Launch event of a new research cluster: Cybersecurity, Design and Human Behaviour

We are pleased to invite you to the launch of the new interdisciplinary research cluster as part of the Digital Organisation and Society research centre at Royal Holloway, University of London. Dr. Nisreen Ameen and Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia will be co-leading this new cluster, which seeks to link researchers across departments and schools. It will cover topics such as technology design and human interaction, security and privacy in the digital society, design narratives and narratives of security, user experience and advanced digital technologies, and accountability and ethics in the digital experience.

Programme

2pm Welcome by Dr. Nisreen Ameen, Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia and Prof. Gillian Symon

2.15pm Keynote by Prof. Jason Bennett Thatcher‬

Protecting a whale in a sea of fish: cybersecurity and top executives

2.45pm Keynote by Prof. Ivan Visconti

Blockchain Technology and Decentralized Contact Tracing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

3:15pm-3:30pm Discussion and celebrations

Keynote Speakers

Professor Jason Bennett Thatcher

Professor Thatcher holds the Milton F. Stauffer Professorship in the Department of Management Information Systems at the Fox School of Business of Temple University. He also holds faculty appointments at the Technical University of Munich and the Information Technology University-Copenhagen. Jason studies individual decision-making, strategic alignment, and workforce issues as they relate to the effective and secure application of information technologies in organizations. His more recent projects direct attention to cybersecurity and social media. Jason’s work appears in journals such as MIS Quarterly, Information Systems Research, Journal of Applied Psychology, and other outlets. Jason has published (or forthcoming) 20 papers in Financial Times 50 listed journals (about once a year) since earning his PhD and 10 in MISQ, placing him in the top 35 or so active researchers in the Information Systems discipline

Professor Ivan Visconti

Ivan Visconti is a full professor of Computer Science in the Computer and Electrical Engineering and Applied Mathematics Department of the University of Salerno. His research interests focus mainly on designing provably secure and private cryptographic protocols and securing blockchains and their applications. He is the scientific coordinator at the University of Salerno for the H2020 European project “PRIViLEDGE” (Privacy-Enhancing Cryptography in Distributed Ledgers). Very recently, motivated by the Covid-19 pandemic, he has shown how to use blockchain technology both to secure and to attack digital contact tracing systems. Currently he is serving as Senior Area Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security journal. Several of his results have been published in the most competitive conferences in cryptography and theoretical computer science (i.e., STOC, FOCS, CRYPTO, EUROCRYPT, TCC).

Gig-work and spatiotemporal (in)justice: Auto-ethnographic study of food delivery platforms

Shyam Krishna| PhD Candidate| School of Business and Management at Royal Holloway, University of London.

In recent months amidst the uncertainty of COVID-19, food delivery workers in India have faced a tightening of their working conditions. The main contention voiced by the workers in strikes and protests is that digital platforms have lowered effective wages by changing the payment structure and its underlying algorithmic calculations. My research seeks to understand the uncertainties in how wages and other work conditions are affected by algorithms. As part of a research project (Investigators: Dr. Yingqin Zheng / Shyam Krishna ) I queried such algorithmic ‘social justice’ implications of digital platforms. Set in the south Indian city of Chennai, I conducted several  interviews with food delivery workers (called ‘riders’) and engaged in the work myself in a form of auto-ethnography. I created as many opportunities as possible to observe first-hand the algorithmic control of work, the customers, the digital platforms, and its processes, and also the restaurants using these platforms. I worked on two different food-delivery platforms.  I found that a steep learning curve faced me which entailed learning to navigate the digital platform, gaining local knowledge of the city and even knowing the local cuisine.

Working as a rider over a period of five weeks just as the COVID19 crises was blooming globally and in continuing engagement with other riders during the pandemic I gained some useful insights into the ‘gig-work’ practices with some being specific to the Indian context.  Mirroring recent work on ‘spatiotemporalities’, the main contestation as found in my research is between workers and the platform in how their ‘space’ and ‘time’ are algorithmically controlled and manipulated.

