschinen im Spannungsfeld von globaler Informationsökonomie und lokaler Gesellschaftspolitik
Astrid Mager
Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften

Auf der (Web-)Suche nach der informationellen Selbstbestimmung – Privacy by Design als Regulierungsansatz?
Jaro Sterbik-Lamina, Stefan Strauß
Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften

20.10 Podiumsdiskussion
Moderierte Podiumsdiskussion mit Publikumseinbindung (auch online) zu quer liegenden Fragen der präsentierten Themenschwerpunkte. Anschließend Gründung des Netzwerks [Re]Search für alle Interessierten.

verfassungsklage.at

I just filled in, printed, signed and sent out the online form provided on the website verfassungsklage.at (initiated by AKVorrat & the Austrian Green Party). It should help to topple the data retention law by bringing it to the Austrian constitutional court. This may not necessarily bring down data retention in the whole European Union, but it’s a first step. The more countries resign from the law, the more likely the EU will reconsider this terrible law, which severely intervenes in fundamental rights. If you agree that Austria should follow the countries Germany, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania in bringing down the law, then quickly go to the website and follow the instructions:

critically making the “internet of things”

I’m still inspired by the international conference we had last week at HUMlab: Critically making the internet of things. That’s why I’d like to share some of my personal highlights in this post.

First, and not surprisingly, it was exciting to see Bruce Sterling speak. He is a highly entertaining speaker and directed our attention to a number of cool projects, e.g. the “rev–> table” (by John Kestner’s company Supermechanical), “which rejects the modern model of hard goods consumption by empowering the owner to become the manufacturer” according to the website Cool Hunting, or Nelly Ben Hayoun’s “domestic volcano“.

© photo credit: coolhunting.com

In the afternoon Molly Steenson talked about the fascinating history of pneumatic tubes, which physically transferred documents in the cities of the 1800s. Finn Arne Jørgensen made us aware of the increasing role tracking technologies play in hunting, or the “internet of dogs”. Nanna Gyldholm showed us wonderful pieces of architecture imagined & created by BIG, Copenhagen, Jennie Olofsson spoke about hacked road signs & zombie warnings, and Tim Hutchings ended day 1 with an interesting talk on the digital bible and bible apps (amazing what the internet has to offer to religious people!!!). After that Patrik Svensson showed us the new HUMlab X space on the Arts Campus and the upcoming floorscreen underneath the stuff you see in the pic below:

On day 2 I was particularly impressed by Johanna Drucker’s talk on augmented subjects, digital aesthetics and the role of the researcher as part of contemporary (digital) culture (and corporations as responding to desire and thus also being part of our culture).

Further, Chris Speed spoke about  his really cool project “tales of things“, which loads second-hand clothes and objects with stories from previous owners with the help of QR codes. Stephanie Hendrick shared her interesting research on “PostSecret Postcards“, an online art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on postcards that get published every sunday.

© photo credit: fields.eca.ac.uk

Finally, Anne Galloway provided us with insights in her research on sheep farming, locative media, and the way technology, practices and culture are interwoven (she also showed beautiful images from New Zealand!).

After the conference, the legendary Glögg party took place at Patrik’s house, a fun way to end this wonderful and well-organized event (thanks to Emma Ewadotter!). We also had a tasty Julbord, the traditional Swedish Christmas buffet. All these activities felt like the first taste of farewell, which made me aware that I’ll be leaving Sweden and HUMlab soon.. (with mixed feelings!)

internet of things conference @ HUMlab

HUMlab will be hosting another exciting conference in December (8-9): “Critically Making the Internet of Things”. The speaker list is impressive: Johanna Drucker, Lisa Gitelman, Finn Arne Jørgensen, Martijn de Waal, Johanna Björklund, David Zahle, Mash, Haibo Li, Chris Speed, Bruce Sterling, Tim Hutchings, Anne Galloway, Molly Steenson, Matt Ratto, Christian Lindholm, Eric Carlsson (please find more information on the speakers on the conference website).

Besides talks there will be an art performance, workshops, and a visit to the new Umeå Arts campus (where the new HUMlab X will be located). These are issues to be addressed at the conference, according to the conf. website:

The conference will present world-class researchers, entrepreneurs, and artists for a critical and engaging exmination of ideas for a world where everything is assumed to be connected, where objects such as cars and roads communicate and where the digital has moved outside of the computer. A basic notion underpinning the conference is the transition from online computers to online things. Examples of relevant issues include; How do we build smart cities? What are the implications of the recording of our movements by GPS devices, sensors and security cameras? What do connected objects actually say to each other, and can we describe their media ecology? Can we better understand the dream of a connected world through media history? How do we design products, services and systems for such a world? What is urban computing? What is a sentient city? How is farming changed when cattle are equipped with RFID-tags and become subject to national supervision?