Digital Rights Archive Newsletter - Fourth edition
One of the most fascinating things about the current explosion of interest in artificial intelligence – the term that’s been adopted to describe any number of automated and generative digital processes, despite long-standing warnings that it’s as much a marketing term as anything else – is the complex sense of resignation that seems to have accompanied it. Despite pervasive worries about its effect on the foundations of our education system, the incorporation of falsehood-spewing chatbots into search, and much else besides, the conventional wisdom seems to be that it might be a net negative for society, but we’re just going to have to figure out how to live with it.
The future, in short, is what we make of it. Our choices could leave us worse off, as Joanna Mazur and Renata Włoch believe may be happening with the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act, which they argue “does not include solutions that would allow the societal actors to enforce their rights concerning artificial intelligence.” Or, also in Europe, whether the potential adoption of social credit initiatives may lead to invasive, rights-harming surveillance, as Laurent Mucchielli suggests.
But we can also make better choices. In a very creative article that breathes new life into the case study method (those interested in social science methodologies will find this article illuminating for this alone), Britt S. Paris, Corinne Cath and Sarah Myers West highlight how our ideas about internet infrastructure and governance shape what we think of as possible and desirable in this area. In doing so, they point to a way forward that emphasizes what they call “cooperativity, not connectivity,” and requires us to ask hard questions “about who is served by information and communication infrastructures, and how.”
Overcoming this sense of the inevitable, in internet governance or artificial intelligence, is difficult because it requires imagining a different future than the one currently offered for sale from the big players. We’re fortunate that people like Paris, Cath and West, and the other thinkers featured here, are helping to imagine the road maps to a more humane future.
- Blayne Haggart
The Reaction EconomyWilliam Davies | London Review of Books
Forgiveness is unique in being a reaction which breaks the chain, making a fresh start possible. It has been observed, of late, that there is a deficit of forgiveness in ‘cancel culture’ and the reputational attacks that thrive in the reaction economy. But digital platforms are anti-forgiveness machines by design. The broader question is how any of us – but especially children and young people – can become comfortable with our own freedom, our own spontaneity, against the backdrop of surveillance capitalism, which is the real condition of the reaction economy.
How Platforms Govern: Social Regulation in Digital CapitalismPetter Törnberg | Big Data & Society
This paper situates digital capitalism as a continuation of longer running post-Fordist trends of financialisation, digitalisation, and privatisation. As the platform model is founded on monopolising regulation, platforms come into direct competition with states and public institutions, which they pursue through a set of distinct techno-political strategies to claim power to govern. While the digital proprietary markets are continuities of existing trends, they bring new pressures and affordances, thus producing discontinuities in social regulation.
Urban Neoliberalism, Smart City, and Big Tech: The Aborted Sidewalk Labs Toronto ExperimentPierre Filion, Markus Moos, Gary Sands | Journal of Urban Affairs
The Toronto narrative suggests that while the materialisation of this version of neoliberalism is advantaged by plentiful resources, futurist visions of the city, and access to new technology, it is not immune to implementation hurdles associated with the context-specific nature of neoliberal projects. Three categories of obstacles hampered the Sidewalk project: opposition movements objecting to electronic surveillance, corporate control, and restrictions to democratic processes; the fragmentation of the neoliberal political block; and ill-advised strategies on the part of Sidewalk.
Cybersecurity Discourses and Their Policy ImplicationsRobert Siudak | Journal of Cyber Policy
Since the end of the twentieth century, cybersecurity has become present in multiple sectoral debates in various fields and communities. This makes digital security a highly polysemantic domain. Simply put, there is no single universal understanding of cybersecurity. Thispaper analyses how different discourses on cybersecurity impact the policies and regulations introduced at the nation-state level taking the case study of Poland and looking at the social and political dynamics between 2008 and 2020.
Human Rights and Technology: Looking Back at the Last 30 YearsKen Roth | Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
The former head of Human Rights Watch reflects on how technological developments have aided and abetted human rights abuses in recent history – as well as how they may be put to work in protecting rights in unfree places.
Radical Infrastructure: Building Beyond the Failures of Past Imaginaries for Networked CommunicationBritt S. Paris, Corinne Cath, Sarah M. West | New Media & Society
This work puts the three existing cases in conversation to better understand how Internet infrastructure alternatives presented as radical, new, or non-hierarchical present shortcomings and opportunities. From this comparison, the article closes its discussion with three heuristics for radical infrastructure: the need for pushing for alternative ensembles of support, busting the myth of technosolutionism, re-politicising Internet infrastructure, and encouraging technical communities to build around cooperativity, not connectivity.
Embedding Digital Economy: Fictitious Triple Movement in the European Union's Artificial Intelligence ActJoanna Mazur, Renata Włoch | Social & Legal Studies
The Act does not support genuine emancipation of citizens in the digital world, as it hands over the issue of protection to expert bodies and institutions. The EU's unique approach to regulation of the digital economy does not reflect the triple movement postulated in Nancy Fraser's critique of Karl Polanyi's double movement, as it does not include solutions that would allow the societal actors to enforce their rights concerning artificial intelligence. Thus, the Act serves mostly as a tool to build the EU’s political position.
Netflix’s Desperate Crackdown on Password Sharing Shows It Might Fail Like BlockbusterKean Birch | The Globe and Mail
Netflix is changing its subscription configuration, testing it in Canada and three other countries before rolling it out, presumably, in the US, its most lucrative market. Described as a 'crackdown' on password sharing, this change will prevent access to Netflix from devices not associated with our home network. This article questions whether this business model is sustainable in the long run.
Travail De Plateforme: Défis Pour L’Action Collective et Le SyndicalismeJosépha Dirringer, Cristina Nizzoli | Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales
According to this report, far from the social profiles of unionised employees, platform workers are also far from trade union organisations: they sometimes turn to other actors, such as self-organised collectives, to make their demands. However, some unions manage to adapt their discourse and practices to include these workers and take into account their needs, especially in terms of income and social protection.
Surveillance Numérique Des Populations: Vers Un "Crédit Social" en Europe?Laurent Mucchielli | Quartier Général
The European Union is gradually developing ambiguous legislation on the introduction of social credit, despite grand official proclamations. In Italy, for example, from 2022 the municipalities of Rome and Bologna are experimenting with social credit initiatives, incentivised and optional, which aim to reward behaviour deemed 'virtuous' in terms of sustainable development. This article asks whether we should fear the introduction of a social credit system like the one that has appeared in China.