I’m very happy that my BD&S special issue article is online now! It’s called “European Search? How to counter-imagine and counteract hegemonic search with European search engine projects” – it was a bit of a tough nut since critiquing big tech and their sociotechnical imaginaries appears to be much easier than thinking about (and realizing!) alternative technologies and their counter-imaginaries. And that’s exactly why we need to shift our attention from dominant, often corporate imaginaries towards alternative tech and their counter-imaginaries of digital futures – especially in the European context where notions of value-based Europe are strongly pushed in EU policy rhetoric, but remain empty catchphrases often times. To sum up, I’m proud that this article is out now & I would love to hear what you guys think about it!!
Category Archives: publications
BD&S special issue The State of Google Critique and Intervention
Look at this! Our special issue in Big Data & Society (co-edited by Cristian Norocel, Richard Rogers, and me) on The State of Google Critique and Intervention has started to fill up with an excellent commentary by Bernhard Rieder titled Towards a Political Economy of Technical Systems: The Case of Google. Stay tuned, there is more to come in the next weeks!!
Thanks to Matt Zook for his valuable help throughout the publication process! & Olof Sundin & Alison Gerber for the Search Symposium they organized in Lund (2021), where the idea for the special issue was initially born! Thanks also to the Institute of Technology Assessment for co-organizing the writing workshop in Vienna (2022) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) for funding the event (and the project Algorithmic Imaginaries in the first place).
conference travels from the past..
In Austria, we’re diving through the “4th Corona wave” right now including a hard lockdown. Yet again, I’m sitting in my home (office) with the kids on my lap in case more than two school kids get infected in the same class. The responsibility has been fully shifted onto teachers, parents, and their kids by now. Politics has given up on the Covid-management of schools, as it seems. In the middle of this chaos, I’m enthusiastically thinking back to my (real!) trip to Lund two months ago. Olof Sundin and Alison Gerber invited me to give a keynote lecture at the interdisciplinary symposium In Search of Search (and its Engines). This workshop was a kind of gathering of pioneering search engine scholars that accompany me since my PhD (more than 15 years now). I finally met Elizabeth van Couvering, for example, whose work on the commercialization of Google and the creation of its business model based on the “traffic commodity” had a great impact on my PhD research. Also, Richard Rogers, Dirk Lewandowski, Jutta Haider, and other great scholars were there and it was FUN! (and not only because of the real food & drinks!) The best part is that we keep the lively debates about search engines, search engine research, and its academic & sociopolitical impact alive. We’re currently working on a special issue for Big Data & Society called The State of Google Critique and Intervention co-edited by Ov Cristian Norocel, Richard Rogers, and myself. We’re planning a workshop and a public event in Vienna (12 April 2022), which I love to organize in the middle of this 4th wave as a possibility to work towards a light at the end of the tunnel.. 😉 So stay tuned!
Moreover, almost as an exception to the rule, I attended a great 4S online session this year: Wiring digital justice: Embedding rights in Internet governance by infrastructure organized by Stefania Milan, Niels ten Oever, and Francesca Musiani. Despite the shitty online platform the conference was running on, the session organizers managed to trigger fruitful discussions by providing thoughtful comments after each of the presentations. My paper was titled “Encoding Freedom: Analysis of open search technology between German hacker ethics and Asian start-up culture” and triggered debates about Chinese tech development and the “metrics of freedom” that I’m still thinking about – now that I finally have time to analyze my rich empirical materials on open source communities and other alternative search projects.
ams-algorithmus_fiktives fallbeispiel “Shifteh A.”
