Data Power Conference

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Panel Session 2b): Data, Art, Media (Chair: Raul Ferrer Conill)


Artistic Appropriation as Data Power

Charlotte Webb, University of the Arts, London

The European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe initiative lists ‘copyright fit for the digital age’ as one of its key thematic strands, highlighting the need for scrutiny and revision of existing laws and practices.

This paper frames the artistic appropriation of data and its ensuing copyright implications an issue of ‘Data Power’. I explore the issue of digital copyright from the perspective of an artist accessing images and data from the Instagram API. The case study is an artwork, Selfie Portrait, which I have made as part of an art practice-led PhD 'Towards an extra-subjective agency in web-based art practice'. The work poses a question: ‘How do people who post selfies on Instagram describe themselves?’, and displays Instagram photographs tagged #selfie, along with the biographical details of the people who posted them in a browser.

As the photographs are accessed through the Instagram API, the work has raised complex copyright questions, pertaining to both the contractual law imposed by the API terms of use, as well as copyright law. This paper outlines these questions, the legal meetings I have had to discuss them and my artistic response, considering ‘data power’ as an issue of artistic agency. As well as my own work, I draw on other artworks that appropriate data, including Winnie Soon’s The Likes of Brother Cream Cat (2013), and Paolo Cirio’sYour Fingerprints on the Artwork are the Artwork Itself [YFOTAATAI] (2014).


Framing Discourse on Big Data: Online Coverage of the Big Data Revolution by British Newspapers

Eddy Borges-Rey, University of Stirling

As data organisations become increasingly effective in monetising the insights emerging from citizens' data, so does the power they hold over not only the individuals, but also over the institutions of society. Corporations such as Google and Facebook, with a core focus on quantifying the world, have coded algorithms capable of profiling and predicting people's hopes and dreams in an environment free of public or institutional scrutiny. In the past, this watchdog function was performed by news media as part of a healthy democratic society. Nonetheless, news organisations nowadays seem to be unable to monitor the contemporary institutional negotiation of data power, as it arises in a scenario only accessible to actors with a competent degree of computational cognition.

This paper explores the construction of big data in the online news coverage by mainstream media newspapers. It seeks to analyse the dominant frames used in these constructions whilst attempting to understand the ideological repercussions of such framing. Moreover, it aims to determine the media's ability to critically engage and problematize big data whilst simultaneously assessing the roles played by data organisations in contemporary society.

The findings suggest an imbalance in the rhetoric, wherein big data is predominantly framed as the epicentre of contemporary innovation and the driving force of societal progress. In doing so, news media advances a prevalent neoliberal discourse that raises fundamental questions about the agency of journalists’ in holding data organisations accountable. The research also catalogued a number of instances where the activities of data organisations were scrutinised in accordance with a more incisive line of inquiry typical of journalistic ethos, thereby facilitating the development of some comparative insights.


Locative Data and Public Sexual Cultures

Ben Light, Queensland University of Technology

Since the arrival of Grindr, around 2009, there has been increasing interest in digitally mediated public sexual cultures where men who have sex with men are concerned. A particular feature of such discourse has been the centrality of global positioning systems within such applications and how the data they generate facilitate, and shape opportunities for meeting or even just having a sense of being in the presence of other men who have sex with men. Yet digital cultures of public sex have a trajectory that can be charted back much further and the mainstreaming of such activity occurred around a decade before Grindr was released. Squirt, a desktop and mobile hook up site for men who have sex with men, was launched in 1998 and has had, at its heart since conception, the function of facilitating hooking up in public, and in private. A particular feature of Squirt is its directory of places where one might find men, or arrange to meet men, for casual sex. These places are locatively coded into the app using GPS and manual forms of geographic data entry and presentation. Such cultures of public sex are not without risk in legal terms and in relation to more general notions of personal safety. In order to navigate this problematic, yet erotic challenge, a range of knowledge’s are produced and coproduced with Squirt and its members. Drawing upon anonymised geo-locative data and discourses of Squirt’s cruising directory I will map and highlight the practical and erotic potentials of locative data.