Talk at eBusiness Community Event/ APA

Next week I’ll be giving the “Impulsreferat” at the eBusiness Community Event organized by the Austrian Press Agency (APA). I’m already curious how the Austrian eBusiness community will react to my rather critical reflections on corporate Internet services and their business models. Guess it will be fun!

Here’s the abstract of the evening (from the EBC website) and my “statement” for the presentation and the panel discussion that follows (in German):

Privacy: Wie Daten zur Ware und Währung werden.
In etwa zehn Jahren werden digitalisierte Produkte und Dienstleistungen laut Experten weltweit für ein Viertel der jeweiligen Bruttoinlandsprodukte verantwortlich sein. Dieser Trend führt dazu, dass immer mehr persönliche Daten im Netz herumschwirren.

Auf Unternehmen kommen dadurch große Herausforderungen zu: Sie müssen den Kunden wie auch dem Gesetzgeber nachweisen, dass sie für Sicherheit und Schutz der Privatsphäre sorgen. Schärfere Vorgaben in diesen Bereichen könnten den Entscheidern zusätzlich das Leben erschweren.

Aber auch im Privatleben tauchen neue Fragen auf: Wie viele Identitäten, Accounts und Passwörter hat man eigentlich? Wie wird man künftig damit umgehen? Wie komplex ist es inzwischen, sein digitales Leben im Griff zu haben? Welche Szenarien gibt es für den Datenschutz der Zukunft?

Datum: Donnerstag, 26. Juli 2012
Ort: Haus der Musik, Seilerstätte 30, 1010 Wien
Happy Hour: ab 18:30 Uhr
Podiumsdiskussion: 19:30 – 21:00 Uhr, Vortragssaal, Dachgeschoß

Bitte um Anmeldung unter ebc@apa.at

Statement:
Globale Internetriesen wie Google, Facebook und co. spielen eine zentrale Rolle in gegenwärtigen online Praktiken von UserInnen. Gleichzeitig haben diese Akteure neue Geschäftsmodelle geschaffen, deren Grundlage zielgruppenspezifische Werbung; und damit Userdaten und deren Verarbeitung und wirtschaftliche Ausbeutung darstellen. Kommerzielle Internettechnologien können damit als Spiegel unseres kapitalistischen Wirtschaftssystems betrachtet werden. Diese Informationsökonomie hat drastische gesellschaftspolitische Auswirkungen, insbesondere auf historisch gewachsene und kulturell bedingte Bereiche wie Privatsphäre, Datenschutz und Identität. Globale Wirtschaft und lokale Gesellschaftspolitik stehen hier in einem interessanten Spannungsverhältnis. Welche Maßnahmen hier greifen können – von digitaler Selbstverteidigung, Privacy by Design, bis hin zu neuer Gesetzgebung – müssen wir lokal, EU-weit und global diskutieren, wenn wir die Kontrolle über unsere Daten in Zukunft nicht völlig an „den Markt“ abgeben wollen.

Come along if you’re in town!

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.

issue mapping online / london

That’s how issue mapping looks like when new media scholars from Goldsmiths, Sociology/ London and the Digital Methods Initiative/ Amsterdam meet. Rather than lectures and passive entertainment the workshop consisted of hands-on projects carried out on site and actual work. As always, a highly enjoyable exercise! Compared to the Digital Methods Summer School annually taking place in Amsterdam more “issue experts” – from the Open Society Foundations, for example – were involved this time. Their practical knowledge and expertise in certain issue areas clearly stimulated the discussions since issue mapping requires both software tools/ visualization techniques AND background knowledge on the object of study – be it climate change, ageing or privacy. Only the combination of “digital methods” and “issue expertise” produces new insights and findings in my opinion (even though we didn’t carry out the Turing test to proof this hypothesis 😉 )

The workshop was organized by Noortje Marres & Carolin Gerlitz – both from Goldsmiths. It is well documented on the website issuemapping.net (including the workshop agenda, readings and a box of tools and tactics for “Issue Mapping Online”). A second workshop is planned for the fall; not least to think about future projects and further software developments; since issue mapping means constant experimentation with and refinements of the methods at hand.

4th ICTs and Society-Conference 2012 or “marx is back”

Last week I attended an excellent conference in Uppsala/ Sweden organized by Christian Fuchs and colleagues. The conference was concerned with “Critique, Democracy, and Philosophy in 21st Century Information Society” (all conference abstracts could be found online) or “Marx is Back”, as the opening panel suggested. Accordingly, numerous scholars from various disciplines – old and young – discussed Marx, Marcuse, and many other thinkers in the tradition of Critical Theory in the context of new media and Internet technologies. In fact, developing critical theories of social media was the main purpose of the gathering.

Contrary to other Internet-related and social media events, this conference was hence saturated with philosophy, theory and critical thinking. Theoretical papers were mixed up with empirical studies scrutinizing corporate Internet services including big players like Google, Facebook and co., but also alternative technologies such as Diaspora, Crabgrass and others. Issues discussed ranged from user exploitation, commodification of social relations, free labour, knowledge workers, crowdsourcing of surveillance, privacy, data protection, ideologies, capitalist modes of production, creation of surplus value in the digital age, pratices of resistance, revolution, social movements, ethics 2.0, circuits of struggle, the commons, participation, and the long march towards a sustainable, democratic information society.