Doris Allhutter und ich haben einen Beitrag für den Blog “Arbeit und Wirtschaft” zu unserer Studie zum sogenannten “AMS-Algorithmus” verfasst (auf dt.). Der Blog Post ist hier online abrufbar; die Studie (gemeinsam mit Florian Cech, Fabian Fischer und Gabriel Grill) ist hier zu finden. Aus Platzgründen konnte das im Blog Post verwendete “Szenario” einer fiktiven Arbeitssuchenden – Shifteh A. – leider nicht zur Gänze abgebildet werden. Deshalb möchte ich es hier veröffentlichen:
Nachdem wir im Rahmen unserer Studie weder einen direkten Zugang zu AMAS (Arbeitsmarkt-Chancen-Assistenzsystem), noch zu den dafür verwendeten Daten hatten sind die Berechnungen des Szenarios fiktiv. Sie können keine tatsächlichen IC-Werte (Integrationschancen-Werte) oder Fehlerraten berechnen, aber sie können die mit AMAS verbundenen Probleme im Zusammenspiel von technischem Bias und sozialer Praxis (auf Basis der uns vom AMS zur Verfügung gestellten Dokumente & Materialien) plausibel illustrieren. In unserem Bericht haben wir drei weitere Szenarien verfasst, die alle auf ein konkretes Problem in der praktischen Handhabung von AMAS eingehen. Sie können hier im Detail nachgelesen werden.
AMS-algorithm_final report out! yay!
Finally, our report of the project on the so-called AMS-algorithm is out!!! YAY!!! It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it! It is an in-depth sociotechnical analysis and deconstruction of the algorithm the Austrian public employment service (AMS) is planning to roll out all over Austria starting from January 2021. The algorithm poses several severe challenges on both the institutional level and the larger societal level, as we – Doris Allhutter, Florian Cech, Fabian Fischer and Gabriel Grill – argued in our report. We’d like to thank the Upper Austrian Chamber of Labor (AK OÖ) that financed our study and particularly Dennis Tamesberger for his support throught the process. Here you can download the full report.
The report triggered lots of media coverage, e.g. in APA Science or at orf.at. We also did some interviews, e.g. for the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Futurezone or the radio broadcast Ö1 (all in German). The final report is in German, but english publications will (hopefully) follow SOON! For now I’d like to point you to the english publications in New Frontiers in Big Data that we published a year ago (only based on publicly available materials back then, but still relevant in its argumentation):
Allhutter, D., Cech, F., Fischer, F., Grill, G. & Mager, A. (2020) “Algorithmic Profiling of Job Seekers in Austria: How Austerity Politics Are Made Effective”, Frontiers in Big Data (Special Issue Critical Data and Algorithm Studies), full text; open access here.
NM&S special issue “future imaginaries”
The special issue I guest-edited together with Christian Katzenbach is going to be (finally) published in February 2021. I’d like to thank Steve Jones for his support throughout this rather long, but finally rewarding process. It’s a pity SAGE won’t publish an online first version of the articles, but well, they apparently agreed to do so for future New Media & Society special issues, which I’d highly appreciate!!! Thanks also to all our authors for their fine contributions and their patience! If you’d like to read our editorial “Future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology: Multiple, contested, commodified” I’d like to point you to our preprint version here. Let us know what you think about our interpretations and advancements of the concept “sociotechnial imaginaries” by Sheila Jasanoff and related analytical tools to capture, understand, and investigate future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. It’s an ongoing debate we wanted to contribute to with this special issue and its excellent contributions..
I’m very happy that our article “Algorithmic Profiling of Job Seekers in Austria: How Austerity Politics Are Made Effective” by Doris Allhutter, Florian Cech, Fabian Fischer, Gabriel Grill and me (from the ITA, TU Wien, University of Michigan) is published now!! It’s part of the special issue “Critical Data and Algorithm Studies” in the open access journal Frontiers in Big Data edited by Katja Mayer and Jürgen Pfeffer! Thanks Katja for a speedy review process!! Surprisingly, the article triggered quite some resonance within the academic, but also in the public sphere. Lot’s of journalists etc got interested in this “first scientific study” on “the AMS Algorithm”. Since we’re currently working on an additional study comprising a deeper analysis of our own materials (including our own data inquiry to the AMS), we’re not able to talk much about this paper in public at this specific moment. But new insights will follow by the end of Mai or mid-June at the latest, so keep posted!!! Here’s the project description of the current study funded by the Arbeiterkammer OÖ.
50 internet myths
Today, the Internet Governance Forum started in Berlin. As part of this huge event the edited volume “Busted! The Truth About the 50 Most Common Internet Myths“ will be launched. This wonderful volume – edited by Matthias Kettemann & Stephan Dreyer – is a compilation of common Internet myths and their deconstructions. Here is the link to the whole book: https://internetmythen.de (English and German; including summaries in all five UN languages). Enjoy!!
