Payal Arora

Big data Commons and the global South


What do we know of the social impact of big data on most of the world’s population, about 60% of them below the poverty line and residing primarily in emerging economies? Big data manifests in novel and unprecedented ways in these neglected contexts. India is in the process of creating biometric identities for her 1.2 billion people; Brazil has partnered with Phorm, a British spyware company that uses big data to track all navigation activities of Brazilian users without consent; and Africa initiates social entrepreneurial sites such as Ushahidi that transforms data from different channels into real-time crisis maps to assist in humanitarian relief efforts. These endeavors span the spectrum of inspiring celebration to evoking serious concern. This talk critically assesses the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ populace as a new consumer base, inverting decades of viewing the poor in the global South as passive beneficiaries to potential co-creators of their own data. This compels us to rethink what constitutes as data identities, data democracies and whether the global South is experiencing such a thing as a data commons?

The speaker

Payal Arora is an Associate professor in the Department of Media and Communication at Erasmus University Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and a NYU Steinhardt Fellow for 2015-2016. She is the Founder of Catalyst Labs, a center that reignites relations between academia, industry and the public via innovative social media engagements. Much of her research work focuses on entertainment, play, pleasure, and sociality via new media technologies in creating critical digital cultures for social activism and change, particularly in the global South. This entails investigating digital labor, privacy, big data, and prosumerism in the context of emerging markets. She is the author of Dot Com Mantra: Social Computing in the Central Himalayas (Ashgate, 2010), The Leisure Commons: A Spatial History of Web 2.0 (Routledge, 2014; Winner of the EUR Fellowship Award), and co-author of Poor@Play: Digital Life beyond the West (forth, Harvard University Press). She is the co-editor of Crossroads in New media, Identity & Law: The Shape of Diversity to Come (Palgrave, 2015). Her paper on digitization of information won the 2010 Best Paper Award in Social Informatics by the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T). She sits on several boards including the Technology, Knowledge & Society Association, The South Asian Media, Arts & Culture Research Center in University of North Texas and The World Women Global Council in New York. She holds degrees from Harvard University (Masters in International Policy) and Columbia University (Doctorate in Language, Literacy & Technology) and a Teaching Certification from the University of Cambridge.

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