Our Data Our Selves

Our Data Our Selves looks at the use of personal data within informal and formal political processes. The overall project explores how in a digital society, personal data becomes an asset that can be used by different stakeholders to exert control and influence over citizens and civil society. In three interlinked sub-projects, we investigate and address the mechanics, the actors and the strategies behind the mass collection and use of personal data worldwide and the political and social impact it has on our societies.

In Data and Politics, we focus on how on data is used by political stakeholders in campaigns to attain or hold political power. In Data and Activism we explore how the mass collection of personal data further impacts pressures and trends relating to the shrinking space for civil society, and in Data and You we investigate how data is collected on citizens to further entrench inequities such as marginalisation and discrimination.

Data and Activism

Data and Activism is a Tactical Technology Collective applied research project examining the impact of data collection and profiling on human rights defenders, activists and networks.

Whether a non-governmental organisation or a human rights defender, in today’s society, our data is collected, stored and analysed every step of the way. From visa applications to social media profiles, from attending a conference to meal choices on a flight, sharing a photo from a protest or simply walking past a CCTV camera – we are rendered into data which is quantified, cross referenced and compiled to form profiles about us as individuals and social graphs about us as groups.

Within the blurred lines between corporations and governments; and the elevated threats against the work of human rights defenders in many countries; these profiles take a different dimension beyond corporate interests, and can become at times, the center of the threat model. Under this project we aim to trace how this process happens, raise awareness on its different implications; and – where possible – explore protection strategies and creative responses.

Data and Politics

Continued developments in digital technologies have given rise to a new political modus operandi. Politically active groups around the globe are using tools and techniques from marketing, statistics, psychology to advance their agendas, to promote their campaigns, and to influence voters.

As these political groups amass and leverage data on the electorate, they increasingly adopt a corporate approach on data collection. This data-centric business model, which has transformed countless other domains, has become an inextricable part of modern-day politicking. We aim to explore what political entities are using what types of data, in what capacity, and ultimately what impact these changes have on the dignity of democratic processes.

Data and You

This section explores the impact of 'systems' on the individual. Data and You became a catchall phrase to discuss the (usually negative) effects of applications of automation, big data, machine learning, and natural language processing technologies on social and civic issues, rights, ethics, and politics. Our aim is to document and analyse the interaction of big data technologies with human identity and rights, and what these interactions mean for rights to freedom of speech and expression. We do this through a collection of nine essays called Seen Through Machines released serially in Autumn 2017. These essays take a variety of cases, anecdotes and cultural objects as starting points - language processing algorithms, fintech, sexuality identity categories, anti-rape technologies, malware, etc -and through them explicitly address the interaction of big data technologies with gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and class. The collection describes processes of quantification, categorisation, and pattern recognition and their implications for people and institutions that work for human rights, freedoms and dignity. In addition to data and discrimination, it also introduces a third D, design, of digital interfaces and apps and the contexts in which they are designed. This section examines systems and user design in the context of digital security and privacy to inspire informed and politicised discussions about accountability in design processes.

Tactical Technology Collective

Our Data Our Selves is a Tactical Tech project. To learn more about the organisation, please visit us at www.tacticaltech.org.

Project Funders

This project is supported by grants from the Open Society Foundation, SIDA, AJWS and the Omidyar Network.