‘Pax Technica’ Talking Politics, Naughton & Howard

Nest - artwork by Jakub Geltner

This episode of the ‘Talking Politics‘ podcast is a conversation between LRB journalist John Naughton and the Oxford Internet Institute’s Professor Phillip Howard ranging over a number of issues but largely circling around the political issues that may emerge from ‘Internets of Things’ (the plural is important in the argument) that are discussed in Howard’s book ‘Pax Technica‘. Worth a listen if you have time…

One of the slightly throw away bits of the conversation, which didn’t concern the tech, that interested me was when Howard comments on the kind of book Pax Technica is – a ‘popular’ rather than ‘scholarly’ book and how that had led to a sense of dismissal by some. It seems nuts (to me, anyway) when we’re all supposed to be engaging in ‘impact’, ‘knowledge exchange’ and so on that opting to write a £17 paperback that opens out debate, instead of a £80+ ‘scholarly’ hardback, is frowned upon. I mean I understand some of the reasons why but still…

Through a data broker darkly…

Here’s an exercise to do, as a non-specialist, for yourself or maybe as part of a classroom activity: discuss what Facebook (data brokers, credit checkers etc etc.) might know about me/us/you, how accurate the data/information might be, and what that means to our lives.

One of the persistent themes of how we tell stories about the ‘information society’, ‘big data’, corporate surveillance and so on is the extent of the data held about each and every one of us. Lots of stories are told on the back of that and there are, of course, real life consequences to inaccuracies.

Nevertheless, an interesting way of starting the exercise above is to compare and contrast the following two articles:

Corporate Surveillance in Everyday Life:

The exploitation of personal information has become a multi-billion industry. Yet only the tip of the iceberg of today’s pervasive digital tracking is visible; much of it occurs in the background and remains opaque to most of us.

I Bought a Report on Everything That’s Known About Me Online:

If you like percentages, nearly 50 percent of the data in the report about me was incorrect. Even the zip code listed does not match that of my permanent address in the U.S.; it shows instead the zip code of an apartment where I lived several years ago. Many data points were so out of date as to be useless for marketing–or nefarious–purposes: My occupation is listed as “student”; my net worth does not take into account my really rather impressive student loan debt. And the information that is accurate, including my age and aforementioned net worth (when adjusted for the student debt), is presented in wide ranges.

Of course, it does not matter if the data is correct – those inaccuracies have real-world consequences, and the granularity of the accuracy only matters in certain circumstances. So, thinking about how and why the data captured about us matters, what it might facilitate – allow or prevent us or those around us doing seems like an interesting activity to occupy thirty minutes or so…

CFP> Creative propositions and provocations on the heritages of data-trade-place-value

Paula Crutchlow, with Ian Cook and I, invite submissions for the following session for this year’s RGS-IBG conference. Please do share this with anyone (doesn’t have to be geographers) who may be interested. As we say below, we welcome any kind of creative response to the theme. The session builds on Paula’s PhD project The Museum of Contemporary Commodities, which will be active before and throughout the conference in the RGS-IBG building.

Museum of Contemporary Commodities: creative propositions and provocations on the heritages of data-trade-place-value

How do we open out the messy digital geographies of trade, place and value to the world? How can we work with the digital beyond beyond archives, spectacle and techno-dystopian imaginations? How do we do so in a ways that are performative, collaborative and provocative of the digital?

This session builds on the planned hosting of the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) in the RGS(IBG)’s Pavilion in the days leading up to the annual conference (and its partial installation in the RGS(IBG) building during the conference) where it will join the V&A, Science and Natural History Museums on London’s Exhibition Road. Developed as acts of valuing the things we buy today as the heritage of tomorrow, MoCC’s artworks take the form of dynamic, collaborative hacks and prototypes; socio-material processes, objects and events that aim to enrol publics in trade justice debates in light footed, life-affirming, surprising and contagious ways as part of their daily routines.

We invite prospective participants to offer propositions and provocations that stitch into or unpick the complex and sometime knotty patchwork quilt of data-trade-place-value. This is an invitation to contribute to and convene conversations that enliven geographical understandings of the governance, performance, placings and values/valuing of contemporary (digitally) mediated material culture. The resulting session is not conceived as a ‘conventional’ paper session. We invite submissions of ten-minute contributions that might take various forms, which might include essay, performance, video and many other creative responses to the theme.

This invitation should be understood in its broadest sense. We are interested in the commingling and mash-up of the theme(s) data-trade-place-value. We very much encourage submissions that push back against the normative authorities or discourses surrounding ‘the digital’ (however that might be conceived). So, we hope that all involved in the session will thereby be challenged and inspired by creative propositions and provocations that begin to get to the heart of how we open out the messy digital geographies of trade, place and value to the world.
Themes could include:

  • lively methods that work with and through participatory media
  • intimacy, humour, trust and the internet of things
  • mashups, subversions and hacks of big data from the bottom up
  • discourses and practises of future orientation and the spatial imaginations of ‘the digital’
  • an intersectional internet and the rise of ‘platforms’
  • alternative trade models, value systems and networked culture
  • DIWO (Do It With Others), scholar-activism & public pedagogy
  • the economic geographies of the battle for ‘open’
  • Please submit 250 word abstracts to us by email by 7 February and we will get back to you by 13 February.

