After a tre­mend­ous about of work with Lara Hou­s­ton, I’m delighted to have finally gone live with our data poli­cy site: data-policy.info. It attempts to detail, in vari­ous formats and cuts, the dis­cus­sions at the day of dia­logues on data, poli­cy and civic life, held at Microsoft Research Cam­bridge. More than this though, we want the site to pro­mote fur­ther dis­cus­sion and expand the ways we might think of the rela­tions between data, social/civic life, and poli­cy. For me, the inspir­a­tion here has been the work a few of us have been doing with Ten­ison Road in cam­bridge and a community’s efforts to make sense of and use its data. I’d like to think some­thing small and loc­al could make a dif­fer­ence in these big dis­cus­sions

Dialogues on data, policy and civic life


Next Tues­day a few of us at Microsoft Research are host­ing a day-long dia­logue to dis­cuss the inter­ming­lings of data and social/civic life. We’re bring­ing togeth­er a mix of social the­or­ists, com­ment­at­ors and poli­cy advisers with the hope of draw­ing out pos­sib­il­it­ies for doing poli­cy mak­ing (as well as tech­no­logy design) dif­fer­ently. Our pre­amble for the event fol­lows (a print­able PDF can be down­loaded here): (more…)

On Simone’s ‘people as infrastructure’

People as Infrastructure


A few of us work­ing at the inter­sec­tion of data, civic­me­dia and cit­izen­ship are tak­ing a look at this art­icle by Abdou­Maliq Simone. Some ram­bling com­ments fol­low:

First, just a short point about style: I’m delighted to see Simone’s unapo­lo­get­ic use of rich descrip­tions of Jo’berg’s streets. They are in strik­ing con­trast to what I see to be the stand­ard eth­no­graph­ic account in HCI papers. What I find tedi­ous is the usu­al pre­amble in HCI works—explaining method—and then the use of par­ti­cipants’ quotes as a kind of ‘proof’ of par­tic­u­lar points. Also, both point to a curi­ous idea of what it means to demon­strate evid­ence or proof. Simone both­ers with none of this. He gets straight to the stor­ies, to the rich descrip­tions of inner city Jo’berg and its under­belly. (more…)

Talk at “Austerity Futures?”

Abstract for upcom­ing talk at Aus­ter­ity Futures? sem­in­ar 4.

houses long B&W

[Big] data futures, from the street.

Stor­ies about big data are every­where. We’re being told how sig­ni­fic­ant the impact of big data will be on our lives by all kinds of people in the know. And yet I’ve been grap­pling with what (big) data might really mean to people who aren’t fully signed up mem­bers of the diger­ati, those shapers, makers and mod­ers of tech­no­lo­gic­al futures. I’ve pondered, in short, on two sim­ple ques­tions: how does data mat­ter to ‘people on the street’, and how might they want it to mat­ter. In this talk, I’ll reflect on a pro­ject we’ve been build­ing up at Microsoft Research to begin work­ing through these ques­tions. I want to dis­cuss our efforts to ground a tech­no­lo­gic­al ima­gin­ary in ordin­ary life or, to put it another way, to enable a pro­duct­ive re-imagining of ‘big data futures’—to coin a phrase—from ‘the street’. I’ll describe how we’ve taken this chal­lenge quite lit­er­ally. Just over three weeks ago we began work­ing with one street in Cam­bridge, Ten­ison Road. For at least a year, we plan to think through what data means for the Ten­ison Road com­munity and in some cases to enable ways for the com­munity to inter­ve­ne in the future ima­gin­ar­ies. Although this won’t be a talk or for that mat­ter a pro­ject about aus­ter­ity, I cer­tainly think it is one in which aus­ter­ity and its reper­cus­sions will come to mat­ter. My aim, then, will be to reflect on how this is a pro­ject con­cerned with futures, futures that are heav­ily con­cen­trated in the minds of the tech­no­lo­gic­al elite, but also some that are more ped­es­tri­an that might just offer altern­at­ive pos­sib­il­it­ies for what (big) data could mean and what we might do with it.

web: tenisonroad.com | email: research@tenisonroad.com | twit­ter: @tenisonroad

Talk at INCITE-ing Transformation in Social Research


On Sat­urday (12 Oct) I presen­ted a short paper reflect­ing on INCITE’s achieve­ments over the last 10 or so years at “INCITE-ing Trans­form­a­tion in Social Research


Ref­er­en­cing her New Media’s Inter­me­di­ar­ies art­icle, I want to glimpse back to reflect on how Nina Wake­ford posi­tioned INCITE and made sense of it again­st a back drop of cul­tur­al the­ory, sci­ence and tech­no­logy stud­ies, CSCW and soci­ology

.. And, in doing this, I also want to peer for­ward, to con­sider what troubles there might be ahead, and what pro­duct­ive pos­sib­il­it­ies we might ima­gine for ourselves. (more…)

