Data Biographies, Contexts and Persons: Search Keywords as Windows to the Soul

INVITATION TO CSISP SEMINAR (FYI):
Please join us for presentations by Ana Gross (University of Warwick) and Lonneke van der Velden (University of Amsterdam; CSISP Visiting Fellow) about their on-going research on online devices for the collection of personal data, the enactment of persons by digital means, and their politics.
Date:  April 24, 2013, 16:00
Location:  Goldsmiths, Warmington Tower 1204

Data Biographies, Contexts and Persons: Search Keywords as Windows to the Soul

Ana Gross (Warwick University)

What happens to biographies and persons when the range and type of data that becomes ‘personal’ proliferates at a much higher rate than before?  What happens to biography and persons when inscriptions that today count as persons or personality where inexistent or invisible before the emergence of a new range of devices, genres and formats for the observation and documentation of human agency (either purposefully designed or not for such enterprise)? In the following seminar I look at search engines and search keywords as (newly emerging) assemblages for classifying and doing persons and biographies. In doing so, I depart from the notion that there were no necessary, natural, a priori connections between the practices of searches, persons and their biographies as a specific form of representation; but that searching, or the act of retrieving information through search queries is becoming personalised in multiple ways.

The Third Party Diary

Lonneke van der Velden (University of Amsterdam)

There exist many tools that are designed to protect ‘privacy online’. Ad blockers, cookie protectors and tracker detectors all contribute to a safer browsing experience. But they can do more than offer protection for the individual user. In this presentation I will discuss how such a browsing tool, Ghostery, actively contributes to a particular understanding of contemporary consumer surveillance.

Ghostery is a browser plugin which operates as a ‘web detective’: it detects invisible techniques that collect (personal) data on websites and it gives the user an alert of their presence by a small visualisation in the browser. Ghostery also has its own method of classifying and ranking these invisible techniques as ‘third party elements’. Building upon work by the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI), which specialises in repurposing web devices for research, I have explored one of these tools. The ‘Tracker Tracker’ mobilises Ghostery’s capacities for the study of third party elements on specific sets of urls. I used the Tracker Tracker to collect third party elements of 1100 governmental websites in an online diary for several months. Taking into account methodological reflections on the role of (online) devices, I will discuss my case study, method, format and findings, with attention to the network of relations in which the tool is embedded.

Ana Gross is a PhD student at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies in Warwick University. Her PhD thesis broadly explores different data forms and their qualities (personal data, provisional data, perturbed data, anonymised data) and looks at understanding how entities (people, things) are inscribed in data but also how data affects the entities it inscribes.

Lonneke van der Velden is a PhD-researcher at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA) and the Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) in The Netherlands. Her work focuses on interventions that make surveillance mechanisms tangible and on how such transparency devices play a role in public engagement. She also looks at the significance of these devices for digital research.

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