Masterclass: Playing with Data in the Ubiquitous Commons

Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico were the guest hosts of the day-long Masterclass on the 3 June 2015 on Playing with Data in the Ubiquitous Commons. Salvatore and Oriana’s research is wide-ranging and varied, typically focussing on the interactions between technology, design, art, and society. The morning session led with an introduction to the challenges and opportunities presented by the Ubiquitous Commons, and the questions that data analytics can help answer.
IMG_20150515_102748The afternoon session delved into Salvatore and Oriana’s open source Human Ecosystems software, with instruction on what the tools could do and how to set them up. Human Ecosystems allows collecting real-time data from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Starting from either a set of topic keywords or a specific geographic area, publicly-visible data can be harvested, processed via linguistic and sentiment analysis tools, and ingested for visualisation and further offline analysis.

As with our previous Masterclass session on Mobile Data Hacking we welcomed attendees from many backgrounds with a diverse range of interests, including students and professionals from IT, advertising, art, and the public sector.

Masterclass: Rethinking Data Privacy

On June 2, 2015, Helen Nissenbaum from New York University gave a workshop on “The Elements of Contextual Integrity: Guiding the Empirical Study of Privacy.” Privacy, she argued, is not a right to control, nor a right to secrecy; rather, it is a right to appropriate the flow of personal information. Her discussion focused on what shapes the norms that enable flows of information within specific on/offline contexts. For Nissenbaum, the theory of contextual integrity is a way of understanding the disruptions in the flow of personal information (often stemming from deployment of computational systems and digital media) and how these are experienced as privacy threats, not merely when they expose informational flows or threaten our control but when they result in inappropriate transactions. Contextual integrity becomes a useful normative framework for understanding these disruptions, because, as she argued, it offers: a) an unmuddled way of talking about privacy; b) a diagnostic tool for locating breaches; c) an account of the value of privacy to individuals and societies; d) a practical heuristic to uncover expectations and inform policy and design. Contextual integrity, therefore acts as a mechanism that can provide a means of understanding the gateways and barriers that either facilitate or block that which circulates amongst our myriad on/offline publics.

The appropriateness of flow is modeled by the construct of context-specific norms, which prescribe informational flows based on the parties involved (subjects, senders, recipients), the types of information and the constraints inscribed between parties. Nissenbaum next argued that we must consider the following: 1) Contexts: the structured spheres defined by activities, practices, roles, e.g. healthcare, education, social and home-life, professional life, commercial market place etc.; 2) Informational norms: context specific rules, customs, conventions, expectations, laws, defining appropriate flows of personal information; 3) Purposes and values: Ends, goals, values in a context, both specific and general. Respecting a person’s privacy will therefore depend on the specific context, the norms that govern the context and the purpose or values that are expected within that context. In short, there is no singular way of defining a breach in an individual’s right to privacy given that it will always be dependent on the specific context in which a transgression may occur.

Our interest in Nissenbaum’s work is based on the nuanced way in which she has laid out a theory of privacy. She argues that privacy as contextual integrity is predicated on four principles namely: 1) Privacy means appropriate informational flow; 2) Appropriateness means compliance with social expectations of privacy; 3) Expectations of privacy are modeled by context specific informational norms and 4) Ideal informational norms are those that promote ethical and political principles and contextual ends, purposes and values. Part of the research design for the focus and groups and interviews we held with our YRS co-researchers included in-depth discussion around what privacy means. While Nissenbaum does not fully account for the how social media can bring about a collapse of those clearly defined contexts, thinking through how our participants understood what constituted (non)problematic informational flows was extremely useful and informed how certain questions were formulated.

We’d like to thank Helen for her contributions and for the lively discussion we had during her workshop. If you would like to learn more about what she discussed, please click here and download the slides for her talk.

Masterclass: Born-digital data in the humanities

Jane Winters led a discussion on a distinctive arts and humanities understanding of the potential of born-digital information, i.e. information such as websites or tweets created digitally and without an analogue form. Born-digital information refers here to historical reports in web archives, social media comments and reports on contemporary events, textual reports as well as multimedia items such as images and videos and finally also data tracked through the Internet of Things. Most of the work in the domain of born-digital information has up to now been the domain of computing research concerned with the conditions and use of born digital data; applied mathematics and statistics developing new kinds of modelling that helps describe quantifiable trends and properties of born-digital information as well as social sciences research using social and other new media to indirectly crowd-source opinions, sentiments, etc.