An aspect of spatiotemporal negotiation emanated from the first order I delivered. The order was assigned to me with a rather resounding buzz on my phone

A ‘New order’ of food delivery : Loud alarm and vibrating buzz alert on workers phone.

All platforms use haptic feedback and a loud alarm on the smartphones designed to grab attention and ultimately control rider behaviour to attend to orders quickly. I had about 30 to 60 seconds to accept the orders assigned to me without clear information of the distance to be driven or the address for delivery. The only information I saw on screen was the estimated time taken to reach the restaurant. Features such as alarms and partial information shown are ostensibly designed to add pressure and even panic at many points during the food delivery work process. These temporal pressures play out during riding on the road which itself posed significant challenges specific to an Indian urban context. The risks on road due to traffic were compounded by near constant exposure to air pollution or difficult weather conditions during the hot and humid days in Chennai. Such risks are transferred from the customer to the rider as is inherent to the gig-work practice and become a common expectation of work conditions that workers navigate.

Risk on road during gig-work: Food delivery workers crossing a road in Chennai .

I barely juggled such vagaries of working alongside the technical issues I faced – such as using mapping services as location-based-services were often imprecise. Extra but unpaid effort was required to sort out the erroneous approximations automatically generated by the digital platform or manual errors made by customers in marking locations on a map. Moreover, it was repeatedly reinforced in training that the closest rider to a restaurant (in theory at least) is assigned the next order. So, there was a quite a lot of effort in figuring out the correct and the most optimised location. Luckily – or as is probably the way in which many new riders learn this – I was helped along by other experienced riders. Some of these riders even took the time to escort me to specific places and gave me tips on the time of the day to arrive there.

Moreover, algorithmically defined but imperfect estimates of waiting times or delivery times were a constant issue faced by workers and are referenced by the restaurants and the customers even when we met face to face. Power and information are privileged to customer and restaurants, the platforms use the riders in their subordinated position to negotiate difficult physical conditions arising within the digitised food delivery process. This happens under the close control and manipulation of workers’ space and time even when such extra efforts are unpaid and unaccounted for in how wages are determined.

The findings from this research suggest that riders face unfair conditions and intensive control of work broadly brought about by time-controlled and location-driven algorithmic elements.  There are clearly intimate and individual spatiotemporal machinations within gig-work under the mostly opaque nature of platforms and algorithms. These have been conceptualised as ‘spatiotemporal (in)justice’  to probe the aspects of (un)fairness and (in)equity faced by gig-workers.  Centring on spatiotemporal justice then would help establish what ‘fair’ pay and practices, standards, and metrics for food delivery gig-workers might look like – which forms the basis of the ongoing collective efforts within India and beyond. The research project itself has resulted in a report on unfair practices in food-delivery work shared with riders, labour leaders and community organisations in Chennai, to assist in ongoing efforts. A further academic paper is forthcoming in the IFIPJWC 2020 conference proceedings.


Why Amazon Reviewers Review (and How to Deal with Fake Reviews)

Dr Philip Wu | Senior LecturerDepartment of Digital Innovation and Management at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Online reviews have become an important phenomenon in this so-called reputation economy. Headlines such as “online reviews impact purchasing decisions for over 93% of consumers” seem exaggerated but not entirely surprising. On the surface, online reviews are simply after-sales opinions shared online by average consumers; yet, a close look would reveal that it’s a complex phenomenon influencing, and being influenced by, commercial activities. Most research about online reviews, including two of my own (1 & 2), focused on the value (e.g., “helpfulness”) and impact (e.g., sales) of the reviews, whereas the people who contributed those reviews have largely been overlooked. After all, who are these reviewers and why are they writing product reviews?

These are important questions not only for social scientists who are interested in studying the reviewing behaviour, but also for today’s e-commerce platforms where fake reviews are rampaging. Thus, in a more recent paper, I turned my attention to reviewers on Amazon to explore how a mix of, and the interaction between, different types of motivation shape the reviewers’ behaviours. The theoretical foundation of the work was the theory of motivation crowding, which posits that the motivational interaction in performing a task can result in motivation moving toward the extrinsic side (crowding-out) or the intrinsic side (crowding-in).

