This year’s Colloquium, on September 24th at WZB, was the fourth edition of an international stage for Ph.D. candidates and post-docs from all disciplines on Internet and society. The event consisted on five thematically focused sessions which are briefly summarised hereunder.
For the first session, Stefan Stumpp invited young researchers to debate about “Digital Communication and Value Creation between Companies and the Crowd” to listen to some inspiring presentations and different perspectives on Crowdfunding and the Sharing Economy.
Dr. Agata Stasik, Associate professor at the Kozminski University, started with her presentation on Crowdfunding as a strategy for technology, business and social innovation in search of evidences from energy-related technological projects. The aim of her quantitative and qualitative research is to show in what extend Crowdfunding creates space for experimentation with new business and technological ideas.
Afterwards, Maria Lucia Passador, Ph.D. candidate at the Bocconi University in Milan, gave another perspective on Crowdfunding with her presentation “Crowd-F(o)unded Companies, An Open Financial Call”. Maria Lucia explained Crowdfunding problems from a capital risk perspective and illustrated consequences that Crowdfunding produces on the already existing regulation in an Italian context.
Finally, Ph.D. candidate Antonio Aloisi, also from the Bocconi University, gave insights into his case study research about “Commoditized Workers: The rising of On-Demand Work”. Antonio concluded that the so-called “Gig-Economy” could eventually take the risk of turning into a social spirale descendent when risks traditionally borne by firms are being pushed back onto individuals.
Fundamental challenges and opportunities for public institutions in the digital age were at the center of the second workshop “Internet and Public Governance”. Approaching this topic from diverse research backgrounds the guests, Nadja Wilker, Satish Thalla and Dr. Thomas Wischmeyer gave exciting insights into their ongoing research on digital petitioning platforms, online participation in the budgeting process of local communities and the increasing challenges of a regulatory state tasked with the mission of providing information security.
These presentations were the starting point of a fruitful discussion, of which only some points are mentioned here. With respect to online participation the debate centered around the distinction between online and offline partition, and the question about similarities and distinctions. Most participants underscored the fact, that online participation is more accessible to individuals who can directly contribute to their ideas and thoughts to the political decision making process, without depending on intermediaries like parties, unions or organized groups of civil society. At the same time, concerns were raised, that platforms like Avaaz, also have their own agenda and interests, that also should be watched carefully.
Another major discussion centered around the question of responsibility for information security and whether private or public institutions were better suited for its protection. While there was no consensus on this issue, all the members of the discussions underscored the fact, that private and public institutions alike had been the victim of major data hacks, what underlines the need to tackle the problem, by whatever actor.
In session three Christian Katzenbach and Kirsten Gollatz invited scholars to discuss the topic of “Algorithmic Governance”.–What are the outcomes and impacts we may have to expect when rules and norms of our daily routines increasingly being translated into algorithmic decision-making? Dr. Sharon Bar-Ziv from the University of Haifa, Anna Jobin, Ph.D. candidate at University of Lausanne, and Alessandro Panconesi, Professor at Sapienza University of Rome each presented compelling ideas to this question.
By enumerating legal decision-making in courts and the algorithmic enforcement through corporate Notice-and-Take-Down practices, Sharon marked the different outcomes of two copyright enforcement strategies in terms of the overall volume of cases, the actors involved, the type of content affected and the final ruling. Sharon concluded with the critical notion of a “shattered dream”, in which algorithmic copyright enforcement is of dramatic rise without any legal oversight but where the volume of litigation in courts must also evaluated low.
Anna’s presentation revolved around the concept of algorithmic performativity, which she critically scrutinized in the case of Google’s ranking chart Zeitgeist in Switzerland. Anna argued that such algorithmic rankings not merely mirror the relevance they used to describe but creating this reality in the first place. Anna therefore denied the idea that such tools are objective representations, neither of the current relevance of topics, nor of society’s zeitgeist.
As a third speaker we welcomed Alessandro who talked about a socio-psychological experiment including more than 2000 participants, who took part to study different designs of algorithm-based recommender systems in online shops. The project’s preliminary findings suggest that the economic impact of such systems to alter the market is rather limited. However, overall activity increases through the use of recommender systems. To some extent, Alessandro argued, this result could be explained by “social facilitation” theory.
The fourth session addressed the issue of interdisciplinarity in research on information privacy, surveillance, and data protection. With about 20 participants, session leader Jörg Pohle gave an audience to three presentations, on three different topics, from three different speakers, with three different disciplinary backgrounds – a computer scientist, a lawyer, and a political scientist. Martin Degeling, the computer scientist, gave an introduction to a transparency technology for tracking profiles implemented as a Firefox AddOn (“Meet your Online Tracking Profiles with TrickTrack”). Emile Douilhet, the lawyer, suggested transforming the legal protection of privacy from a personality rights-based into a property-based protection mechanism (“Never Mind My Data: A Legal Quest for Control Over Information”). Lars Bretthauer, the political scientist, outlined German data retention politics and its economic, technological, legal and political dimensions (“Data retention politics from an interdisciplinary perspective”).
At first, the discussion focused on the issue of control over information and data, the possibilities and limitations of the concept of ownership, and the challenges of rapid technological development in this field. We then discussed which are the most compelling challenges for interdisciplinary privacy research – frequently mentioned were time constraints and the lack of a cohesive theory. Unfortunately, our session’s time was up before we came to discussing solutions for these challenges more thoroughly.
The fifth session “Research and Knowledge in the Digital Age” focussed on the ways how knowledge creation and dissemination changes in a digital society. In this session, we were able to get three different perspectives on that topic.
Michael Huth, PhD candidate in Geography at the Catholic University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, explained how ideas and concepts are individually or collectively developed within FabLabs and what kind of problems regarding knowledge exchange between the users may occur. In his ongoing research he already found out that FabLab members are reluctant to share knowledge on digital platforms.
Eduardo Magrani, PhD candidate at PUC Rio and researcher on digital democracy at the Center for Technology and Society of FGV DIREITO RIO presented his research about the potential and obstacles of online political engagement, covering initiatives such as the Brazilian Civil Rights Framework for the Internet (Marco Civil da Internet) and Avaaz recent campaigns.
And finally Benedikt Fecher, from the Humboldt Institute of Internet and Society and the German Institute for Economic Research, presented results of an empirical study on data sharing in academia. He explained the benefits of open research data for scientific progress and its importance for the quality control of research.