Algorithmic ideology on science.orf.at

The interview I gave last week for science.ORF; a website of the Austrian TV broadcast, is online now. Thanks to Lukas Wieselberg!! Here’s the abstract (in German):

Die Ideologie des Algorithmus

Die Sozialwissenschaftlerin Astrid Mager hat untersucht, wie Google, Bing und andere Suchmaschinen entstehen. Im Mittelpunkt standen dabei nicht die Technologien, sondern die Werte, die hinter der Entwicklung stecken. Die “Ideologie des Suchalgorithmus” ist Ausdruck des gegenwärtigen Kapitalismus, sagt Mager.

© photo credit: EPA/ science.orf

=> read the full story on science.orf.at.

“Black Box Suchmaschine” Video Archive

Yesterday we had a great event at the Museumsquartier in Vienna: our “Themenabend Black Box Suchmaschine” (see program below). For those who missed the event and can’t wait to watch it online (or parts of it 😉 ) we archived the video stream here:

Thanks to Axel Kittenberger for the technical support & the stream! & everyone, who participated and made this evening a great contribution to the politics of search, modes of ordering knowledge, privacy and regulation (which triggered a heated debate, as you can see towards the end of the video)..

Finally, René König presented the newly formed network Re:Search – a mailinglist established in co-operation with the Institute of Network Cultures, Amsterdam (Geert Lovink). Subscribing to the list is only the first step, further activities will follow – Blog posts on the Society of the Query Blog, events, a publication hopefully! So stay tuned 😉

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.

“Algorithmic Ideology” accepted by Information, Communication & Society

My article “Algorithmic Ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines” got accepted by the peer-reviewed journal Information, Communication & Society. It’s gonna be published in the special issue of the OII conference: A decade in Internet Time. Thanks to the editor of the special issue Brian Loader for the (rather quick), but effective review process.

Here’s the abstract:

Algorithmic Ideology. How capitalist society shapes search engines

This article investigates how the new spirit of capitalism gets inscribed in the fabric of search algorithms by way of social practices. Drawing on the tradition of the social construction of technology (SCOT) and 17 qualitative expert interviews it discusses how search engines and their revenue models are negotiated and stabilized in a network of actors and interests, website providers and users first and foremost. It further shows how corporate search engines and their capitalist ideology are solidified in a socio-political context characterized by a techno-euphoric climate of innovation and a politics of privatization. This analysis provides a valuable contribution to contemporary search engine critique mainly focusing on search engines’ business models and societal implications. It shows that a shift of perspective is needed from impacts search engines have on society towards social practices and power relations involved in the construction of search engines to renegotiate search engines and their algorithmic ideology in the future.

Here’s the link to the preprint version (only minor revisions in the final version). Please make sure you cite the journal article, which is online now!!! :) Thx!

article in ITA newsletter

That’s the article in the current ITA newsletter (only in German unfortunately). It’s on my project GLOCAL SEARCH and related issues discussed in the blogpost below.

“Glokale” Perspektive auf  Google & co.

Erst kürzlich ist Google mit seinen geänderten Datenschutzbestimmungen und Nutzungsbedingungen wieder ins Zentrum des öffentlichen Interesses geraten. Ob dies aus Transparenz- oder PR-Gründen der Fall war, muss an dieser Stelle offen bleiben. Welche Konsequenzen diese ab März gültigen Veränderungen sowohl auf globaler als auch auf lokaler Ebene nach sich ziehen, wird zentraler Bestandteil eines neuen Projekts am ITA sein: „Glocal Search“ startet zeitgleich mit In-Kraft-Treten der genannten Richtlinien.

Der gesamte Text findet sich auf der ITA Website zum download.

Google’s new privacy policy: quick solutions and long-term measures

Tomorrow Google starts with its new privacy policy and terms of service. “We’re getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across Google and replacing them with one that’s a lot shorter and easier to read” Google clearly states on its website. While Google argues this concentration of privacy policies would result in a “simple product experience that does what you need”, criticism may be raised concerning fundamental socio-political implications this policy shift triggers. Google used links, search histories and click rates to personalize search results and – most of all – sponsored links in the past. From tomorrow onwards it will additionally integrate data collected from other services – including Google Mail, Google Maps, YouTube, the social networking site Google+ and many more – to target search results and ads to users’ interests and desires.

