The new DOS interdisciplinary research cluster on Cybersecurity, Design and Human Behaviour

Dr. Nisreen Ameen and Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia | Cluster co-leaders

On 6th November 2020, a new research cluster within RHUL’s DOS Research Centre was launched. The new research cluster on ‘Cybersecurity, Design and Human Behaviour’ aims to offer a welcoming environment for idea exchange, a platform for researchers from different research areas at RHUL and beyond to connect and work together on interdisciplinary projects, and an opportunity for collaborations on interdisciplinary funding applications. The new cluster is led by Dr. Nisreen Ameen, Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Business and Management, and Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Security , who have reached out to researchers at RHUL from various disciplines to discuss ideas in developing the interdisciplinary area of research.

The identified areas of interest include:

  • Technology design and human interaction
  • Security and privacy in the digital society
  • Design narratives and narratives of security
  • User experience and advanced digital technologies
  • Accountability and ethics in the digital experience

The launch event

The launch event had a great attendance and started with an introduction from Dr. Nisreen Ameen, Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia and the Co-Director of DOS, Professor Gillian Symon. The main part of the event consists of two fascinating keynotes from Professor Jason Bennet Thatcher and Professor Ivan Visconti.

We heard first from Professor Jason Bennet Thatcher, Temple University, delivering the talk ‘Protecting a whale in a sea of fish: cybersecurity and top executives.

Professor Jason Bennet Thatcher, Temple University

Professor Thatcher explained that whaling is one of the most financially damaging, well-known, effective cyberattacks employed by sophisticated cybercriminals but yet there is little research on this phenomenon.He explained how important it is for researchers to consider the industry and context when conducting research on cybersecurity. In particular he argued for the importance of focusing on top executives in such research as they play a significant role in increasing cybersecurity awareness in organisations. Professor Thatcher highlighted the need for different types of research such as econometrics and qualitative research in this area to understand the drivers and problems, in addition to archival work on vulnerabilities and breaches. Such issues have arguably become even more important after the major shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused a significant increase in the number of cybersecurity threats and attacks. It is vital to build further collaborations between academics and industry practitioners when planning and providing cybersecurity training. Such steps are important to protect data, jobs, people and society as a whole.

Professor Ivan Visconti, University of Salerno delivered a talk on ‘Blockchain Technology and Decentralized Contact Tracing: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.

Professor Ivan Visconti, University of Salerno

In a very interesting journey through the promises and shortcomings of each technology, we learned that blockchain has not yet managed to find the right balance between transparency and confidentiality, and that creating a digital twin of a physical asset is still a challenge. As for digital contact tracing, a plethora of issues were identified (from the imprecision of distance measuring to the false alarms such systems can cause), and the reactions of the security, big tech and policy communities, demonstrating how truly interdisciplinary real-world technological solutions are.

The two keynotes generated connections to some of the themes covered by the new DOS cluster. After the talks, Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia and Dr. Nisreen Ameen presented some of the topics of research interests on which the research cluster is focusing on in more depth and the importance of these areas. Examples include: challenging traditional narratives of security; balancing the requirements of user privacy and accountability in the digital experience; security and privacy issues that arise in a post-COVID-19 world; and ethical concerns in the adoption of advanced technologies.

The new DOS cluster will remain active for the rest of the academic year. Upcoming events in the planning include a round table meeting for members of the cluster and a workshop on interdisciplinary research projects and funding.  Researchers who are working on related areas and wish to join the research cluster please email the cluster co-leaders Dr. Nisreen Ameen and Dr. Elizabeth Quaglia to express their interest. We are very much looking forward to the next steps of this cluster!

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.

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.


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.