I conducted in-depth interviews with 27 reviewers on Amazon.co.uk, including four Top 10 reviewers at the time and six reviewers in the “Hall of Fame”, plus a six-month observation of the Amazon reviewer forums (in writing this blog post, I discovered that these forums have now disappeared! I think I know why.). I use the interviewees’ own words to explain the four dominant motives for writing product reviews on Amazon:

  • enjoyment (intrinsic) – “I enjoy reviewing”
  • material reward (extrinsic) – “I write reviews so I can get freebies”
  • reputation/recognition (extrinsic) – “I need some kind of recognition”
  • direct reciprocity (extrinsic) – “You got the obligation coz you agreed to review”

More interestingly, there is a crowding-in effect where reputation (commensurated as reviewer league table ranking) reinforces the enjoyment of reviewing, and a crowding-out effect where the obligation of reciprocating material reward undermines the enjoyment.  I also found that the reviewers’ motivation mix could evolve as their rankings change. Many prolific reviewers started reviewing with an intrinsic motivation of “fun” or enjoyment. As the reviewing activity is being rewarded by status recognition and unsolicited freebies, extrinsic elements become more prominent in the motivation mix. After a while, however, the reviewers begin to feel a loss of self-determination due to external influences and decide to “take a step back” from pursuing extrinsic rewards, which result in intrinsic interest taking centre stage again.

The motivation crowding effects and the evolution of motivation mix have important implications for e-commerce platforms like Amazon.  For example, for novice reviewers, positive feedback (in the form of “helpful” votes) can create a powerful “recognition-enjoyment” crowding-in effect. Hence, the platforms need proper presentation and sorting mechanisms to ensure visibility of new reviewer’s contribution so as to curb the detrimental Matthew effect.

The study also raises questions about e-commerce platforms’ strategies in dealing with “fake reviews”. Some claim that they have solved the problem through automated fake review detecting (e.g., Fakespot). Fake reviews are generally understood as reviews written by people who did not actually purchase the product or service. However, as review writing is driven by a whole range of interacting motives, we need to have a more nuanced view of what fake reviews really are. Many of the prolific reviewers I interviewed had accepted “freebies” but also produced honest and high-quality reviews.

Perhaps one way to combat fake reviews is through some sort of grassroots review moderation.  I was fascinated when a seasoned reviewer told me that he acted like a “warrior” to fight against fake reviews and he knew which reviews were fake at first glance. He would vote the fake review “unhelpful”, report it to Amazon, or even write a review pointing out why the other review was fake. These “warriors” seem motivated either by a commitment to the platform or a moral duty of “making things right.” Leveraging the motivation of this small group of individuals, coupled with an automated detection system, could be the key to solving the fake review problem.

Dr Philip Wu is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Digital Innovation and Management at Royal Holloway. His research lies at the intersection of social psychology, technology design, and information management.

Online Research Seminar

8th July, Joint event DOS and College of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA), China

Speakers: Prof Lianlian Song, Dr Zhitao Xu , Dr Weishan He

Organisers: Dr Ling Xiao and Prof Hari Harindranath

Bringing together lectures and researchers from RHUL and NUAA to discuss topics of mutual interest including multiple media marketing, smart logistics and remote teaching.  This is the beginning of a  process of developing a research and teaching relationship with NUAA, with whom SBM has now agreed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).  

COVID-19 driven digital transformation in retail business

Xiangming Tao|PhD Student (4th Year)| Royal Holloway School of Business and Management

The virtues of digital transformation have been promoted by the popular business press and academic articles, particularly in the pursuit of strategic renewal (Warner and Wäger, 2019). The massive scale of Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown policy have further demonstrated the significance of digital transformation for organisations to rapidly respond to the disruptive world and remain sustainable (Agostino, Arnaboldi, & Lema, 2020). Two recent surveys of 153 CXOs in China conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC) have highlighted the value of digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Organisations are thus encouraged to turn the crisis into an opportunity to accelerate the transformation (IDC, 2020).

