Staying free in a world of persuasive technologies

Technologies are increasingly being designed to change the way we think and behave. While there has been excitement recently about designing information environments to ‘nudge’ us into beneficial behaviours, are we giving enough attention to their implications for individual freedom and autonomy? When does a ‘nudge’ become a ‘push’? OII DPhil student James Williams is developing a set of ethical principles for the design of persuasive technologies.

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How are internal monitoring systems being used to tackle corruption in the Chinese public administration?

Digital surveillance technologies allow for monitoring of public employees to an extent previously impossible and thus hold great promise as a cure for corruption in China: Premier Wen Jiabao estimated in 2008 that for a five-year period the amount of misused government funds was around 400 billion RMB (about 40 billion GBP). Jesper Schlæger (Sichuan University) discusses the internal anti-corruption systems that have been developed by the Chinese government over the past twenty years in order to promote transparency and “governing in the sunlight.”

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Seeing like a machine: big data and the challenges of measuring Africa’s informal economies

The mobile phone has created new channels of information about African informal economies and workers. In an era where so much of the apparatus for measuring Africa’s economies has been weakened, this kind of data reaps enormous potential for governments and private companies. Dr Laura Mann (OII) discusses the implications of big (and open) data on the research environment — as Africa becomes ‘more usable’ and ‘more legible’, she asks: for whom, by whom, and for what purpose is this data being used?

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Chinese Internet users share the same values concerning free speech, privacy, and control as their Western counterparts

The OII’s Gillian Bolsover discusses the results of a survey of Internet users in more than 60 countries reported in a paper Social Foundations of the Internet in China and the New Internet World: A Cross-National Comparative Perspective co-written with William H. Dutton, Ginette Law and Soumitra Dutta. They suggest that users from China and other ‘emerging nations’ share many of the same fundamental values, such as freedom of expression and online privacy, as users from more established Internet nations.

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Is China changing the Internet, or is the Internet changing China?

The global shift in the population of Internet users from North America and Europe to ’emerging’ nations such as China, is one of the most dynamic social factors promising to shape Internet policy and practice in the coming years. Will the Internet remain free and global, or become increasingly controlled and fragmented by national boundaries? The OII’s William Dutton, co-convenor of the ICA preconference “China and the New Internet World” discusses the top-line questions that informed the discussions.

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The scramble for Africa’s data

Africa is fast becoming a source of ‘big data’, however there are big holes in the governance of the technology. The OII’s Linnet Taylor asks what can incentivise African countries’ citizens and policymakers to address privacy in parallel with (rather than after) the collection of massive amounts of personal data, how to devise privacy framework models for groups with restricted access to technology, and how such a system can be participatory enough to be relevant to the needs of particular countries and populations.

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How effective is online blocking of illegal child sexual content?

Blocking of ‘illegal’ websites and online content keeps raising questions in many countries. Karel Demeyer, Eva Lievens and Jos Dumortier discuss the inefficiencies and legal perils of website blocking in their Policy and Internet paper: Blocking and Removing Illegal Child Sexual Content: Analysis from a Technical and Legal Perspective. They find that blocking is a technically ineffective means of stopping the distribution of child pornography, and that it risks ‘mission creep’ if blocking measures are extended to sites that violate other laws, such as copyright or gambling.

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Presenting the moral imperative: effective storytelling strategies by online campaigning organisations

There has been an international growth in online campaigning organizations that engage in public policy debate and mobilize citizens. Ariadne Vromen (University of Sydney), co-author with William Coleman of the paper Online Campaigning Organizations and Storytelling Strategies: GetUp! in Australia published in Policy and Internet, analyses how these organizations promote an innovative approach to storytelling and discursive politics, and how these stories are used to help citizens and decision makers identify with an issue, build community, and act in recognition of the moral urgency for political change.

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