Call for Track Proposals IFIP9.4 2021 – Conference Theme: Freedom and Social Inclusion in a Connected World

Deadline 30 May 2020 | The 16th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries |Lima, Peru, 26-28 May 2021

We send out this call for tracks at this unusual time amid the coronavirus global pandemic. A lot of us are currently in more or less a lockdown situation. Some may be experiencing health problems themselves or of their family members, and possibly all are trying to cope with a shared anxiety when the world is in emergency mode. Sending out this call for tracks for the next IFIP 9.4 conference is an effort to maintain a degree of normalcy, as well as an invite to the community to collectively reflect on the implication of digital technologies in these highly unsettling times.

To a great extent, most of us are giving up many aspects of our individual freedom, e.g. travelling, going to the workplace, socialisation, or even worse, employment, in order to protect our individual and collective freedom to live a healthy life in a safe environment. Democratic governments face the dilemma between respecting individual will and autonomy and depriving us of freedom of movement and social interaction through top-down disciplinary measures. Policy makers struggle to balance the long term social economic consequences of social distancing measures and tackling the imminent threat of a plague.

In the face of a crisis, freedom is clearly at stake. While there is no consensus on the definition of ‘freedom’ across or even within disciplines, Berlin’s (1969) discussion of negative freedom – to be free from interference, and positive freedom – to be one’s own master, brings forth an interesting and relevant notion of a ‘real self’ that is of a ‘higher nature’ as opposed to a ‘heteronomous self’ driven by desires and passions (Robeyns, 2017, p.100). The former is considered to transcend one individual,

 “as a social whole of which the individual is an element or aspect: a tribe, a race, a church, a state, the great society of the living and the dead and the yet unborn. This entity is then identified as being the ‘true’ self which, by imposing its collective, or ‘organic’ single will upon its recalcitrant ‘members’ achieves its own, and therefore their ‘higher freedom’ (Berlin 1969, 132, cited in Robeyns, 2017, p.100).”

This passage points to some sort of connective freedom among all individuals in the world,  similar to what John Donne says, “no man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main” (1839, p. 574-5) – please replace ‘man’ with ‘individual’. While Berlin acknowledges that such a definition of ‘positive freedom’ gives space to tyranny that curtails individual freedom in the name of collective good, the global pandemic once again poses the question of how societies, communities and individuals make decisions to balance the different spaces of freedom, and how do we ensure the most vulnerable and marginalised population do not fall through the cracks in the pursuit of a “greater good”. This is relevant not only in the current case of the public health crisis, but also in the long-standing tension between privacy versus surveillance, individual rights versus national security, as well as the protection of human agency amid the rapid proliferation of artificial intelligence in the forms of smart cities, big data applications, algorithmic work and increasing automation of work.  

The importance of digital technology has become even more elevated when schools and offices are closed, and societies to a large extent shut down. The issue of digital divide suddenly becomes more prominent when face to face services are unavailable. Students without access to a device or the Internet at home are automatically left out of the opportunity to continue education. A large number of people lose their job or business as their line of work does not easily convert to online working. The elderly and vulnerable are likely to suffer, physically, and mentally from social isolation with no recourse to digital connection. Social exclusion due to class, income, age, gender, etc. may be further magnified when digitalisation becomes the only available option. On the other hand, we see a lot of community initiatives and collective action being organised online to help alleviate some of these challenges. When a large part of world is under lockdown, are we more isolated or connected? Does digital connection disguise or make visible the invisible? Whose voice gets heard? These are some of the questions that we could explore.

Reference

Berlin, Isaiah. (1969). Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Donne, John. (1839). The Works of John Donne. vol III. Henry Alford, ed. London: John W. Parker

Robeyns, I. (2017). Wellbeing, Freedom and Social Justice: The Capability Approach Re-Examined. Open Book Publishers.

Track Proposals for IFIP9.4 2021

While freedom and social inclusion are long standing topics in the ICT4D community, we invite track proposals that directly or indirectly address some of these issues in this highly volatile and challenging times. Other topics are also welcome.

We welcome track proposals that support the theme of the conference and include:

1. Track title

2. Name(s), email address, affiliation of track chair(s)

3. A brief motivation of the track

4. A brief overview of the research area

5. A short description of how the track aligns with the conference theme

5. Exemplar topics and types of contributions looked-for

Please submit your track proposals to  <ifip9.4.2021@gmail.com>  by 30 May, 2020. Notification of acceptance will be given by 15 June, 2020.