The Covid-19 pandemic has widely challenged business models. This is especially true for retail businesses, which are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 disruptions (Bartik et al., 2020). Many businesses have to make hard decisions on whether to close their physical stores and whether to digitally innovate even further. For instance, established in 1993, the renowned British fashion and furnishing label Cath Kidson, has permanently closed all its UK stores and becomes an online-only retailer. As Melinda Paraie, the CEO of Cath Kidson, said: “Despite our very best efforts, against the backdrop of Covid-19, we were unable to secure a solvent sale of the business which would have allowed us to avoid administration and carry on trading in our current form” (Butler, 2020). Although undergoing a massive transformation may be the only way for survival, some retail businesses have taken the pandemic as an opportunity to drive their digital transformation, for example:

  • Doing more online. John Lewis and its sister company Waitrose are rebalancing their platforms towards more online shopping and interactive content. For example, John Lewis is exploring digital services such as wellbeing, craft and cookery services during the pandemic (Coker, 2020). Waitrose has provided a dedicated advice section on its website, such as recipes and advice for self-isolating consumers.
  • Data analytics-driven approach. During the Covid-19 outbreak, the Canadian healthy-lifestyle brand Viva Naturals saw a surging interest in wellness and health supplements based on the analytics services provided by Alibaba’s B2C e-commerce platform Tmall (Wang, 2020). Through embedding analysis, data, and reasoning into the decision-making process, this brand has launched content-marketing campaigns such as blog posts and sales initiatives to meet consumer demand.
  • Livestreaming sales. To ease the adverse effects of coronavirus, China’s leading department-store chain Intime primarily adopted livestreaming as a way to promote products and attract new consumers. Since the pandemic, the organization has claimed that more than 5000 sales associates from Intime’s physical stores have used livestreaming on Taobao Live from morning to midnight with an average of 200 livestreaming sessions a day (Li, 2020).
Intime’s sales associates livestream at work.

Adopting digital methods or not is no longer a question for the retail sector but a necessity (Hagberg, Sundström, & Nicklas, 2016), especially given the Covid-19 pandemic. For the incumbent retail businesses, digital technologies will fundamentally transform their business models. For the digitally agile retail businesses, small adaptations or increased efforts have been enhanced to accelerate the transforming process. Although the challenge varies across businesses, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be the catalyst that has pushed this transformation over the finish line.

Reference:

Agostino, D., Arnaboldi, M., & Lema, M. D. (2020). New development: COVID-19 as an accelerator of digital transformation in public service delivery. Public Money & Management, https://doi.org/10.1080/09540962.2020.1764206.

Bartik, A. W., Bertrand, M., Cullen, Z. B., Glaeser, E. L., Luca, M., & Stanton, C. T. (2020). How are small businesses adjusting to covid-19? early evidence from a survey (No. w26989). National Bureau of Economic Research, https://doi.org/10.3386/w26989.

Butler, S. (2020). Cath Kidston to close all 60 UK stores with loss of 900 jobs. Retrieved from The Guardian.com at https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/21/cath-kidston-to-close-all-60-uk-stores-with-loss-of-900-jobs.

Coker, J. (2020). Covid-19: John Lewis explores digital services to tackle loneliness during self isolation. Retrieved from Essential Retail at https://www.essentialretail.com/news/john-lewis-coronavirus-vulnerable-1/.

International Data Corporation. (2020). CXO surveys: IT and digital transformation show growing value as the covid-19 epidemic taks its toll. Retrieved from https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prCHE46116820.

Hagberg, J., Sundström, M., & Nicklas, E. Z. (2016). The digitalization of retailing: an exploratory framework. International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, 44(7), 694-712.