We wanted to investigate whether there can be a genuine humanities on born-digital data and how its corresponding methods that can take into account the critical traditions of humanities scholarship. It is urgent to develop these as the first significant archives and collections are currently released. Also, in history we need to deal with the emergence of born-datafied collections that cannot be dealt with anymore with traditional methods alone. Big data debates have taught us that digitisation is often not enough. In order to make digital use of objects they need to be datafied. The question is then how datafied collections enter humanties research, because beyond all interest in computational models that digital humanities have demonstrated to be useful, our foremost interest is how by connecting the dots in an infinite born-digital archive of contemporary and historical records we can develop a story out of material and develop a narrative. James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, summarizes the situation as following: “Whether or not we have a facility with numbers, we are good at asking questions and analyzing evidence that by its nature generates many variables at once. (…) we look for stories—for ways of synthesizing diverse strands into narrative themes (…).” (

Masterclass: Hacking the Mobile Ecosystem

On the 15 May 2015, over 20 participants turned up for the Our Data, Ourselves Master Class on Android phone application hacking. The class began with an introduction to the project from Giles Greenway, who presented his work on mobile app data mining and introduced guest expert speaker, security researcher Darren Martyn. Throughout the morning’s hands-on session, Darren led the participants through the process of using the Android application development kit (ADK) via a virtual machine, downloading Android application package (.apk) files, and examining their contents.

IMG_20150515_102747Participants were then each given unlocked Android phones and instructed on how to put them into “developer mode”, enabling them to connect to the development tools on their laptops. Using the Wireshark network analysis tool, they were then able to view detailed information about exactly what each application was doing when it accessed the internet, and to tell whether or not a given app “phoned home” when it might not otherwise be expected to. A variety of popular and not-so-popular apps were examined, including Instagram, WhatsApp, Buscountdown, and ad-supported games such as Maze.

Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds. Approximately half had prior experience with the Android app ecosystem, and roughly half were students at King’s. Among the students in attendance, only two studied computer science, with the remaining hailing from Digital Culture and Society (DCS) and Digital Asset and Media Management (DAMM). Among the non-students, many had come along due to an interest in Big Data and data analysis.

Join us for our Masterclass Series!

We are very excited to introduce our Masterclass series.

1) Interventions in Big Data Politics (At the Politics of Big Data Conference) – May 8, 2015

Exercising agency within a politics of big data entails gaining a clearer understanding of what comprises the digital ecosystems which enable new social and economic relations. From metrics, to third parties, to the various futures of the visual web, this panel will present a series of interventions that make visible the infrastructures that actively support and enable ubiquitous algorithmic and data-intensive environments. Dr. Carolin Gerlitz will lead the discussion by unpacking how first order metrics such as counts of tweets, replies or hashtags are constituted, arguing that such apparatuses need to be seen as epistemic devices. Next, Dr. Jennifer Pybus will put forward data literacy as critical intervention for understanding the dynamic flows and processes that relate to the exponential growth of data. Finally, Dr. Farida Vis will discuss algorithmic accountability as it relates to the issues around seeing/not seeing and the futures of the visual web.

What counts in social media research?

While algorithmically calculated popularity rankings influence scores or relevance measures have faced increased critical inquiry, little attention has been paid to the composition of first order metrics, such as counts of shares, tweets or hashtags. But what do we actually count when we aggregate tweets, @replies, likes or shares? Metrics, the presentation suggests, need to be seen as epistemic devices, informed by diverse use cultures and platform politics. Based on empirical work on a 1% Twitter sample, the presentation suggests that metrics do not count but calculate and have to be considered as lively – animated by users, their practices and mediating devices.

Bio: Carolin Gerlitz is Assistant Professor in New Media & Digital Culture, member of the Digital Methods Initiative and conducts research on digital culture and methods.

Hacking the Social Life of Big Data

It is paradoxical that questions of agency arise in relation to big data, considering that collectively, we are a leading source of its generation.  Data literacy, as conceptualized in the AHRC grant: ‘Our Data Ourselves’, will be put forward as a critical emergent field that is aiming to develop a set of competencies and knowledge to empower people to understand the dynamic flows and processes related to our steadily growing digital footprint.  Key aspects of the digital ecosystems that facilitate the capture of big data on our mobile devices will be examined in relation to how gaining access to one’s own data, not only augments the agency of the individual but of the collective user.

Bio: Jennifer Pybus is Senior Lecturer in the London College of Communication at University of the Arts London.T

Visual Cultures of Big Data

The recent rise in social media platforms and apps focused on image sharing highlights a series of important issues in terms of the politics of big data. How do we deal with this recent explosion in image data? Images don’t lend themselves easily to computational techniques, which are unable to get at their meaning in any significant way. This presentation will highlight work from the Visual Social Media Lab, which works towards developing methodological and theoretical strategies for the capture and interpretation of social media image data at different scales. This work also draws attention to the need to consider wider cultures of visibility. For example: how do we get to see these images in our feeds and streams at all? Do we see them as images? This presentation therefore also highlights the need to interrogate these new regimes of algorithmic visibility, including questions around accountability.

Bio: Farida Vis is a Faculty Research Fellow in the Information School, at the University of Sheffield. She is the Director of the Visual Social Media Lab.