We look forward to see your IFIP9.4 2021 track proposals!

Programme Chairs

Yingqin Zheng, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK <yingqin.zheng@rhul.ac.uk>

Jose-Antonio Robles-Flores, ESAN University, Peru <jrobles@esan.edu.pe>

Remote working: Keeping your distance but also your well-being

DOS research scholars give some tips on remote working

Digital technologies in this moment are crucial to our working arrangements as we maintain social distance and work from home but how can we manage our remote digital work and maintain a sense of well-being?  DOS scholars reflect on what we have learnt from our own and others’ psychological, social and organisational research on this issue.

Dealing with Social Isolation

Many people may have engaged in remote working to some extent in the past but not necessarily everyday.  Research indicates that while feelings of job satisfaction improve initially, after two or three days workers may experience a drop in mental health.  We are, after all, social beings.  What can we do?  

Taking the Air: Work conducted as part of the Digital Brain Switch project (a consortium of researchers from several universities, including Royal Holloway) highlighted the importance of getting away from the digital screen, going outside and taking exercise.  Going outside refreshes and is a stimulus for creativity, and exercise may help in coping with stress and enabling well-being.

Skype-Coffees: Stay in contact with colleagues through “skype- coffees”.  You cannot meet your colleagues face to face but not every online interaction has to be about work.  Schedule in online chats just about everyday life and how you are getting on and even for a good moan!   Video-chats are particularly recommended so we can see others but setting up a dedicated WhatsApp group is also helpful. 

Organising Work at Home

Routines are very helpful for providing some structure to days that may have become formless without our usual work patterns.  However trying to hold onto rigid boundaries (or having no boundaries at all) no matter the context may actually be harmful.  What can we suggest?

Stop, Reflect, Adjust:  Some degree of flexibility seems key but most  important is maintaining some self-reflection, as suggested by the Digital Brain Switch project.  If we start to feel we are neglecting an important area of life, it is important to take time out to recalibrate.

Email Responsibly:  Working at home is an introverting experience and we may forget others are also dealing with troubles of their own.  With now an even heavier reliance on digital means of communication, it is tempting to engage in a storm of emailing, texting, instant messaging etc!  But email in particular is a form of communication that people find overwhelming.  Reflect before you send.

Responsibility

Organizations may now place heavy burdens on employees to sort themselves out quickly and get on with work apparently seamlessly.  Working at home seems to place the burden of responsibility on the employee but taking on that entire responsibility is damaging.  How can we cope?

Resist Responsibilisation:  You did not cause Covid-19!  While we all want to be helpful, we should resist expectations that we need to just ‘get it done’.  Make demands of your employers, what can they do to support you more effectively?

Right to Holiday:   While we are working at home, the notion of a ‘holiday’ may easily get mislaid in the general feeling of disruption and concern.  But holidays are important for well-being and even more so now.  Plan and book some time off even if you cannot go away.

We even a have a handy graphic to help you remember!

The digital transformation of social movements: is it good to be “seen”?

Evronia AzerAssistant Professor | Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University

It is argued that the rise of social media has given rise to new forms of protest action, where the digital space has empowered activists and given lots of opportunities for activism to be successful. Lately, more researchers and media outlets are starting to pay a closer attention to the dual role of technology that can be paradoxical.

I’ve explored the concept of “paradoxes” of technology in collective action as part of my PhD at the School of Management at Royal Holloway University of London. Paradoxes mean that if technology is used in a certain setting, it can have dual results, implications and consequences, which can be contradictory to each other. So, while technology can appear to be facilitating activism, it is also undermining activism in many ways.

