Stefania Milan is Professor of Critical Data Studies at the Department of Media Studies, University of Amsterdam. She is also Faculty Associate (2020-2022) at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University. University. Her work explores the interplay between digital technology and data, political participation and governance, with focus on infrastructure and agency.
Stefania leads the project “Citizenship and standard-setting in digital networks” (in-sight.it), funded by the Dutch Research Council. She is also Co-Principal Investigator in the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network “Early language development in the digital age” (e-ladda.eu). In 2015-2021 she was the Principal Investigator of DATACTIVE (data-activism.net) and of the Algorithms Exposed (ALEX) project (algorithms.exposed), both funded by the European Research Council.
Stefania holds a PhD in Political and Social Science from the European University Institute (2009). Prior to joining the University of Amsterdam, she worked at, among others, the Citizen Lab (University of Toronto), Tilburg University, and the Central European University. In 2012, she founded the Data J Lab (currently inactive). In 2017-2018, she was Associate Professor (II) of Media Innovation at the University of Oslo. In 2017, she co-founded the Big Data from the South Research Initiative, investigating the impact of datafication and surveillance on communities at the margins.
Among others, Stefania is the author of Social Movements and Their Technologies: Wiring Social Change (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013/2016), co-author of Media/Society (Sage, 2011), and co-editor of COVID-19 from the Margins. Pandemic Invisibilities, Policies and Resistance in the Datafied Society (Institute of Network Cultures, 2021).
While deeply woven into our everyday life, digital infrastructure—from network switches to public administration databases—is typically invisible to users. The process of standard-making, in particular, remains a blind spot. Standardization describes and uniforms a set of criteria, often of a technical nature, the associated practices and methods enabling the interoperability of networks and datasets. Standards thus mediate societal life, thus our ability to enact our citizenship and enjoy human rights in the digital age. Straddling computer science, sociology, law, and media studies, this project investigates standard-making in relation to democratic values and practices. It asks how the public sphere is governed today through the standardization of the digital and how to support societal values in the creation of standards. Specifically, it looks at standard-making as a sociotechnical practice, analyzing technology development and implementation, the related governance arrangements and legal aspects.
This project investigates three cases of national relevance and global breadth: the development and implementation of 5th generation (5G) cellular mobile communication; the development of cybersecurity standards for the Internet of Things, and identity management standards (e.g., DigID). In so doing, the project contributes to illuminating the “wiring” of values (or lack thereof) into technical standards, the relation and the balance of power between a variety of public (e.g., states) and private actors (e.g., the industry, consumers), informal lawmaking and multistakeholder governance mechanisms. It will result in the co-design of mechanisms for technology and governance, and in standards which are “value- and rights-respecting by design”.
Modern digital technologies are transforming rapidly the environment in which children are growing up and developing skills. This new digital reality has both changed the nature of the linguistic input provided to young children, but also affords new ways of interaction with communication agents, such as tablets and robots. The goal of e-LADDA is to establish whether the new and intuitive interactions afforded by digital tools impact on young children’s language development and language outcomes in a positive or adverse way. We further aim to identify exactly what factors in both the technology itself and the communication channel advance language learning and growth or may impede it. This goal will be pursued in e-LADDA from a highly interdisciplinary and cross-sectorial perspective, bridging between research disciplines and methodologies and in collaboration with industry and the non-academic public sector.
The ACES Digital Europe Hub aims to bring people together who (want to) work on the intersection of digitalization and sustainability within ACES and UvA and engage with policy-makers, businesses and civil society. It has the dual objective to:
1) conduct original interdisciplinary research on the case of the European politics of cloud computing and sustainable digitalization, and
2) create an interdisciplinary hub for research, exchange and outreach on Digital Europe and sustainable digitalization by ACES and UvA researchers--and beyond.
Personalization algorithms—filtering content on the basis of someone's profile—increasingly mediate the web experience of users. By forging a specific reality for each individual, they silently shape customized 'information diets': in other words, they determine which news, opinions and rumors users are exposed to. Restricting users’ possibilities, they ultimately infringe on their agency. As exposed by the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal, they are supported by questionable data sharing practices at the core of the business models of the social media industry. Yet, personalization algorithms are proprietary and thus remain inaccessible to end users. The few experiments auditing these algorithms rely on data provided by platform companies themselves. They are highly technical, hardly scalable, and fail to put social media users in the driver seat. The ALgorithms EXposed (ALEX) project aims at unmasking the functioning of personalization algorithms on social media platforms, taking Facebook as a test case. It is 'data activism' in practice, as it uses publicly available data for awareness raising and citizen empowerment. ALEX will pursue four goals: 1) software development and stabilization, building on the alpha version of facebook.tracking.exposed (fbtrex), a working prototype of a browser extension analyzing the outcomes of Facebook's News Feed algorithm; 2) the release of two spin-off products building on fbtrex, namely AudIT, enabling researchers to do expert analysis on algorithmic biases, and RealityCheck, allowing users to monitor their own social media consumption patterns; 3) the testing the technical feasibility of exporting the ALEX approach to analyze algorithmic personalization on other platforms such as Twitter and Google; 4) the design and organization of data literacy modules on algorithmic personalization, and 5) the launch of a consultancy service to promote tool take-up and the future sustainability of the project.
With the diffusion of ‘big data’, citizens become increasingly aware of the critical role of information in modern societies. This awareness gives rise to new social practices rooted in technology and data, which I term ‘data activism’. While activists see massive data collection by governments and businesses as a challenge to civil rights, big data also offer new opportunities for collective action. This research will investigate civil society’s engagement with massive data collection, addressing three research questions: How do citizens resist massive data collection by means of technical fixes (re-active data activism)? How do social movements use big data to foster social change (pro-active data activism)? How does data activism affect the dynamics of transnational civil society, and transnational advocacy networks in particular? The project will develop a multidisciplinary conceptual framework integrating social movement studies, science and technology studies and international relations. It will analyze organizational forms, action repertoires and the enabling role of software in data activism, and will identify emerging structures and strategies of transnational advocacy networks. Data will be collected via qualitative (interviews with activists, field observations, infrastructure ethnography on software platforms) and computational methods (such as data mining in online repositories). This research is groundbreaking in four ways: 1) by analyzing civil society’s engagement with massive data collection, it evaluates risks and promises of big data; 2) by addressing an uncharted but rapidly growing field of human action, it sets the basis for understanding future civic engagement; 3) by integrating adjacent disciplines that seldom interact, it magnifies their ability to understand the interplay between society, information, technology and power; 4) by developing dedicated data collection tools, it adds to methodological innovation in big-data analytics.