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.

finally!

After two (!) years my last PhD-related article just went online! It’s been published by the popular online journal First Monday, which is – normally – known for a quick review process. But well, good things take time, as the saying goes. Since my PhD “Mediated Knowledge” (download here) deals with the computer-mediated communication of online health information you may ask whether the article is not outdated by now. That’s what I was asking myself, at any rate..

But the answer is no. Even though the empirical data may seem quite “old”, and Web 2.0 health communication has become more widespread in the meanwhile, the base line of my arguments – the “politics of online health information” challenging the democratic ideal of the web – is still valid and more relevant than ever (not least because Google managed to further enlarge its market share and hence influence over online knowledge since then). Got interested? Then check out my article “Health information politics: Reconsidering the democratic ideal of the Web as a source of medical knowledge” on First Monday and decide for yourself!

Thanks go to my HUMlab colleagues for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the paper, Mike Frangos first and foremost!!!

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!!!