Social media has allowed activists to be visible or “seen” online. This means that their causes are visible and recognisable to the public, who in turn can easily find many things to do in order to support social movements, like following their news, joining their rallies or donating to them. On the other hand, being visible and present online means that you can also be tracked, put under surveillance, or bullied. Through my research, I’ve found three paradoxes of technology, particularly of being visible or “seen” online. The first is how technology is empowering movements through spreading their causes and calls for action, but at the same time making movements vulnerable once the movements grow and their figures are identified to the public. In the Hong Kong protests for example, you can see how dangerous facial recognition is in identifying protesters, and how some protesters are using face masks to protect their identities. Also, activists in different contexts have been targeted with phishing attacks that trick them into giving away their online accounts’ credentials.

The second is how technology helps activists spread their narratives about their causes, but at the same time, technology is manipulated by different groups to spread fake news, attack activists, or deliberately trick the public through “misinformation”. This has been exemplified through the Cambridge Analytica scandal for example, as social media data was used and analysed in a way that aims to trick the public with fake news.

The final paradox is how individuals using technology for collective action deal with the feeling of being monitored all the time. Some feel they don’t care about any surveillance but others are more careful and aware, and therefore have different cybersecurity behaviours. For example, they avoid using platforms that they consider insecure or unencrypted.

You probably won’t think about any of this when you see an event for a climate change protest on your timeline and you click “going”. However, as people collectively use social media on daily basis for activism, they also face opposite forces from social media, big data analysis tools, and surveillance and face recognition software in more sophisticated ways technically and socially. This makes every string of data produced online counts.

The implications for understanding technology differently are crucial, as they allow us to see its “dark side”. However, it’s not that technology has been designed to be evil, but it’s how it’s used, by whom, and the context in which it is used. Technology is powerful indeed, but we need to have more critical understanding of this power, which can paradoxically be utilised to control or liberate individuals.

Reference

Azer, E., Zheng, Y., & Harindranath, G. (2018). Paradoxes of Visibility in Activism. The 12th Mediterranean Conference on Information Systems. Corfu, 28-30 September 2018

About the author

Evronia Azer is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Business in Society at Coventry University. She is affiliated with the DOS centre at Royal Holloway, where she did her PhD in the area of ICTs in collective action.

Photo credit: Daniel Tafjord on Unsplash

AI and the Transformation of Jobs and Workplaces in Banks and Radiology.

Fabienne PerezPhD Student | Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche en Gestion d’Aix-Marseille (CERGAM)

Image © Maurizio Pesce from Milan, Italia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

I  am a PhD student at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche en Gestion d’Aix-Marseille (CERGAM), a research laboratory in IAE Aix-Marseille Graduate School of Management, where I am supervised by Prof Olivier Roques.  I am currently a visiting PhD student in the School of Business and Management at Royal Holloway, University of London, under the guidance of Professor Neil Conway, who is an expert in job design.  My research stay in Royal Holloway is facilitated by the Doctoral Program Centre Européen de Formation Approfondie à la Gestion (CEFAG).

The focus of my research is on how AI and learning algorithms transform jobs and workplaces, and how employees respond to these changes. Professor Conway and I are currently analyzing interview data from exploratory research conducted in two very different contexts. The first context is a sample of radiologists who face AI being introduced in the form of deep-learning modules to analyze medical images of detection and predictive diagnosis. The second context is a sample of bank employees’ sales staff who have experienced AI in the form of a commercial recommendation listing based on Machine Learning techniques, with predictive analysis of customer behavior. Preliminary findings reveal contrasting themes across and within employees in both contexts in terms of their perceptions of AI. Some employees considered the AI tool as a threat to their autonomy and tended to anthropomorphize AI, regarding it as a competitor to their jobs; other employees regarded AI as a complementary tool and an opportunity to redesign their working practices. In both cases, employee responses to AI included reframing their jobs to face the changes introduced by AI in order to preserve their work identities.

Being a visiting PhD student is a unique opportunity to have fruitful exchanges with other PhD students, teachers and members of the DOS Research Centre on similar topics in this beautiful and inspiring university.   If you would like to hear more about my research, please do contact me at fabienne.perez@iae-aix.com.