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!!
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).
On the 12th of April we’ll host a big event at the newly renovated Austrian Academy of Sciences. I’ll first present the results of my long-standing habilitation project “Algorithmic Imaginaries” (funded by the Austrian Science Fund; Elise Richter Program), followed by a panel discussion with leading search engine scholars from all over Europe. Together with Elizabeth Van Couvering, Rosie Graham, and Bernhard Rieder we’ll discuss Google, surveillance capitalism, and discrimination; moderated by Ov Cristian Norocel and Richard Rogers. All infos and registration on-site can be found here; there’ll be a stream too!
Before the public event we’ll be holding a writing workshop at the Institute of Technology Assessment to discuss the manuscripts for our special issue “From Google Critique to Intervention” to be published by Big Data & Society. I’m already looking forward to this get-together!! The video of the event can be found here.
If you’d like to learn more about my project “Algorithmic Imaginaries” you might watch this video of the lecture I gave in Feburary as part of the ÖAW’s gender & diversity lecture series (in German). This lecture sparked quite some media attention including a cover in Der Standard’s “Forschung Spezial”
My new research project “Algorithmic Imaginaries. Visions & values in the shaping of search engines” is online (on the ITA Website)! Thanks to Thomas Bayer for his help!
Further, the short videos on “Algorithmic Regimes” by Felix Stalder & Konrad Becker (World-Information Institute) are online too! The project is called Painted by Numbers, which is a great name I think! All videos are focusing on algorithmic logics and culture/ politics/ regulation etc. It’s really a great compilation of people and statements on algorithmic power in contemporary society. The videos will be assembled as video installations in art exhibitions. You can watch all of them here.
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!!
Yesterday I was on a panel discussion on surveillance organized by quintessenz and emergence of projects. It was a lively discussion, which left me with more open questions than answers though. Reinhard Kreissl (sociologist of law and criminology) and Markus Kainz (quintessenz, moderator) easily agreed on the bad guys (usual suspects like the state, government, Google, Billa) and identified civic disobedience as an appropriate way to fight surveillance. Practical examples of such guerilla activities were swopping Billa Vorteilscards or defrauding the population census (by reproducing sheets and feeding them with wrong data). Even though I like the idea of creating a critical mass of disobedient citizens to mess with statistics, I think it’s not that easy anymore in times of digital surveillance. Cheating with sheets of paper and swopping discount cards is easy compared to messing with big data and algorithmic logics. The reasons for that are multiple:
First, digital surveillance is almost seamless. As Markus put it: “We are surveilled not once or twice, but various times”. Combinations of data from cell phones, surveillance cameras, credit cards, and digital tools like search engines and social networks make it hard to escape from your own data body. The data points we leave are simply too many and too heterogeneous. Here, I agree with Manfred Kreissl: “We are leaky containers”.
Second, most individuals do not have the knowledge and technical know-how to mess with such complex digital networks. And why should they? Most people, the majority, most probably, is pretty happy with how things are. They get discounts with their Billa card, they get free – and pretty good – online services from Google & co, they have become used to or even grew up with extensive surveillance and advertising so that they don’t care anymore. That does not necessarily mean that people agree with all these data collections, it just shows that people take on a pretty fatalistic attitude in their daily lives. And yes, some people don’t care at all or simply like contemporary consumer culture – just like one of my interviewees, working in human design and engineering, phrased it: “I think the driving force behind this information economy is our, kind of, probably, possibly a little bit unhealthy desire to just keep consuming, and communicating, and producing at such a frenzy rate.” (Mager 2012: 10)
And, finally, even if people are discontent with the current surveillance state, why should it be the responsibility of the individual to fight a system that even politics and regulations seem to face with powerlessness? And how could we even step out of these powerful networks of surveillance? A quote by Scott Lash came to my mind when cycling home from the discussion: “The point that this book has tried to make is that we can no longer step outside of the global communication flows to find a solid fulcrum for critique. There is no more outside. The critique of information is in the information itself.” (Lash 2002: 220). Lash’s Critique of Information may be seen as an explanation for the digitization of political action. Even politics has become a matter of mouse clicks. Signing an online petition, liking a political group, sharing a critical initiative, all that is political engagement these days. The good thing though, and I think that’s something we should not forget, is that also new social movements are emerging from these activities, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring (whether successful in the end or not), or Uni Brennt have (also) been organized online and have ended on the streets.
So what I’m trying to say, I guess, is that things are more complicated than they seem at first sight. Of course, surveillance states, Google, Billa and other players are spying on us and (ab)using our data and that’s bad. No doubt about that. Blaming them, however, is not enough in my view. Rather, it’s important to understand power relations and dynamics that are stabilizing them. Political decisions, media debates, but also our own behavior that is essentially feeding their power. Only then proper ways out may be found. Ways out that may even be digital. Times have changed since 1968 and so have we.
image © http://commons.wikimedia.org
Lash, Scott (2002) Critique of Information, London: SAGE
Mager, Astrid (2012) Algorithmic Ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines, Information, Communication & Society, 1-19
This is a great project! The online game DATA DEALER playfully deals with practices of user profiling, sellout of private data, privacy violations etc 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 . Rather, it’s important to understand how various actors including programmers and advertisers, 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 tough negotiation process! 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!!!
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!
- 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!
- Ausweitung der freien Werknutzung (z.B. Remix) bei entsprechender Vergütung!
- Stärkung der Position der AutorInnen durch UrheberInnenvertragsrecht!
- Kürzere Schutzdauer, mit Verlängerungsmöglichkeit durch UrheberInnen!
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:
And yet another pretty cool event I’ll attend in March (8-10); without presenting though. It’s the second event of the Unlike Us Network initiated by Geert Lovink (Institute of Network Cultures/HvA, Amsterdam) and Korinna Patelis (Cyprus University of Technology, Limassol). It’s supposed to bring together artists, designers, scholars, activists and programmers who work on ‘alternatives in social media’. That’s how the event is described on the network cultures institute website:
Unlike Us 2 will focus on the concept of free exchange and the commercial exploitation of online social relationships which lie at the heart of contemporary capitalism. In addition to speakers addressing this theme a range of alternative social media projects will be showcased. Facebook makes everyone believe There Is No Alternative, but Unlike Us dares to differ. – I’m curious about that!
Confirmed speakers and presenters: David M. Berry (UK), Frederik Zuiderveen Borgesius (NL), Philipp Budka (AT), Thomas Chenesau (FR), Jodi Dean (USA), Carolin Gerlitz (UK), Seda Guerses (TR/BE), Spideralex (ES), Anne Helmond (NL), Eva Illouz (IL), Walter Langelaar (NL), Ganaele Langlois (CA), Carlo v. Loesch/lynx (DE), Caroline Nevejan (NL), Arnold Roosendaal (NL), Eleanor Saitta (USA), Max Schrems (AT), Elijah Sparrow (USA) and James Vasile (USA).