Data Power Conference

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Panel Session 3b): Data Labour (Chair: Andrew McStay)


Report From the Factory Floor: Big Data, Audience Labour and Perceptions of Media Use

Goran Bolin, Sodertorn University

The algorithmic surveillance technologies of data-base marketing affect increasingly larger areas of contemporary media use. Through personal media such as smartphones and tablets, individuals in the affluent West (and increasingly elsewhere) produce a massive amount of data that is the raw material base for data mining and ultimately the construction of the media user commodity. This data production extends temporally (around the clock) as well as spatially (through geo-local functions), and incorporates increasingly more of our life-worlds into the productions-consumptions circuits of the media and culture industries. Thus media users become involved in productive consumption, producing social, aesthetic and cultural value – which then becomes expropriated by the media industries and transformed into economic value. In recent research, this role of media users in the production-consumption circuit has been theorized as e.g. free labour, exploitation, control and surveillance.

Although this discussion has been intense, the consumption side in the circuit has been less empirically studied. This paper reports from a qualitative interview study of media users and their appreciation of their activities; their contributions to the productions-consumption circuit, and how it feels to be part of the large-scale machinery that is the media and culture industries. Based in a series of focus group interviews, this paper discusses how media users relate to the fact of being under constant surveillance – all the time and everywhere.


Reputation Cultures and Data Production: A Critical Approach to Online Reputation Systems

Alessandro Gandini, Middlesex University, London and Alessandro Caliandro, University of Milan

The rise of ‘collaborative’ socio-economic contexts based on ‘sharing’ is deeply interlinked to data production over the Internet and especially the role played by ‘rankings’, ‘ratings’ and Online Reputation Systems across online environments as aggregations of big amounts of data produced by users. Especially in contexts of commons-based peer production contexts such as crowdfunding or car sharing, but also across ‘online labour markets’ such as Elance, this data production and aggregation affects the kind of social interaction at stake, the cultures of value and the role subjectivity has in the relationship between value production and labour surplus. This is mostly due to the fact that reputation and ranking systems in these contexts are the sources used to develop trust among users and effectively enable ‘reputation cultures’ that sustain this notion of trust.

These dynamics open up new theoretical questions and methodological challenges. This contribution is concerned to discuss these issues in broad extent, as they emerged from the work conducted by the Centre for Digital Ethnography (University of Milan) in the context of the EU-FP7 ongoing project “P2Pvalue” which studies commons-based peer production and value cultures.

  • What cultures of value do reputation metrics enable?
  • Is it possible to imagine an unbiased ‘reputation standard’ (currently somewhat utopian) as a value metric?
  • What is the role of trust in these ‘reputation economies’ if compared to ‘traditional’ economies?
  • How does such data production affect value, surplus and ultimately the (more or less ‘free’) labour produced by users in these socio-economic contexts?
  • How should we relate to these complex environments as ‘digital sociologists’ and social researchers?


(H)Ello Alternatives? Terms of Service, Datafication, and Digital Labor

Kenneth Werbin, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Ian Reilly, Concordia University

Where studies have shown that users would prefer to not be the subjects of data collection/aggregation[1], and the targets of directed/behavioral advertising/marketing[2], users continue to participate in the ‘digital enclosures’[3] of corporate social media. On platforms like Facebook, users are alienated from the end products of commodification (themselves), as well from control over the operations of the platform[4]. As such, the ‘digital labor’[5] of users in terms of the content and data they generate, and the processes of commodification and surveillance that seek to connect them with advertisers/marketers[6] can be contextualized as alienating and exploitative. Conversely, as corporate social media has shored up its hegemonic status, a series of other platforms have emerged as seemingly viable alternatives. But where platforms such as Ello and Diaspora would seem to offer users more equitable arrangements, uptake of these services has remained minimal. Moreover, a close reading of the terms of service (TOS) of Ello demonstrates that it is reserving the same kind of rights to user data and to unilaterally modify policies that were the keys to the success of corporations like Facebook. This research probes the TOS of so-called ‘alternative’ platforms, comparing and contrasting their policies with corporate social media platforms in order to clarify what constitutes ‘alternatives’. Central to this analysis are policies regarding the uptake of user data and rights associated with modifying TOS. Indeed, it is not merely the policies that mediate participation that must be considered, but also the infrastructure (server-based versus pod-based) that governs the operations of platforms. As such, this paper argues that a definition what constitutes alternative social media must include a structural assessment of the architecture of platforms, a consideration of digital labor, and a close examination of the policies that mediate participation.

[1] Turow, Joseph, Mulligan, Deidre K., and Hoofnagle, Chris J. (2007). “Research Report: Consumers fundamentally misunderstand the online advertising marketplace.” University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School for Communication and UC Berkeley Law Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic; October.

Turow, J., King, J., Hoofnagle, C.J., Bleakley, A. & M. Hennesy (2010). “Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities that Enable It”. Social Science Research Network, at

[2] Couldry, N. & J. Turow (2014). “Advertising, Big Data, and the Clearance of the Public Realm: Marketers’ New Approaches to the Content Subsidy”. International Journal of Communication 8, 1710-1726.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (2012). “Policy Position on Online Behavioural Advertising” (June), at

Peters, C. (2014). “The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth”. New Media & Society, 16(6), 1034-1036.

Roderick, L. (2014). “Discipline and Power in the Digital Age: The Case of the US Consumer Data Broker Industry”. Critical Sociology. (6 January).

Turow, J., King, J., Hoofnagle, C.J., Bleakley, A. & M. Hennesy (2010). “Americans Reject Tailored Advertising and Three Activities that Enable It”. Social Science Research Network, at

Turow, J., & N. Draper (2014). “Industry Conceptions of Audience in the Digital Space: A Research Agenda”. Cultural Studies, 28(4), 643-656.

[3] Andrejevic, M. (2009). “Surveillance in the Digital Enclosure”. In S. Magnet and K. Gates (eds). The New Media of Surveillance. London and New York, Routledge: pp.18-40.

[4] Andrejevic, M. (2013). “Estranged Free Labor”. In Scholz, T. (Ed.) Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York, USA: Routledge: pp. 149-164.

[5] Scholz, T. (2013). Digital Labor: The Internet as Playground and Factory. New York, USA: Routledge.

[6] Mosco, V. (2009). The Political Economy of Communication (2nd edition). Thousands Oaks, CA: Sage.


Data Mirroring: Anonymous Videos, Political Mimesis, and the Praxis of Conflict

Adam Fish, Lancaster University

Information activists like Wikileaks and the Pirate Bay, and information corporations such as Google and Microsoft each “mirror” files and databases. Mirroring or the duplicating and re-distribution of data is central to the operations of cloud computing, file-sharing, and emergent forms of political action. First, this presentation describes how Anonymous--made famous by hacks, leaks, and performative politics—secures visibility for their political videos by mirroring them across YouTube. Second, as political mimesis, the content made visible by mirrors solicits viewers to model themselves after politically active bodies. Third, while mirrors represent politicized bodies they cannot be reduced to mere representations. Drawing from poststructuralism and cultural anthropology, I argue that mirrors do not reveal origins but rather locate a praxis of conflict. Video activists and information corporations are mutually dependent. Video activists need for-profit video platforms to broadcast content. The user-generated content produced by video activists and others constitutes surplus capital for information corporations. The frictions of mirroring expose the paradoxical entanglements of information activists and information firms. I support these claims with evidence from interviews with Anonymous video producers as well as textual analysis of Anonymous videos and mirrors.