The line-up of keynote speakers was impressive! I particularly enjoyed the following lectures: by Vincent Mosco, who posed the central question whether knowledge workers will unite and suggested to focus on strategies and tactics for activism. By Graham Murdock, who talked about the privatization of the commons and the promotional enclosure of everyday life. By Charles Ess, who analyzed privacy and collective property in the context of Western and Eastern developments. By Christian Fuchs, who underlined – once again – that Marxian thinking is crucial in contemporary informational capitalism and hence advised Castells and Jenkins to read Marx in order to develop more critical concepts. By Trebor Scholz, who talked about the Internet as playground and factory and pictured us, the users, as “renting the product of our own labour” and demanded hybrid (public/ private) solutions for the future. By Mark Andrejevic, who made us think about the “big data divide”, predictive analytics, and the question who has access to big data (corporations) and who has not (e.g. researchers). By Andrew Feenberg, who conceptualized the Internet as a site of struggle between the consumption model and the community model and suggested (following Marcuse) to “enter the institutions and contest them from within” – whether that would also include entering corporations and contesting them from within remained open though. For the keynote talks I didn’t mention – because I missed and/ or treated them shabbily see Christian Fuchs’ comprehensive article on the tripleC website (Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society).

The parallel sessions were yet not less interesting! (Again, the list won’t be complete since I didn’t attend all of them.) I liked the “Antagonistic Lives of Knowledge Workers” and its discussions on knowledge struggles on web 2.0 platforms  (Brian Loader), affective labour and self-promotion of young academics on Twitter, Blogs & Facebook (Mike Frangos) and Romanian journalism in a digital era (Romina-Gabriela Surugiu). “Surveillance 2.0” featuring an excellent talk on the ideological packaging of ICTs (Heidi Herzogenrath-Amelung and Pinelopi Troullinou), empirical case studies on social media use & privacy in Austria (Verena Kreilinger and Thomas Allmer) and, last but not least, a presentation on theorizing social media policing mentioning amazing – and truly frightning – cases of crowdsourcing surveillance such as the Internet Eyes in the UK (Daniel Trottier). Finally, my own panel “Commodification and Ideology” was really cool; covering, among other issues, time conflicts and global capitalism (Wayne Hope), corporate social (ir)responsibility and its problems (Marisol Sandoval), and the alienated labour of academic publishing (Wilhem Peekhaus). Moreover, I got great feed-back and food for thought after my own presentation on algorithmic ideology including comments on hierarchical features of Žižek’s theory and the need for democratic algorithms and alternative (net) politics – Christian Fuchs would call it Communism, I suppose.

Accordingly, at the conference dinner the Internationale was played and everyone stood up to it. A truly amazing conference, as I said. Thanks to everyone – Christian, Marisol, … – who made this event happen!!! I’ll be there for the next one (assuming there is another ICTs & society conference since there were other events in the past; see once again Christian’s review)! Finally, it was great meeting Ramon Rodriguez-Amat and Katharine Sarikakis from the Communication Studies department in Vienna (let’s unite indeed!!!) & it was fun hanging out with Mike in Stockholm.

“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 😉

Out of Control – What the Web Knows about You

Yesterday I’ve attended the opening of the new Ars Electronica exhibition “Out of Control”. According to its website the exhibition aims at “demonstrating what exactly is being captured in conjunction with telecommunications data retention and all the interesting information about us that online services like Facebook and Google just happen to be amassing. Exhibition visitors will also find out what steps they can take to protect their privacy.” Concretely, visitors were presented with a range of installations, visualizations and talks about digital data, “user profiles”, privacy and techniques of digital self defense. Information to all these works could be found online.

I particularly liked the piece Surveillance Awareness Database (SAD) by the Technical University Vienna. It’s a website that allows users to upload photos and coordinates of surveillance cameras to create a digital map showing all surveillance cameras in the region. Further, the piece Handytracking was quite cool. Malte Spitz, a member of the German Green Pary and an opponent of the data retention law, forced T-Mobile to release all data stored about him from August 2009 to February 2010. The result is an impressive graphic that provides “highly detailed information about where Malte Spitz was, when and how long he was there, how often he called someone or was called by others, how many SMSs he wrote and how much time he spent online. Combined with his Tweets and blog entries, this data coalesces into a comprehensive picture of what Malte Spitz was up to.” You may watch the animated image on the Zeit.de Website.

Moreover, the pieces Faceless, Face to Facebook and the, by now well known, initiative Europe vs. Facebook are worth mentioning. Manu Luksch used surveillance cameras to produce a movie. The filming was done by surveillance cameras in London. Right after all the scenes were captured the artist claimed her right to obtain all footage in which she appeared. For the piece Face to Facebook Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico “harvested a million Facebook profiles, filtered them with facial recognition software, and then grouped them according to similarities of the data as well as the faces. Finally, the profiles reordered in this way were displayed on a dating site the duo set up, and the profiled individuals were introduced to each other via e-mail.” Finally, Max Schrems presented his Europe vs. Facebook project on a really huge screen. The law student asked Facebook to send him all his data the company holds. Thereafter he filed a number of complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commission since Facebook is running an Irish Company to benefit from tax advantages. If you’re interested in how far Max and his colleagues got so far check their really informative website.

Since my new project Glocal Search is concerned with search engines, data protection and related issues as well I got in touch with Christoph Kremer, one of the heads of Ars Electronica Center. This morning we had a very nice discussion and decided that we – me and my colleagues from ITA – will present selected projects concerned with technology and society as part of the AEC fall program. I’m very excited about this outcome and I’m already looking forward to this event. Thanks Ars Electronica for some inspiring hours in the past few days! I’ll definitely return..

(Credits for all images: Ars Electronica)

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.

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!

merry xmas to myself!!!

Just before xmas I got the great great news that my 2-year research project “Glocal Search. Search technology at the intersection of global capitalism and local socio-political cultures” got funded by the Österreichische Nationalbank (OeNB). YAY. I’m really looking forward to 2012 now, where I’ll be in Vienna again!!!!! More information to follow.. stay tuned!

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.