“The dictatorship of data” (on BBC R4)

Just caught up with a programme aired on BBC Radio 4 last week called “The Dictatorship of Data“, presented by their Security Correspondent Gordon Corera. The role of the presenter certainly inflects the tone of the programme. It focuses on the growth in the collection of data, as the wholesale capture of data exhausts and meta-data from our devices and public platforms, and thus how that collection and then aggregation both allows and then presents problems for forms of surveillance.

It is an interesting programme insofar as it offers a general introduction to several key issues. The discussion of the geopolitical responses to the uses of social media platforms and how Russia in particular wants to capture some of that capability (particularly in relation to SORM) is good, and it mostly draws on the authors of a book that sounds good: “Red Web“. Likewise, there’s some entertaining and perhaps disquieting discussion of ‘The Hacking Team‘, purveyors of malware to governments. Again, this is understandably figured in geopolitical terms.

However, I’d say it is slightly wide of the mark in terms of the discussion offered of the prospects of social media enabling some kind of authoritarianism. The way it is discussed takes as it’s assumption that people are faithfully reporting their actual opinions, ‘real’ events and so on and that they are individuals (and not bots) – as though social media are some kind of unproblematic ‘social sensing platform’. Now, some will argue that there is a way to somehow ‘solve’ the ‘biasing’ of the sample represented by a given social media platform’s population and I’m no statistician so… meh. I remain skeptical that any kinds of claim about ‘representivity‘ are particularly meaningful.

I think those who want a more nuanced viewpoint on some of these issues probably ought to checkout Louise Amoore‘s The Politics of Possibility and her papers following on from this, likewise it’s worth checking out both David Murakami Wood and Francisco Klauser‘s work on surveillance too (of course, there’s more – but you have access to a search engine 😉 ).

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