Digital Rights Archive Newsletter - Third edition
Like most people in and around tech, I’ve got ChatGPT on the brain, trying to figure out its implications for everything from search to education, to the fate of science itself. ChatGPT may have caught the public surprise, but this month’s newsletter reminds us that people have been thinking about the implications of this tech for a long time. There’s NYU professor Julia Lane, whose book, Democratizing our Data: A Manifesto, came out in 2021, speaking about AI policy. Josh Simon’s book, Algorithms for the People, considers how to regulate algorithms in the public interest.
From a slightly different angle, Julien Onneo’s article on the quantified self may not seem to have much to do with large language models, but its discussion about data’s inherent subjectiveness should remind us that, whether it’s a health app or a large language model, digital data doesn’t equal objective knowledge.
And while Michael Geist’s discussion on the CBC podcast Front Burner about Bill C-18, which requires large digital platforms to make payments to Canadian news outlets, was recorded before Google and Microsoft announced they were incorporating generative AI into their search engines, I can already imagine the follow-up discussion: How does providing summaries (accurate or not) that will induce users not to follow the links to the original material change (allowing search engines to suck up even more ad revenue) change the platform-payments-to-websites debate?
While these power moves are reminding us of the potency of private power, many of our other readings this month centre the ongoing importance of state power, often in conflict or cooperation with private. Alessio Guissani reports from Greece on an ongoing state-surveillance scandal, that he argues “must be interpreted in the international context of a thriving spyware industry.” For his part, Andreas Baur tackles the political economy of cloud computing, and the PEGA Committee considers the proliferation of commercial spyware in democratic and authoritarian countries.
Max Tretter’s article about contact tracing apps, meanwhile, reminds us that sovereignty is always contested and contestable.
We also highlight articles that consider how our ideas about the future are constructed and constrained, via Vivien Butot and Liesbet van Zoonen’s article on 5G in the Netherlands, and a wide-ranging series of articles from the Transnational Institute. They’re all worth reading, but I’d highlight in particular Julia Choucair Vizoso and Chris Byrnes on Abolitionist creativity. It offers a creative rethinking of how we might use intellectual property to confront digital power, including rethinking previously comfortable truisms. My favourite: their argument that “Open-access movements must also confront an uncomfortable fact: Big Tech is on their side.” Watching large tech companies use their billions to construct “bullshit generators” from their access to the open web highlights what those involved with Traditional Knowledge have always known: that openness can also be an expression of power that favours some and hurts others.
While I’m not fully convinced that creators retaking their copyrights is the best way to address concentrated corporate power, in working through the actual effects of IP, including the potential negative effects of open access, they’re asking the right question, for IP and generative AI alike: Who benefits?
- Blayne Haggart
Will Canada Make Web Giants Pay for News?Michael Geist | Front Burner
Bill C-18 would require big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to pay Canadian media outlets for posting or linking to their news content. As for platforms like Facebook – its parent company Meta has threatened to remove news content in Canada altogether.
Pegasus and the EU's External RelationsPEGA Committee
While new technologies still have the potential to positively enhance democratic values and human rights, repressive regimes actively deploy these tools for their own strategic advantage. In particular, the proliferation of commercial spyware, such as Pegasus software, is a big concern. The EU should place a much higher priority in countering government use of these tools.
Digital Power: State of Power 2023Nick Buxton, Cory Doctorow, et al. | Transnational Institute
Big Tech has concentrated vast economic power with the collusion of states, which has resulted in expanded surveillance, spiralling disinformation and weakened workers' rights. This report exposes the actors, the strategies, and the implications of this digital power grab, and shares ideas on how movements might bring technology back under popular control.
AI PolicyJulia Lane | Scientific Sense
The private sector's data revolution – which creates new types of data and new measurements to build machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms – needs to be mirrored by a public sector data revolution. Good AI policy will pay attention to counting all who should be counted, measuring what should be measured, and protecting privacy and confidentiality at each step of the way.
European Dreams of the Cloud: Imagining Innovation and Political ControlAndreas Baur | Geopolitics
This analysis of Microsoft’s cloud, Bundescloud, and GAIA-X reveals that rising privacy and data security issues have been integrated into cloud imaginaries that traditionally highlight progress and innovation. More specifically, state actors and cloud providers link and sometimes merge allegedly opposing technological aspects of innovation and politicised ideas of control such as digital sovereignty. This shift constitutes a move towards erecting political borders and localising IT within a global infrastructure.
Algorithms for the People: Democracy in the Age of AIJosh Simons | Princeton University Press
Prediction is political: human choices about how to design and use predictive tools shape their effects. Approaching predictive technologies through the lens of political theory casts new light on how democracies should govern political choices made outside the sphere of representative politics. We must go beyond conventional theorising of AI ethics to wrestle with fundamental moral and political questions about how the governance of technology can support the flourishing of democracy.
Surveillance StateAlessio Giussani | Eurozine
As new revelations keep emerging, it is hard to predict the political consequences of the ongoing surveillance scandal. But ahead of this year’s general election, to be held by the summer, Greece still has an opportunity to start an honest debate on an issue which has long been swept under the carpet. Too optimistically has national reconciliation been identified with oblivion.
L’amélioration de soi en régime numérique : les ambiguïtés du Quantified Self, entre discours et pratiquesJulien Onno | Socio-Anthropologie
This article shows how the recording of ordinary experiences by digital devices can be a source of discrepancies between subjective representations and their digital transcriptions; how the sharing of these data on social networks and forums can be both a matter of experience sharing and participatory surveillance; and finally, shows how self-quantification by digital tools dialogues with the normative injunctions that users try to cope with.
Contesting Infrastructural Futures: 5G Opposition as a Technological DramaVivien Butot, Liesbet van Zoonen | Science, Technology, & Human Values
Addressing the public contestation of the rollout of the fifth generation of mobile telecommunications networks (5G) in the Netherlands. The technological drama of 5G is constituted by tensions between different interpretations of these publicly performed meanings. However, amidst the drama, meanings of public need and imaginaries of 5G futures are temporarily suspended, constraining the stage for opposition and enforcing partial closure of the conflict.
Sovereignty in the Digital and Contact Tracing AppsMax Tretter | Digital Society
Sovereignty is best understood as a complex network of three actors – nations, companies, and individuals – that exercise power against or on behalf of each other to claim sovereignty for themselves and to either weaken or strengthen the sovereignty claims of other actors. Since the results can be generalised from the particular context of contact tracing apps, they contribute to a better overall understanding of the concept of sovereignty in digital. This might be helpful for discussions about this technology, as well as about the regulation and governance of the digital in general.