If you want to protect yourself from Google’s new privacy policy today is your last chance according to John Thomas Didymus from the Digital Journal. Just follow the instructions described in the article to delete your Google Browsing History, “along with any damning information therein”. Contrary to quick solutions offering individual opting-out strategies, however, long-term measures would be needed to seriously challenge a range of implications this policy shift triggers on a societal level, both globally and locally:

First, the increased collection and aggregation of users data on a global scale leads to even more localized and personalized search results, which may narrow or “censor” our web information landscape according to our own, local, (partly arbitrary) parameters. Second, the new privacy policy may be seen as yet another step into the direction of Google’s profit maximization. Global companies like Google create money by selling “user profiles” (generated from massive data collections) to advertising clients and hence turn both web information and users into a commodity. Finally, the new settings raise new privacy issues and data protection challenges on a local level, where stricter regulations exist than in the US. While corporate search engines succeed very well in localizing their products and services, local policy makers and data protection experts still seem to be overwhelmed by global developments in the information economy.

These tensions between global economic trends and local socio-political cultures and questions how to achieve long-term measures for creating a more sustainable future of search – specifially focusing on the Austrian context – lie at the heart of my new project “Glocal Search. Search engines at the intersection of global capitalism and local socio-political cultures”. This project will start tomorrow at the Institute of Technology Assessement (ITA), Austrian Academy of Sciences, in Vienna – at the same time as Google’s new privacy settings take effect. The project is funded by the Jubiläumsfonds of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB), project number 14702. A detailed description of the project and “glocal” implications search engines pose will soon be published in the ITA newsletter (March issue). I will post the article on my blog once it has been put online. Further, I’ll put up a project page later this month. So stay tuned!

& uppsala in may

I just got an email that the abstract for my talk “Defining Algorithmic Ideology: Using ideology theories to understand and critique corporate search engines” has been accepted for presentation at the Critical Social Media/Information Society Conference in Uppsala. The keynote speaker line-up is impressive including Vincent Mosco, Andrew Feenberg, Charles Ess, Christian Fuchs, Trebor Scholz, Ursula Huws talking about “Virtual Work and the Cybertariat”, and many more… I’m sure it’s gonna be an exciting event & I’m glad that I’ll be part of it! :) Also, going back to Sweden in spring will be great! – I hope to see Mike Frangos there too!!! Anyone else? Just drop me a line..

& that’s how I’ll use critical theory to define Algorithmic Ideology:

Corporate Internet technologies like Google, Facebook and co. have been described as mirroring the “Californian Ideology”. Google, in particular, has been interpreted as a paradigmatic example of a company deeply rooted in the economic culture of Silicon Valley with a strong belief in information technology and the free market. While the concept of the Californian ideology helps to understand this newly arising techno-fundamental business culture, it fails to critique corporate search engines and their capitalist ideology. Big, universal search engines should not merely be seen as technical solutions for societal problems, as they often are – most importantly by Google itself – but rather as incorporating a “new spirit of capitalism” (Boltanski and Chiapello 2007) and exploitation schemes that come along with it. Previously, I coined the term “algorithmic ideology” to show how the new capitalist spirit gets inscribed in search engines by way of social practices.

In this paper I aim to define the term algorithmic ideology. Drawing on critical theory I argue that ideology could be a valuable tool to understand and critique the commercial dimension of search algorithms and their power in contemporary society. Following Althusser (1971), for example, I exemplify how the capitalist ideology gets materialized in corporate search engines and algorithmic business models. Through their algorithms corporations like Google exert their power, indoctrinate users, and create desire. By providing their services for free (and collecting user data instead) they extend their hegemony (Gramsci 1971) by attracting and integrating users in their “capital accumulation cycle” (Marx 1867, see also Fuchs 2011). In turn, user communities may be seen as (unconsciously) practicing and stabilizing the capitalist ideology by incorporating search services in their daily online routines and turning to Google & co. for advertising and consumer purposes. This way the “culture industry” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1969) and its ideological superstructure are inscribed in, transformed, and spread through supposedly neutral search algorithms.

This analysis points out how ideology theories could be used to develop a notion of algorithmic ideology encompassing materiality, institutions, and practices anchoring and reproducing contemporary capitalism. Instead of a mere belief in technology and global business, algorithmic ideology should function as an analytical framework to analyze and critique corporate search engines and the social order they perpetuate. Only when understanding how present-day search engines further global capitalism resistance and strategies for achieving alternative algorithms for a mores sustainable and democratic information society could be developed in the future. Whether a “radical repoliticization of the economy” (Žižek 1999) may be a first step into this direction and what role the state could/ should play in this undertaking will be finally discussed.

——————————-//

This research is carried out as part of the project “Glocal Search. Search technology at the intersection of global capitalism and local socio-political cultures”, funded by the Jubiläumsfonds of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (OeNB).