Li, C. (2020). How Chineses department-store chain intime survived Covid-19, online and offline. Retrieved from https://www.alizila.com/chinese-department-store-intime-covid-19/.

Wang., J. (2020). How brands have embraced digital transformation during covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.alizila.com/how-brands-have-embraced-digital-transformation-during-covid-19/.

Warner, K. S., & Wäger, M. (2019). Building dynamic capabilities for digital transformation: An ongoing process of strategic renewal. Long Range Planning, 52(3), 326-349.

Photo credit: Cecilia Li on alizila.com

Notes on Digital Activism

Dr Vera Hoelscher|Lecturer in Marketing| Royal Holloway School of Business and Management

On 19 February 2020, the DOS Research Centre organised a half-day event on Digital Activism. The purpose of the day was to learn about the nature and impact of digitally enabled and enhanced mobilisation for political, economic and social change, and how research and practice can learn from and support each other in this process.  The event brought together artists, academics and practitioners who gave short talks on pertinent issues.  Below we pick out the main themes emerging from the day.

The Requirement to Combine Digital and Physical Activism

We heard first from Janet Gunter who is co-founder of the Restart Project.   The Restart Project aims to help people in repairing their electronic devices as a correction to our throwaway culture and campaigns for legislation to force businesses to produce longer lasting tech.  Janet explained how the Restart Project built its own on-line network of activists which has proven very effective for coalition building, as an organising tool for activist events and for interaction with the public. However greater visibility can have its problems and can create passive involvement so Janet argued a combination of on-line and off-line interaction is required.  Similarly, Vera Hoelscher, lecturer in Marketing at Royal Holloway, discussed her research with digital activist networks in London which noted that entirely online activism leads to a craving for physical action while entirely physical activism can be constraining and claustrophobic, therefore arguing for the qualitatively-distinct benefits of communicating in both physical and digital spaces for activist organizations.   

Innovative Ways of Giving Voice to the Invisible or Under-Represented

Kui Kihoro Mackay, PhD student in Politics at Royal Holloway, shared her experiences of #blacktwitterverse and #BlackJoy as spaces of radical resistance within the Twittersphere, demonstrating the potential for groups to appropriate the digital to counter oppression in their own terms.  Matthias Kispert, musician, artist and PhD student at the University of Westminster, demonstrated how he has used the accessibility of digital platforms to enable voice for casualised labour.  Matthias has co-produced videos with platform workers, and a number of other provocative art works that draw attention to workers’ labour conditions, demonstrating the power of the visual to bring home the activist message.  In a similar vein, Robbie Warrin discussed enabling creative ways for gigworkers to share their experiences and comment on their own lives.  Robbie and his colleagues are founders of the Invisible Worker Zine, which regularly asks for contributions from gig-economy workers that represent in narrative, poetical or visual form the everyday struggles of this fast-growing mode of working.   

Building Digital Picket Lines

This group of speakers sought to illustrate the role of the digital in supporting political action.  Torsten Geelan of the University of Leicester presented his research on the role of social media in the UCU pension debate in late 2019 (and still ongoing).  Drawing on their study which utilised data mining, Torsten argued that social media enabled mobilisation through “personalised collective action frames”, combining personal issues with collective action.  Relatedly, James Sloam, lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway and author of Youthquake , discussed the distinctive features of online youth movements which work through authenticity rather than the bureaucratic control of traditional political parties.  Our final contributor, Mikko Laamanen, lecturer in Marketing at Royal Holloway, discussed the “F*ck off Google” (FOG) protest and its role in deterring the data giant from re-purposing an existing building in Kreuzberg, Germany, through online resistance, ‘noise events’ and local café-based actions.  On the basis of their investigations, Mikko and colleagues argue for a ‘cosmopolitan localism’ of activist movements, that is, a global networked sharing of knowledge and resources between place-based communities.

