In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

For a few hours today, Uber users could view their passenger rating thanks to a how-to posted by Aaron Landy. Uber gives both passengers and drivers ratings, probably by averaging the post-ride ratings each gets, and they affect whether riders can get picked up and whether drivers keep their jobs.

UberlogoPassenger ratings like these raise two kinds of concerns: first, that opaque and inaccessible metrics don’t allow for recourse or even explanation; and second that driver ratings aren’t very consistent or reliable raw material for those metrics.

You hear stories from people who missed a pickup because of buggy notifications, for example, and those people all of a sudden just can’t catch a cab. Any kind of technical error can skew the ratings, but because they’re invisible they’re also treated as infallible.

Read the rest of this entry »

This week the EU Commission published its report (PDF) on responses to the public consultation on EU copyright held earlier this year. The consultation had drawn a comparably high number of responses with a total of about 11,000 messages, not least due to initiatives such as fixcopyright.eu (targeting end users) and creatorsforeurope.eu (targeting authors and performers). While over at IPKat copyright buffs are already delving into the details of the report, I tried to have a look at the bigger picture here: what do we learn about the state of copyright at large? And what overall direction should copyright reform take? With regard to both questions the report is quite instructive because of its clear and straightforward structure.

The report is structured along the 80 questions of the consultation, which are distributed across 24 issue sections. Within each of these issue sections, the report distinguishes between the different stakeholder groups that took part in the consultation (see chart below).

consultation-stakeholders

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In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

Facebooks Edge Rank Algorithm (Source: http://goo.gl/zTrTbe)

Facebooks Edge Rank Algorithm (Source: http://goo.gl/zTrTbe)

In a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS), Adam Kramer and others published an article on “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” with data derived from the world’s largest social network Facebook. The researchers was given the permission to manipulate the Facebook newsfeed in order to test how differences in terms of emotional direction of postings, i.e. more “happier” or more “sadder” updates, impact on people’s status updates. The study delivered two main results: First, emotions are “contagious” in that more happy postings inspired more happy postings and vice versa. Second, fewer emotional posts (in either direction) reduces posting frequency of Facebook users.

The publication of these results has incited furious debates with regard to research ethics, mainly criticizing that Facebook should have asked users to (more) explicitely consent in taking part in such an experiment. Susan Fiske, the Princeton University psychology professor who edited the study for publication, is quoted in an Atlantic article subtitled “It was probably legal. But was it ethical?” as follows:

“I was concerned,” Fiske told The Atlantic, “until I queried the authors and they said their local institutional review board had approved it—and apparently on the grounds that Facebook apparently manipulates people’s News Feeds all the time.”

Over at orgtheoryElizabeth Popp Berman agrees that “the whole idea is creepy” but also argues that Read the rest of this entry »

The Council of Europe has invited me to contribute the following input paper (PDF) on “Need for New Regulation to Enhance Creativity in the Digital Age: The Cases of User-generated Content and Cultural Heritage Institutions” for the Conference on “Creating an enabling environment for digital culture and for empowering citizens”, taking place 4-5 July 2014, Baku, Azerbaijan. 

logo-CoEIn the course of growing economic importance of knowledge and of technological change related with the Internet and digitization, regulations of knowledge and information goods have increasingly become an issue of transnational contestation. Particularly the role of copyright law has changed since virtually all forms of online communication and interaction requires copying and distributing content, thereby becoming copyright-related. In a way, copyright laws have become the core regulatory device for the digital information society in general and digital creative practices in particular.

At the same time, we can observe that regulatory struggles in the copyright realm date way back. Already Kant (1785) and Fichte (1793) distinguished between different functional groups affected by copyright laws, among which publisher/copyright owner, author/creator, and consumer/user represent the most important. These groups are still the ones most affected by copyright regulation, even though today copyright also covers cinematographic work and computer programs and it is possible to reproduce nearly all types of work in digital form. Balancing the interests of these groups is therefore still the main task for copyright regulators on the international and the national level.

And while technological change has always provided both opportunities for new forms of creativity and problems for pre-existing business models in the copyright realm (Wu 2010), the all-encompassing and highly dynamic impact of new digital technology on nearly all fields and types of creative activities brings with it enormous regulatory challenges. First, digitization makes it possible to distinguish between content and medium – a constellation that is of major importance for the copyrighted content industry since it sells CDs, DVDs, and books, not music, movies, or novels. From a regulation perspective, this means that new rules – be they publicly legislated or privately enforced via license agreements – tend to more directly address particular usage practices, affecting traditional knowledge brokers such as archives, libraries or museums. Second, loss- and lag-free copying of digital contents via personal computers and the Internet enable new forms of private copying and peer-to-peer distribution of content on a massive scale. The regulation challenge related to this issue is to allow for these new technologies to enfold while at the same time prevent a massive increase in copyright infringement due to piracy. Third, thanks to decreasing production and distribution costs, many more people actively engage in content creation and make their works accessible directly to the public (sometimes referred to as ‘user-generated content’), thereby often re-using and transforming pre-existing copyrighted works. How to regulate these new forms of derivative creativity and creative consumption is again a task for regulators to address. Read the rest of this entry »

Guest blogger Nina Engwicht discusses a controversial performance art project in Berlin aiming to help Syrian refugee children.