Althusser, L. (1971) Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in: Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays.
Boltanski, L. and E. Chiapello (2007) The new spirit of capitalism.
Fuchs, C. (2011) A contribution to the critique of the political economy of Google, Fast Capitalism 8(1).
Gramsci, A. (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks.
Horkheimer, M. and T. Adorno (1969) Dialektik der Aufklärung.
Marx, K. (1867) Capital: Volume I.
Žižek, S. (1999) The Ticklish Subject.

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!!!

Internet & Society/ Berlin

The second event I attended, just last week, was the Inauguration Symposium of the “Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society” – also referred to as the Google Institute or Google-financed Institute (see its mission statement here). Even though I was a little skeptical at first, given the fact that Google sponsored both the Institute and the event, I greatly enjoyed the symposium! The first thing I realized when checking in was that a lot of technology would be involved in the conference.

The most stunning piece of technology was table cards with our names on them, but also QR codes identifying our profiles (we all had set up before going to Berlin). Whenever someone from the audience wanted to contribute something the QR code was scanned and the profile of the person was displayed on a screen (guess Patrik Svensson, director of HUMlab, would have loved this!). Right next to this screen was an even bigger screen showing the slides and an extended flip chart with a piece of paper on it – this was used to keep track of each session with a visualization, a picture summarizing the topics dealt with in the session (created by highly skilled illustrators!!). Moreover, there was a Google doc that collected notes and thoughts on the presentations, referees, and discussions. Given all this available documentation/ information a blog post on the issues treated at the conference seems to be almost obsolete.

That is why I’d like to share some unsystematic thoughts rather than a systematic summary of the conference (also because I missed parts of it). Altogether I think the four directors – Dr. Jeanette Hofmann, Prof. Ingolf Pernice, Prof. Thomas Schildhauer and Dr. Wolfgang Schulz -, together with the organizers, managed to put together a dense program with great speakers (especially on this short notice). I liked the workshop-oriented approach, even if it partly turned out to be more of an academic conference, than an interdisciplinary workshop. The combination of presentations and respondents worked out well and the chairs did a great job in general. My personal highlights were the sessions “Wisdom and Power of the Crowds“, especially Malte Ziewitz’s contribution on crowd wisdom and regulation, and “Dwelling in the Web: Towards a Googlization of Space” with contributions from Florian Fischer, Lonneke van der Velden, Robert Vogler, Tristan Thielmann; commented by Richard Rogers and others.

In the latter session the role of Max Senges, working in Google’s policy team and mediating between the new Institute and Google, as it seemed to me, attracted my attention. Whenever criticism of  Google was raised (e.g. its policy of border drawing in regions such as Tibet) Max Senges started to defend Google, which I found interesting and made me wonder what the overall agenda may be that Google followed with funding the Institute (an aspect that is still not entirely clear to me, but will only get clearer in the upcoming years, I guess). In this context an interesting question was raised by Senges at the very end of the symposium: How could the Institute and its research be evaluated beyond classical academic impact factors? (This question is not easy to answer, of course, but Cornelius Puschmann put up some interesting thoughts for discussion in his recent blog post)

The format of the last day was a little challenging. The idea was to have round table discussions in small groups debating/ reflecting results from the first two days together with stakeholders, who might not have been part of the symposium. Since the schedule was really tight this didn’t turn out so well, I thought. I thus decided to attended a workshop, where Cornelius and David Pachali presented the online platform (to-be) Regulation Watch and discussed it with the workshop participants to figure out what such a platform could/ should provide and who might contribute/ and why – which was fun. Besides the academic insights I got, I appreciated the really good food, drinks and, of course, the boat trip through Berlin by night, one of the highlights I got to experience together with Katrin Weller, René König, and others :)

And, last but not least, I loved to be back in Berlin, which is a truly great and vibrant city. Thanks to Axel Volmar for letting me stay at his place again, in lovely Kreuzberg!

If you got interested in the event more information could be found online: First, all the draft papers created for each of the sessions organized along the four directors and their topical foci. (The Google docs created at the conference and summarizing all workshops are only accessible to participants of the conference unfortunately). Second, blog posts on selected sessions, e.g. by Axel Bruns (SnurBlog), Judith Schossböck (Digital Goverment & Society) or Cornelius Puschmann ( Blog). Third, the visual representations of the sessions provided by Esteban Romero-Frías on his blog. And, finally, a link to the videos of the keynotes of the four directors and Eric Schmidt’s contribution.

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.