Openness in the age of surveillance

Recently the topic of ‘openness in the age of surveillance’ has appeared in my life in multiple ways which I thought I’d share. Before I do a quick introduction, I’m Martin Hawksey and I work for the Association for Learning Technology, an independent membership organization which is focused on increasing the impact of learning technology for public benefit. Our funding comes from our membership services and events which means we have an independent voice. We use this voice to inform policy, practice and professionalisation of learning technology. The types of activities we are involved in around the theme of surveillance include co-ordinating the ALT Members response to the UK Government Technology and Data Ethics Inquiry, a webinar series around GDPR, as well as involvement in the ‘After Surveillance’ and Human-Data Interaction networks. ALT has also for a number of years supported the OER Conference, which this year includes the theme ‘Openness in the age of surveillance’.

This year’s conference theme has got me thinking about surveillance in education and open educational practices, but my interest in this area actually goes back further. For those that know me and my work they’ll know for the last 10 years or so I’ve been developing and distributing a free solution for people to archive data from Twitter in Google Sheets (TAGS). My journey with TAGS started with wanting to share a way for people to easily collect data from hashtag communities, mainly around events and conferences, but increasingly I’m aware like all technology this solution isn’t neutral and whilst I’ve a long list of positive uses of TAGS, I’m also aware this could be a tool to track and surveil individuals and communities.

The lack of control and ownership we have on the internet is really worrying. An example I highlighted in a talk at Domains19 in ‘Minority Report – One Nation Under CCTV’, which I also revisited for a Wikimedia DE event, was the news that Flickr had supplied IBM with over 100 million Creative Commons images so that IBM could train their facial recognition service. As Creative Commons were quick to highlight that this wasn’t related to how the images were licensed, in summary:

Whilst it’s true the dataset used by IBM were CC licensed this is a mute point. Even if these photos had a traditional copyright licence ‘fair use’ would have allowed IBM to data mine your photos without requiring any permission from you first. … did you ever give Google or any other search engine permission to index images associated with your name

Google Indexed Search Results

Surveillance in education feels unavoidable, for example, as soon as you record a students grade you are observing and recording an individual’s performance, but I heartened by the work of the community who are providing a critical eye as well as helping us to not fall into the hands of big brother. If this also interests you OER20 is a great opportunity to find out more about ‘openness in the age of surveillance’. 

There are, at the time of writing, tickets available if you’d like to join us on the 1-2 April in London, but we are also live streaming a number of sessions that might be of interest. OER20 actually kicks off with a keynote from sava saheli singh who “conceptualized, co-created, and co-produced “Screening Surveillance” – a knowledge translation program for the Big Data Surveillance project”. After sava we are live streaming three related sessions from the parallel programme:

On day two of the OER20 programme we’ll also be live streaming:

For those attending OER20 in person there are also some other sessions you can click through to find more information about:

Hopefully you’ll be able to engage with OER20 either in person or online via the live streaming and the #OER20 hashtag, but if not I welcome your comments on what ‘Openness in the age of surveillance’ means to you.

Progress through Openness

theopenagendaMitchell Baker, Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation, has released a thoughtful and inspiring statement in support of #TheOpenAgenda called Only Openness Can Power The Next Wave Of Human Progress.  Although Baker’s statement focuses specifically on ensuring that the Web remains open in order to foster innovation, many of the points she raises relate to openness more widely and are equally applicable to open education.

Openness is important, not only for the Web and technology but also for the human experience. Openness provides the ability to set the rules for ourselves or experiment and work to create a better experience. Openness is critical for the human experience, critical to problem solving—and if you view the problems facing the globe and the human population today we need the ability to solve problems.

Open vs. closed is a dichotomy in many areas of life; many systems move from open to closed or strike a balance between the two …. In the short-term there is sometimes great value, or perceived value, to centralized services. In the long run, though, as systems become more closed it becomes very hard to change something that no longer works optimally.

Some have adopted a closed mind set …. others have adopted an open philosophy—because it’s in their nature, their leaders’ nature or because it makes economic or business sense. They are shifting because they see the possibilities and are moving into opportunities that are more based on openness. 

You can read the a fuller version of Baker’s statement here: Human Progress can Only Come Through Openness.