2) Hacking Mobile Ecosystem for Data: 15 May 2015 : 10:00-4:00pm

This is a hands-on event to gain a more practical understanding of the kinds of data mobile phone apps capture. Led by the well-known researcher Darren Martyn, whose background lies in penetration testing, reverse engineering and vulnerability discovery and exploitation. Participants will be given pre-rooted Android phones and will learn how to use app-reversal tools (like dex2jar; WireShark, etc.) and decompile apps. We will then see what kind of data an app asks for, whose analytics services it uses, and examine the traffic. Please bring your laptops, no hacking experience is required! This event welcomes participants of all levels of technological expertise.

To register click here!

3) Born-digital data in the Arts and Humanities: 21 May 2pm; King’s College London S-3.18

Jane Winters

This event will critically investigate whether big born-digital information is the ‘Gold Rush of the Information Age’ (Marshall)for the humanities and what kind of advanced digital methods we need to develop in order to follow this excitement. The humanities have yet to see any systematic investigation of how born-digital information could be used for their research interest in the future. The event will bring together a number of key people who have started to work on born-digital information and how it can be used in the humanities. We will develop a plan on how to take this research forward in the next few years.

Bio: Jane Winters is a Professor of Digital History at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. Currently, she is Principal Investigator of the Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities project; Co-Director of Digging into Linked Parliamentary Metadata; Co-Investigator of Traces through Time: Prosopography in Practice across Big Data; and Publishing Editor of the Bibliography of British and Irish History. She is also Executive Editor of the IHR’s journal, Historical Research and Associate Editor of Frontiers in Digital Humanities: Digital History.

4) Rethinking Data Privacy: 1 June 2015, 3pm-5pm 

Helen Nissenbaum


Event Abstract: Elements of Contextual Integrity as Guideposts for Privacy Research

According to the theory of contextual integrity, disruptions in the flow of personal information (often stemming from deployment of computational systems and digital media) are experienced as privacy threats not merely when they expose personal information or threaten our control over it but when they result in inappropriate flows. Appropriateness of flow is modeled by the construct of context-specific informational norms, which prescribe informational flows according to the parties involved (subjects, senders, recipients), the types of information, and constraints on flow between parties. Empirical studies promise a more nuanced, less ambiguous account of attitudes and behaviors relevant to privacy when taking account of these additional dimensions of analysis.

Helen Nissenbaum, Professor, Media, Culture, and Communication, NYU.

Register here!

5) Playing with Data in the Ubiquitous Commons

Salvatore Iaconesi  and Oriana Persico: 3 June 2015 – 10:00-18:00

King’s College London (Strand)

Playing with Data in the Ubiquitous Commons is a  day-long performative workshop using Human Ecosystems–a series of technologies are combined to harvest and analyse public data. We will explore our collective data to gain insight on the flows of communication, information, knowledge exchange, and of the patterns for emotional contagion. Together participants will use techniques such as Natural Language Analysis, Geo-referencing, Machine Learning, Network Analysis, and various Computational Sociology techniques to gather information about the communities in the city, including the places, locations, times, topics, emotions, opinions which they express, and the social architectures which they describe. Outputs will range from a series of research insights; interactive visualizations or installations; game concepts to be enacted with different communities; models for community engagement, and their testing through playful modalities; the description and enactment of meaningful urban rituals which promote public, inclusive collaboration and participation to city life under one or more issues.

The workshop is an interdisciplinary, critical and playful approach to our material assemblages as data-subjects; that is, our ubiquitous data and information generation, which express relations, emotions, locations, opinions, behaviours and the potential inferences therein. Participants will collectively explore the data and present insights. People of all levels of technological expertise are warmly welcome.

Salvatore Iaconesi is an interaction designer, robotics engineer, artist, hacker. TED Fellow 2012, Eisenhower Fellow since 2013 and Yale World Fellow 2014.

Oriana Persico holds a degree in Communication Sciences, is an expert in participatory policies and digital inclusion. She is an artist and writer and she currently teach Digital Design at ISIA Design Florence.

Register here!

A Bookcast with Dr. Tobias Blanke!

We are really excited to promote Dr. Tobias Blanke’s (our primary investigator) new book: Digital Asset Ecosystems: Rethinking Crowds and Clouds. The book looks to the future of digital asset management, focussing on the next generation web; includes up-to date developments in the field, crowd sourcing, and cloud service; and details case studies to demonstrate how generic requirements are met in particular cases.

For Blanke, digital asset management is undergoing a fundamental transformation. Near universal availability of high-quality web-based assets makes it important to pay attention to the new world of digital ecosystems and what it means for managing, using and publishing digital assets. The Ecosystem of Digital Assets reflects on these developments and what the emerging ‘web of things’ could mean for digital assets. The book is structured into three parts, each covering an important aspect of digital assets. Part one introduces the emerging ecosystems of digital assets. Part two examines digital asset management in a networked environment. The third part covers media ecosystems.

To find out more, watch this bookcast featured on the Big Data and Society Blog, where Blanke is interviewed by our Research Associate, Dr. Jennifer Pybus!