Character assassinations? There’s an app for that…

Interesting article on the Washington Post  site, tweeted by David Murakami Wood (above), that talks about a service/app called “Peeple” that seeks to be a “Yelp for people” – to enable us to ‘rate’ and ‘review’ one another… A market-driven death-knell for treating one another like ‘people’ (rendering the name rather ironic) and another attempt to pull a further aspect of ‘ordinary’ life into the attention economy. This is an attempted renegotiation of the ‘normative’, what Daniel Miller and Sophie Woodward, in their book Blue Jeans, describe as the sense in which “the expectation that actions within a social field are likely to be judged as right or wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, proper or transgressive”. What if reviewing one another became ‘normal’..?(!!) *sigh*

Reblog> New project: Citizen-related data privacy/protection concerns arising from the development of smart cities

This new project with Rob Kitchin seems really interesting >>

New project: Citizen-related data privacy/protection concerns arising from the development of smart cities

Prof. Rob Kitchin has recently been awarded a research contract by the Department of the Taoiseach to examine citizen-related data privacy/protection concerns arising from the development of smart cities.  More specifically, the research is to help inform the work of the new Government Data Forum, an initiative of Dara Murphy TD, the Minister for EU Affairs and Data Protection.  The research is to:

  • Identify, document and summarise key developments in the area of smart cities in Ireland, at EU level and internationally;
  • Identify and report on concerns and challenges for citizens regarding key data protection, data privacy and associated issues that arise in the context of smart cities
  • Identify and report on best practice initiatives that have been undertaken to address these issues.

The project will run for two months from October 1st to November 30th and result in a detailed report setting out the main data privacy/protection issues associated with smart city technologies and initiatives.

Coded language online

By which I mean code as cipher or ‘secret’ (sort of) rather than code as in mark-up…

The UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre and ParentZone maintain a website for parents called parentinfo.org that has recently published a guide to “online teen speak“, with the rationale that parents should know what their children are up to.

There are some entertaining examples and it just goes to confirm I am now ‘old’ because I simply don’t recognise some of this stuff…

Now, in a way I have some sympathy with this rationale insofar as anyone (not just people of a given age bracket) can be naive in their behaviour through mediated communications. Whereas the more established risks of rumour and defamation might feel more distant the risks of the permanence of anything one posts online and its potential to spread unimaginably quickly are much more immediate and can be forcefully, sometimes tragically, felt.

Nevertheless, depending on your political persuasion, one might feel that there ought to be some limits to the oligopticon; that perhaps we ought not to be spying on one another all the time. It is thus striking that the rationale for ‘safety’ (in this case the entirely justified concern for the safety of our children) matches very closely to the sort of libertarian ‘nothing to hide’, radical transparency ideology of both the advertising moguls/data sharks at the helm of corporations such as Facebook and the supporters of technologies such as the blockchain. It is interesting (to me anyway) that the bounds of the conversation around privacy have moved so much in only 10 years… When the Labour government talked about introducing a national ID card around 2005ish, campaigns such as No2ID garnered a lot of support based on an appeal to arguments about personal privacy that are already (perhaps) beginning to seem slightly irrelevant, if one has maintained a use of Facebook, Google, Dropbox, PayPal, loyalty cards etc.

There is, of course, a significant difference between the perceived threats to ‘privacy’ by corporations hoovering up our data and the risk to personal safety from those with malign intentions – and I certainly don’t want to overly confuse the two… but the same rationale for an national identity card – to catch those with undesirable intentions – sits behind the perceived need to surveil our children and, indeed, was the rationale for ContactPoint here in the UK. This takes some very careful and nuanced unpacking (although it has attracted press commentary, e.g.) that I don’t think I’m best-placed to do here, but I wanted to record a reflection on this anyway.

The other thing that occurred to me while reading the press coverage of the guide to ‘teen speak’ was that this really isn’t new. As was made very evident by an episode of Fry’s English Delight on BBC Radio 4 the other week – there is a very, very long history of secret languages, and these are often used by groups that feel in a minority, or are a clique… from back slang, or ‘pig latin’ to medical slang (says the person most likely to be TTFO). But the power of these dialects is that they are secret – so what will a handy guide to them being published online do… we shall see… I’ll wait to hear from friends and colleagues with children that fall within the age group…

As an aside, ParentZone are convening an interesting looking conference in October on the Digital Family… worth a look if you’re that way inclined.