Regimes of Data Processing and the Struggle for Privacy
Using digital information to organize (social) life seems to be the preferred modus operandi of contemporary societies. The operational process that leads to the digitization and digitalization materializes through forms of generating, accumulating and processing – everything and everyone is transformed into data. However, this process of datafication and the underlying sociotechnical arrangements – such as big data, algorithms, internet of things, wearables, cloud infrastructures, prediction logics etc. – clearly generate sociopolitical challenges directly bound to the collection and utilization of data. Frequently, datafication is implicitly and explicitly envisioned as a form of techno-social progress; its power to capture and connect, transform and visualize is perceived as an opportunity to enhance the status quo. Contrary to this, datafication is conceptualized as a phenomenon containing unpredictable risks for social life. In this regard it is often seen as a supporting mode to quantify, track, predict, monitor, analyze and eventually restrict the agency of subjects and populations alike. Obviously, the cultural-technological phenomenon in question is not a category that can be conceptualized as neutral but has to be seen inherently political: manifold interests and perspectives are inscribed into it.
The latter is a narrative that is claimed and addressed by a movement of data critical actors. Driven by visions of security, democracy, privacy, secrecy, transparency and empowerment, this avant-garde constantly works on possibilities of criticizing, negotiating and stabilizing current data practices.
With my dissertation project I will take these actors and their tinkering on answers to the current uncertainties into focus. I will develop a definition of modern data critics that aim at reconfiguring datafication’s underlying processes, infrastructures and technologies. I therefore examine questions data critical actors raise, their visions and social as well as technology based answers in form of expressed concerns and created sociotechnical artifacts. These practices and artifacts (e.g. applications) implicitly carry inscriptions of problematizations as well as specific ways of addressing a problem and producing one (seeming) solution for it. Some of the questions that guide my research are: How are data-related problematizations and perspecitves translated into socio-technical answers? How do these answers contribute to the (in)stability of our current information society?