I’ve contributed Myth #19: Search engines provide objective results:
Myth: Search engines deliver objective search results. This is the founding myth of the leading search engine in the Western World: Google. 20 years later this founding myth still exists in Google’s company philosophy. More importantly, however, it resonates in people’s minds. Without knowing how the search engine actually works, many users say that the best websites can be found on top.
Busted: In 1998, the founding year of Google, Sergey Brin and Larry Page described their search engine’s central aim as follows: „The primary goal is to provide high quality search results over a rapidly growing World Wide Web.“ (Brin and Page 1998: 115). Accordingly, the notions “quality” and “search quality” feature over 30 times in their research paper. The authors depict the PageRank algorithm – originally using the number and quality of hyperlinks a website gets, anchor text and proximity to determine the quality of a website and rank it accordingly – as their main competitive advantage. They describe the algorithm as “objective measure” corresponding well to “people’s subjective idea of importance” (Brin and Page 1998: 109). Interestingly, this seems to be the case indeed. Having asked people why they use Google to find online health information in the context of my PhD project, most people answered with saying that Google delivered the best search results, implicitly shaping the search engine as a tool for quality assurance. Without knowing – or even thinking about – how the search engine actually works, Google’s founding myth was reproduced in people’s stories.
But it is a myth. Search engines are no neutral, objective technologies, but rather tightly intertwined with societal norms, values and ideologies; the capitalist ideology most importantly. Over the past decades, Google’s “techno-fundamentalist” ideology of neutral ranking was aligned with and overshadowed by non-objective considerations. New media scholars started to deconstruct the myth of objectivity soon after the search engine’s successful market entry. At first, they challenged the PageRank algorithm by arguing that it would threaten the democratic ideal of the web (#28) by systematically preferring big, well-connected, often commercial websites at the expense of smaller ones. Later they switched over to questioning search engines’ business models based on user-targeted advertising and the commercialization of search engine results and privacy issues these trigger. A major criticism in this body of work concerns the ‘consumer profiling’ conducted by Google – and others like Bing – that enable search engines to adjust advertisements to users’ individual interests. (#21; #22)
Due to the growing amount of user data these companies acquired, the search algorithm and the “organic” search results changed too. Besides hyperlinks other factors were thrown into the measuring of a website’s quality including user profiles and click behaviour most particularly, but also the structure of a website, timeliness, and the amount of keywords and content. Accordingly, new media researchers, but increasingly also journalists, criticized the intensified personalization of search engine results, search engine biases and discrimination. This illustrates that search algorithms are tightly intertwined with the business models their companies rely on. The capitalist ideology is embedded in search engines and “acts through algorithmic logics and computational systems“ (Mager 2014: 32).
Truth: It is important to keep in mind that search engines and their algorithms are no neutral technologies, but rather incorporate societal values and ideologies; the capitalist ideology most importantly. Only then may we come up with forward-looking governance models respecting local regulations and resonating with human rights (especially in Europe, where data protection is enshrined as a fundamental right).
Source: Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine, Computer Networks and ISDN Systems 30: 107- 117 (1998); Astrid Mager, Defining Algorithmic Ideology: Using Ideology Critique to Scrutinize Corporate Search Engines, tripleC 12(1): 28-39 (2014).
body data – data body
Together with Katja Mayer I wrote an article about quantified self, big data and social justice in the health context. The title is “Body data-data body: Tracing ambiguous trajectories of data bodies between empowerment and social control in the context of health” and it has just recently been published by the wonderful open access journal Momentum Quarterly!! Here is the link to the full text (completely free of charge!)! Don’t get irritated by the German title and abstract, the article is in English, no worries! 😉
Thanks to Leonhard Dobusch and Dennis Tamesberger!! I’m happy to be part of this great Momentum Quarterly editorial team!
book review “the politics of big data”
Here’s my book review of The Politics of Big Data. Big Data, Big Brother? by Ann Rudinow Sætnan, Ingrid Schneider, and Nicola Green for the journal Information, Communication & Society. It’s a great compliation of articles dealing with the politics and policies of big data in different contexts!