Short note on Solove’s ‘Nothing to Hide’


Some early thoughts on data and pri­vacy, think­ing with Solove’s Noth­ing to Hide:

Early on in his 2011 book, Noth­ing to Hide, Daniel Solove makes a pro­voc­at­ive claim. He writes:

Leg­al and poli­cy solu­tions focus too much on the prob­lems under the Orwellian metaphor—those of surveillance—and aren’t adequately address­ing the Kafkaesque problems—those of inform­a­tion pro­cessing” p.26

Solove’s point here is that much of the leg­al wranglings and poli­cy mak­ing sur­round­ing pri­vacy are based on the premise that people have some­thing to hide. Thus the aims have, by and large, been tied to secur­ing pro­tec­tions again­st surveillance—operating with­in the rub­ric of an “Orwellian meta­phor”.

The broad­er argu­ment Solove makes is that this treat­ment of pri­vacy is miss­ing the pro­ver­bi­al trick.  As a con­cept, pri­vacy doesn’t simply entail people want­ing to hide things. For starters, accord­ing to Solove, “[m]any people don’t care about con­ceal­ing the hotels they stay at, the cars they own, or the kind of bever­ages they drink.” p.25 “[M]uch of the data gathered in com­puter data­bases isn’t par­tic­u­larly sens­it­ive, such as one’s race, birth date, gender, address, or mar­it­al status.” P.25

It isn’t so much the gath­er­ing of inform­a­tion that mat­ters, Solove con­tends. It’s what agen­cies like gov­ern­ments are doing with it—the “inform­a­tion processing”—that counts. The allu­sion is to a Kafkaesque world in which the rela­tions between agen­cies and indi­vidu­als are man­aged and con­trolled through the ana­lys­is of inform­a­tion or data. The power, so to speak, is held by those who can both access the data and sub­ject it to soph­ist­ic­ated ana­lys­is. I take this use of inform­a­tion pro­cessing to be ana­log­ous to big data ana­lyt­ics and cer­tainly most of the examples Solve refers to sup­port this.

I don’t know what Solove’s sources are for sug­gest­ing “most people” don’t care about the con­tent of the inform­a­tion being gathered about them (this recent Guard­i­an art­icle appears to con­firm this). I do get his broad­er point though. Cer­tainly, it’s lim­it­ing to see pri­vacy as exclus­ively based on the premise that people have some­thing to hide. Moreover, the pos­sib­il­it­ies big data ana­lyt­ics open up for dis­cov­er­ing some pretty per­son­al things about people do seem daunt­ing, if per­haps over-hyped.

Yet, without want­ing to dis­count Solove’s argu­ment, I want to pro­pose a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about this issue of inform­a­tion pro­cessing. Seen from the ground up, we might also start to ask what people them­selves want to say through their data and using ana­lyt­ics. When Solove writes about “most people” I think we need to begin think­ing about what this actu­al means and if there are ways of mak­ing claims like this action­able. So, a coun­ter to the “noth­ing to hide argu­ment” could be that most people—given the know­ledge and tools—have “some­thing to say”. That is they may want to have some say over how their inform­a­tion is dis­trib­uted, aggreg­ated, ana­lysed and inter­preted and, ulti­mately, how it is pro­duct­ively put to work. This cer­tainly won’t solve the mul­tiple prob­lems sur­round­ing pri­vacy, but it may at least redis­trib­ute the power and, in the pro­cess, give people some new ways of express­ing them­selves.

Oh, and as it hap­pens, this ques­tion of how to enable people to have some sort of say and con­trol over what gets done with their inform­a­tion is one of the motiv­a­tions for the new pro­ject we’re ramp­ing up in my group at Microsoft Research.

* A thank you to Jes­sa Lin­gel for point­ing me to the first quote above from Solove.

Announcing Tenison Road launch

Finally pos­ted some fly­ers to announce the launch of the big data pro­ject we’ll run for a year. We hope to work with the res­id­ents and pro­pri­et­ors on Ten­ison Road in Cam­bridge to bet­ter under­stand how big data mat­ters and what people on the street want it to be. This is a pro­ject that is aim­ing to get at the inter­ming­lings of data and loc­al­ity, and to inter­ve­ne in the entan­gle­ments in pro­duct­ive ways. That’s the hope! … Fin­gers crossed.

Changes to FoI Act


Some sig­ni­fic­ant changes to the UK’s Freedom of Inform­a­tion Act were enacted yes­ter­day that give people to right to request and, crit­ic­ally, reuse data. It’s prob­ably easy to over­look the implic­a­tions of this. The way I see it, every­one (includ­ing com­mer­cial bod­ies) now have the right to access FoI reg­u­lated data and (re-)use it for ana­lys­is, ana­lyt­ics, build­ing apps, etc. Wheth­er that’s good or bad, it seems pretty pro­found to me. See a sum­mary of the changes here on the Inform­a­tion Commissioner’s Office blog.