Blog

Writing has always been cathartic for me. Normally it’s ranting, cathartic against anger or annoyance, but now, I need it to be cathartic against grief.

We’re in mourning. We’re in mourning on our laptops and in real life: offline, and online. Right now, the line between those two seems blurrier than ever. Tears running down my face; a genuine representation of the [crying] emoji. There are people sitting all over the world who met Michael in person, who shared fantastic experiences with him, who now have the internet to turn to for comfort. I’m one of the lucky ones: I’m in Berlin, along with a bunch of other people who loved him like I did. We met up in person, and hugged, and told stories of all the funny and happy times we had with him.

Read Post

I was in Buenos Aires over the past couple of weeks as part of a project I’m working on looking at citizen-generated data - essentially, datasets, whether qualitative or quantitative, that are actively contributed to by individual people. Sometimes this is for a particular social cause, like helping tag photos of deforestation - and other times, it’s contributing to a broader narrative, like sharing stories or experiences about a certain topic, like sexual harrassment.

Often when we talk about such initiatives, we say “anybody can contribute” - but how true is this really? While thinking about data on illegal abortions in Argentina, I came up against a potentially fascinating topic where data is very much needed, but very hard to collect.

Read Post

Last week saw almost 5000 people converge on an old brick making factory just outside of Berlin, for the Chaos Communication Camp. It takes place only every four years - so it was a big deal for the hacker community.

It was a hacker camp, and I’m not a hacker. I work and spend time with hackers, activists, technologists, civil society groups, researchers who study technology and society - lots of people who are on the peripheries of hackerdom, but I’m not a hacker, and initially, this worried me slightly. I wondered whether I would feel out of place, and even though I had a talk accepted to speak at the camp, I wondered whether people there would be interested in what I had to say.

Read Post

This week, I had the pleasure of attending and talking at the mind-blowing Chaos Communication Camp. I’ll write something more in detail about camp, but for posterity, here are the slides I used, and the video recording of the talk which is up online spectacularly quickly.

Read Post

The third full episode of Collusion is online! This episode, we looked at food: the role that food played in colonialism in the past, things that happen now that echo the power structures that we see in colonialism, like food speculation, and new technologies aimed at addressing world hunger.

I also came across a transcript that the crew at OpenTranscripts kindly did of the episode: it’s online here - along with our other episodes too, in full.

Links to research for the latest episode are up on the Tumblr - during the research for this episode, our main source of information seems to have been media articles and NGO reports rather than academic papers, so thankfully we didn’t have too many problems of important papers being behind a paywall.

As always, comments and criticism on the episode are welcome - we hope you like it!

Read Post

Today in Dhaka, Niloy Chakrabarti, or “Niloy-Neel” as he was known online, was murdered in his home. He is the fourth blogger to be murdered this year in Dhaka - all in a brutal way, with machetes, leading the media to report it with the unthinkable phrase - they were “hacked to death”.

There have been, and there will be, many more articles calling for changes in Bangladesh. For the government to respond in an appropriate way (Chowdhury had reportedly asked for police protection just three weeks ago, and had it denied). For Bangladeshi media to support the blogger community.

But I’m writing to a different audience: the international open government community. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw the agenda for a planned workshop run by UNDESA in Dhaka to be held at the end of the month. Its theme: “Open Government Data Sensitization, Gap Assessment, and Strategic Planning”. It made me laugh at the time - a ‘gap assessment’? Seriously?

Read Post

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to speak at Datengarten, the Chaos Computer Club Berlin’s (CCCB) monthly meet up. I decided to talk about technology in international development; partly because it’s a topic I feel comfortable with, but also because the narrative and general conversation among the development sector is a world away from what I imagine CCCB to be talking about.

One of the biggest issues I’ve come across with those working in international development, or ICT4D, is low levels of technical literacy. People are keen to tout the benefits of technology, but they have little training or critical perspectives on the potential consequences around security, data (mis)management, and more. The audience I was talking with at CCCB are, in a way, the polar opposite of this - all very, very technically literate, but potentially with not as much exposure to people in vulnerable situations, for whom technology could have big benefits.

The video of my talk is below, along with the slides I used. It’s also the first public talk I’ve done in German, which was a nice milestone to reach - especially as it happened to be on my 4 year anniversary of arriving in Berlin! It was great to have such a friendly audience for the talk, and some interesting questions afterwards, too.

Read Post

Hidden in the darkest and deepest corners of the web are secrets beyond what most of us would believe possible. Jamie Bartlett’s book, The Dark Net, dives into these secrets, and gives us a guided tour - the fora that many of us never frequent, the places where you can place a bounty upon someone’s head, or order illegal substances and have them delivered to your door.

But Bartlett’s attitude to many of these online spaces and the resulting behaviour, is largely uncritical, perhaps in his attempt to be a neutral and objective guide to the space. Take this statement about a Reddit community whose aim was to “troll” other community users, “generating laugh at someone else’s expense”, as he puts it.

Game of Trolls was eventually banned by Reddit; a highly unusual step for the otherwise liberal site, but testament to the pervasiveness and persistence of the Reddit trolls.

Read Post

The second episode of Collusion is now up, focusing on the theme of water. In it, I talk about how the British used water technologies as a key part of colonial policy in former British India, and Luiza, my co-presenter, talks about current day examples from Palestine and Brazil. This time though, we produced two versions: the regular one, and a “closed access version”, which I explain more about below.

Read Post

Last week, I was invited for an interview with Civic Radio. We talked about what it means to participate in civic life, and the role of civic technology. For me, civic life is closely connected to participation - and this made me wonder, who has the opportunity to participate in public life?

Read Post