Arrival of Jewish refugee children, port of London, February 1939

(Wikimedia; CC-BY-SA-3.0-de)

“1 in 100” is the slogan of a nightly ironic talent show currently put on in Berlin by the activist performance artists of the group “Center for Political Beauty” (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit). One in a hundred Syrian children will be saved, is the promise. In order to help the German government decide which children should be rescued, the audience is requested to vote for a child they would like to see rescued from the civil war: “1 in 100! One child wins. The others can go on dying. (weitersterben).

The artists urge their audience not to make light of their responsibility, but to use their right to vote. The show’s web site (http://voting.1aus100.de/) displays pictures and videos of each child, many of them badly hurt, some of them crying, some of them starving. The video of “child number 2” shows a boy desperately crying after a bomb attack. From off-camera we hear a man, presumably his father, saying “My God. My God. My children are dead. My children are dead”, while the boy cries for his brothers and sisters. The campaign’s Facebook page presents all these candidates and informs readers about their respective chances: “Child Nr. 61 only has two votes. Call now!”
Read the rest of this entry »

In the series “algorithm regulation”, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

google-good-or-badWith a market share of over 90 percent in Europe, the Google search engine and its search algorithm respectively decide what is relevant on an issue and what not. Any information that is not placed on the first few pages of Google’s search results will hardly ever be found. On the other hand, personal information that is listed prominently in these results may haunt you forever. The latter issue was recently tried by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), who ruled (C-131/12) that

the activity of a search engine consisting in finding information published or placed on the internet by third parties, indexing it automatically, storing it temporarily and, finally, making it available to internet users according to a particular order of preference must be classified as ‘processing of personal data’

and that, under certain not very clearly spelled out conditions relating to the data subject’s rights to privacy,

the operator of a search engine is obliged to remove from the list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of a person’s name links to web pages, published by third parties and containing information relating to that person.

By crafting such a “right to be forgotten”, the ECJ effectively regulates Google’s search algorithms. In other words, we can observe the ECJ regulating Google’s algorithmic regulation. In response to the ruling, Google has already set up an online form for deletion requests, stating that  Read the rest of this entry »

April, apparently, is the Month of Microfinance. Prof. Shawn Humphrey, the initiator of the Month (also blogger and passionate educator), kindly allowed me to contribute a provocative analysis of the microfinance sector as serving the interests of the rich, not the poor: financialising poverty. My objective isn’t to provoke people so much as their thoughts – let’s see what happens. The Month of Microfinance is primarily aimed at students; I hope for anything other than complete silence or dogmatic indignation, and an interesting discussion.

(phil)

Several contributions in this blog have been dealing with different examples of the transnational mobilization of labor rights by social movement organizations and trade unions, targeting transnational companies, international organizations or states to introduce and enforce core labor rights and accept freedom of associations (e.g. the Asian FLoor Wage Campaign, People’s Tribunals or the Asia-Europe People’s Forum). There are other interesting blogs which discuss the development of chances and limits of transnational labor solidarity and transnational labor rights activism under conditions of global restructuring ( transnational labor) or country specific cases (e.g. China).

Different blog entries give interesting examples of single incidents and their immediate consequences. However, sometimes they tell little about how the different strategies relate to each other and what kind of changes they produce when looking at them over longer period of time. In my recent paper (“pathways of transnational activism”), I try to develop an analytical framework which allows for analyzing the dynamic interplay between activism, transnational institutions, and domestic contexts. It integrates insights from social movement research on transnational collective action and insights from institutional theorists on institutional interactions. I introduced three concepts which intend to connect the ideas that transnational activists – social movements, trade unions and worker alike when they engage in transnational contention – mobilize in multiple arenas at once, addressing multiple targets (state and private) therewith changing the environment (both national and domestic) in which they operate: Read the rest of this entry »

Last week at the International Studies Association Conference in Toronto, Marie Langevin (Ottawa) and I hosted a panel bringing together Northern and Southern perspectives on what may be termed poverty finance*. These perspectives surprisingly only rarely speak to each other, and our panel demonstrated how important and fruitful such a conversation is. Phil Cerny chaired the panel “Fringe Finance and Financial Inclusion”, and Rob Aitken (Alberta) – one of the few exceptional researchers whose work spans both the worlds of Northern and Southern poverty finance – acted as discussant of the papers.

The papers…

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About half a year ago, the German Internet association D64 – Center for Digital Progress had launched an initiative to promote the use of Creative Commons licenses. I was one of the co-organizers. Last week, with the help of graphic designers Sara Lucena und Nico Roicke, we have put together a very nice infographic on “Creative Commons in Numbers”. Of course, some of the numbers are only estimates and not all are most recent, but taken together they give a good overall impression of Creative Commons usage on the internet. Enjoy & Share! Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
September 2014
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