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!!myth

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).

CfP – NM&S special issue

This is the CfP for the special issue in New Media & Society I guest-edit together with Christian Katzenbach: “We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. All relevant information can be found here:

cfpWe’re already looking forward to your submissions!

internet governance as joint effort

Out now: my article “Internet governance as joint effort: (Re)ordering search engines at the intersection of global and local cultures” has just been published by New Media & Society. Or at least in its online first version! I’m very happy about it!! & welcome every feedback or commentary. Here’s the preprint version, if you don’t have access to the journal (or you just send me an email for the original version). yipiiiiehhhh :)

nms

“we are on a mission”

This is great news! I’ll be based in Berlin at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) in April and May 2018!!! yay!

As part of this research stay Christian Katzenbach and I are organizing a workshop on the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology. It will take place on 27 April 2018 at the HIIG in Berlin. We are really happy that Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University) will hold a keynote!!

WeAreOnAMission_Banner_2See further details of the workshop here. If you’d like to participate in the workshop, please send an english language abstract (300-500 words) until 2 March 2018 (beware of the tight deadline!!!). We encourage you to also submit work-in-progress.

Please contact me if you have further questions! We’re looking forward to your contributions!

Here’s the full CfP:

“We are on a mission”. Exploring the role of future imaginaries in the making and governing of digital technology

Call for Abstracts
Deadline: 02.03.2018

Workshop

Friday, 27 April 2018

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Französische Straße 9,

10117 Berlin, Germany

Keynote: Sally Wyatt (Maastricht University)

“We are on a mission to build a more open, accessible, and fair financial future, one piece of software at a time” promises the software platform Blockchain. “Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving” envisions the self-driving car company Waymo (a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc.). “The Regulation is an essential step to strengthen citizens’ fundamental rights in the digital age and facilitate business by simplifying rules for companies in the Digital Single Market” claims the European Commission with regard to the General Data Protection Regulation.

These examples show how imaginaries of future societies are enacted to promote digital innovations or legitimate certain modes of internet governance. They illustrate how software providers, tech companies and legislators dig into the rich pool of cultural norms, visions and values to support (or question) digital tools, rules and regulations. Future prospects seem to be central for making decisions in the present.

What role do future imaginaries perform in the making and governing of present digital technology? How are they mobilised to push or oppose digital innovations such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, blockchain technology or open source/open data projects? How are prospective imaginaries shaped in policy discourses and governance practices regarding networked technology and global data flows? What significance do European specificities have in global technology imaginations? Can different mechanisms be identified in mainstream discourses and counter-narratives? What happens if future scenarios are contested and digital promises become contradictory?

Themes of the Workshop

These are central questions to be discussed in our workshop. We welcome theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions that help us understand how the future is mobilized to make and govern digital technology in the present.

The workshop is organized around three central themes:

  1. Theories and concepts to analytically grasp future visions and their roles in the making and governance of digital technology
  2. Methods and tools to analyze the nexus between future imaginations and their functions in and impact on policy-making and technology development
  3. Empirical research and case studies on future imaginaries and their roles in the making and governing of present digital technology

Submission

We welcome theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions from various disciplines that speak to the themes of the workshop. Please send an english language 300–500 word abstract including title that describes your contribution to the workshop. We encourage you to submit work-in-progress.

Abstracts are submitted via e-mail to astrid.mager@oeaw.ac.at before 2 March 2018. We will send out notifications on 13 March 2018.

Organisers

Astrid Mager

Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA), Austrian Academy of Sciences
Elise Richter Fellow, Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project no. V511-G29
astrid.mager@oeaw.ac.at

Christian Katzenbach
Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society
katzenbach@hiig.de

 

search engine imaginary


Screenshot 2016-11-02 09.31.05The first empirical article of my project “Glocal Search” is online now: “Search engine imaginary. Visions and values in the co-production of search technology and Europe”! It has been published by the peer-reviewed journal Social Studies of Science, which makes me very proud! I’d like to thank all people who helped me refining my article – especially my ITA colleagues, Max Fochler, SSS editor Sergio Sismondo and three anonymous reviewers who all provided thorough and constructive feed-back and suggestions! I further like to thank my family for letting me work while being on maternity leave!! I’m very confident with the final outcome!

The online first version (plus abstract) can be found here; just drop me a line if you don’t have access – I’ll (very secretly) send you a copy then.. 😉 I would love to hear what you think about it since the whole field of Internet Governance is one that I just recently entered – the great AOIR workshop “The Internet Rules, But How?”, organized by Dmitry Epstein, Christian Katzenbach, Francesca Musiani & Julia Pohle, was a very good entry point by the way! Also, the related special issue by the journal Internet Policy Review on “Doing internet governance: practices, controversies, infrastructures, and institutions” is a good read. It’s open access and free of charge!

AOIR 2016, Berlin

internetrules_banner-11-1024x478I’m already looking forward to the AoIR (Association of Internet Researchers) conference in Berlin (6-8 October 2016). The overall theme of the conference is “Internet Rules!”. I’ll be part of the pre-conference workshop “The Internet Rules, But How? A Science and Technology Studies Take on Doing Internet Governance”; here‘s the program with its exciting line-up!! After one year of maternity leave this workshop will get me back on track.. hehe.