Overall, the day drew attention to the myriad approaches and concerns of digital activism, illustrating the many ways in which the digital can both enable activism and be a constraining factor.  An important discussion point that emerged from the day was how academics can best work with community activists, in particular through allowing their research to be guided by the needs of activist groups rather than seeking to impose their own research agendas.  Consequently, the DOS Research Centre will be organising further events that bring together practitioners, academics and members of the public to work on ways in which researchers can best support important social change in the digital sphere.


“Virtual PhD Conference”

5th May, 2020 DOS Conference

Organisers: Dr Nejmeh Hafezieh, Sarah Salahuddin, Shyam Krishna

An opportunity for PhD students to present a key aspect of their research to other students and academic staff and gain valuable feedback on their work.  Above all, during these unprecedented times, allows more active engagement with others in the PhD community at Royal Holloway for  community support.  Also an opportunity to learn new ways of engaging and using technologies that may soon become the new norm.  Mix of poster and seminar presentations from PhD students across all years of the PhD programme, feedback from diverse academic audience and a general question and answer session.

Leading Effectively Online


Niki Panteli
Professor of Digital Business|Royal Holloway University of London

In the current unprecedented times caused by the Covid-19 outbreak where many of us have been forced to stay at home and work virtually, the role of the organisational leader is critical.  In this new context, leaders willingly or not need to become e-leaders and are expected to enact this role effectively in a technology-mediated setting. Clear direction, constructive feedback as well as encouragement and empathetic and motivating language help the home-bounded, now virtual employees to become more engaged and to increase their work commitment despite the distance that separates them from their colleagues.

Drawing on earlier research, I present below key factors that can support e-leaders in enacting their new role:  

Task-ICT fit 

Work-related use of information communication technologies (ICTs) should be selective; this should be based on the type of communication needed and task requirements. On the one hand, synchronous ‘live’ communication tools can be used when immediate information sharing and feedback are required. Such tools are also most appropriate for conflict resolution. On the other hand, the use of asynchronous technologies may be used for documenting and recording agreements and providing brief, simple updates to work progress.

ICT use 

Though ideally synchronous, real time communications should be used due to their potentials for face to face, enhanced interactivity and immediate feedback, it is also important to recognise that is possible to develop and maintain employee engagement in the virtual context with simple communication means such as email (Panteli et al, 2019).  That is, despite its text based and asynchronous nature, email may become an effective means through which employees are informed, updated and motivated. Thus, it is not the type of medium, but rather, how this is used that matters for effective online collaborations.

Social Interactions

Virtual teams that work well are found to include a social and fun element in their interactions and this helps in creating a stronger bond and identity (Panteli and Tucker, 2009). E-leaders have a responsibility to promote social interactions in order to reduce  isolation and improve interpersonal relations among virtual team members.

Set boundaries & work flexibly

In the virtual work setting, boundaries between work and other commitments are clearly blurred. However this does not mean that employees should be available 24 hours for work matters. Virtual working gives the opportunity to employees to work flexibly and to fit work around family responsibilities. In the current situation with the whole family unit being in lockdown, flexible working should not only be allowed but encouraged. The e-leader plays a key role in cultivating a culture where boundaries between work and family boundaries are respected with employees being allowed to work flexibly and as their family situation requires.

The blog has drawn research that was presented in the following publications:

Panteli, N., Yalabik, Z and Rapti, A. (2019), Fostering Work Engagement in Geographically-Dispersed and Asynchronous Virtual Teams, Information Technology & People, 32(1), 2-17.

Panteli, N. and Tucker, R., (2009), “Power and Trust in Global Virtual Teams”, Communications of the  ACM, December , 52, 12 doi: 10.1145/1610252.1610282

About author: Dr Niki Panteli is Professor of Digital Business at Royal Holloway University of London.. She has conducted extensive research on the dynamics of geographically distributed, technology-mediated (known as virtual) work teams, particularly those spanning national and temporal boundaries. The underlying assumption in all her research initiatives is that whereas digital collaboration is a technological given, it is the complex social and human factors bound up in the practices involved that determine whether such collaboration succeeds or fails and consequently, these factors have become the focus of her investigations.