• Rebooting NoC 2023!

    Rebooting NoC 2023!

    Rebooting process 2023

  • Global Perspectives and Local Realities: Essay Series Exploring Stories of COVID-19

    Global Perspectives and Local Realities: Essay Series Exploring Stories of COVID-19

    Exploring stories about COVID-19 in real time, creating a snapshot focused on the narratives emerging from local communities in order to paint a global picture. » more

  • Takeaways from a special discussion with Yves Dacccord, former Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross

    Takeaways from a special discussion with Yves Dacccord, former Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross

    On March 19, the NoC convened a special virtual session with Yves Dacccord to discuss the intersection of the Internet and society field with the crisis surrounding the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. » more


About the Network of Centers (NoC)

The NoC a collaborative initiative among academic institutions with a focus on interdisciplinary research on the development, social impact, policy implications, and legal issues concerning the Internet. This collective aims to increase interoperability between participating centers in order to stimulate the creation of new cross-national, cross-disciplinary conversation, debate, teaching, learning, and engagement regarding the most pressing questions around new technologies, social change, and related policy and regulatory developments.

Why the NoC was Created

A growing number of academic research institutions are focused on exploring a wide range of important issues concerning the future of the Internet and related technologies. Representing diverse disciplines, methodologies, and viewpoints, these institutions have sought to analyze and understand the growing impact of digital technologies on society and share those findings in such ways that serve the public interest. In the process, they grapple with a complex set of topics and issues of national, regional, and global importance, including policy, regulation and governance, human behavior and social impact, new markets and business models, intellectual property, privacy, and security, and many other issues. Acknowledging a lack of internationally coordinated research and engagement activities in the areas mentioned above, a group of academic centers launched the NoC in 2012, within an international Symposium on Internet-Driven Developments: Structural Changes and Tipping Points (SCTP), hosted by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

The NoC Secretariat

As a decentralized initiative, the NoC’s coordination periodically alternates among member Centers in the network and has included:

Guiding Principles

Upon joining the Network, participants commit to a set of Guiding Principles, including a set of core values such as openness, collaboration, and diversity. The Network operates independent from governments, political parties and economic interests and does not take formal positions on policy issues.


There are three main focus areas for 2020. We seek to (1) increase the analytical capabilities of the network through its individual nodes as well as cross-network collaboration, i.e. continue to build NoC as a “sensory” system for Internet & society issues across the globe; (2) augment educational capacity across Centers and continents, drawing from the model of  summer schools, fellows programs, and other educational activities across the NoC; and (3) offer practical guidance to policymakers through toolkits, playbooks, and other materials where NoC Centers work closely with governmental, private sector, and civil society stakeholders on problems they face translating values or principles into implementation, drawing inspiration from a new AI Policy Practice program launched by the Berkman Klein Center. 

The 2017-2018 roadmap addresses the challenges of a growing global network of academic institutions. In a highly connected world in which public and private choices are shaping every sphere of individual activity, researchers of Internet and society issues are becoming increasingly important to translate and map ahead the changes. One specific challenge addressed in the roadmap is to reflect on how academia can interact with other stakeholders. What are the objectives, the parameters and the expected outcomes of such interactions? In proposing a framework to deal with this question, the roadmap also indicates focus areas for cross-disciplinary research, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and internet blocking.

The 2015-2016 Roadmap outlines the strategy towards enabling actual exchange between Internet & Society researchers across the globe. In fact, in order to serve the public interest, studying Internet & Society topics calls for a deep analysis of ongoing trends of national, regional, and global importance, including policy, regulation and governance. Cross-disciplinary dialogues and, more in general, an advanced coordination of worldwide research endeavors on Internet & Society can help to neutrally inform global debates, so to achieve a clearer understanding of complex and distributed phenomena that pertain to the Internet, its impact, and its evolution.

The 2014 Roadmap outlines proposed next steps regarding the second phase of collaboration among the participants in the Network. It builds upon the first Symposium on “Internet­ Driven Developments: Structural Changes and Tipping Points” that took place at Harvard University from December 6­-8, 2012 and has been further developed in the subsequent regional Network conversations and meetings that took place in 2013. These include meetings hosted by ICT Law Institute at Bilgi University, Istanbul, by the Center for Technology & Society at FGV School of Law, Rio de Janeiro, and by the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG), Berlin. The Network’s activities in 2014 will scale accordingly with the no ­longer nascent Network, ramping up to include hard research outputs and significant contributions in key policy debates.

The initial year and first phase of development was guided by the NoC's 2013 Roadmap, which outlined a range of enablers such as events, learning calls, or researcher exchanges within the Network. Again, this roadmap fed from the valuable feedback that came out of the Symposium on "Internet-Driven Developments: Structural Changes and Tipping Points" that took place at Harvard University on December 6-8, 2012.



Are you part of a Center interested in joining the NoC?

The NoC is an informal network of peers based on actual collaboration. The network is currently coordinated by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. The NoC encompasses two types of participants:

  • “Participating Centers”, i.e., academic research centers whose agenda is primarily focused on Internet & Society topics;
  • “Affiliated Participants”, i.e., other types of institutions, still with Internet & Society-related open threads, carried out, e.g., as non-academic research centers, policy-support entities, or think tanks.

For more information on how to join the NoC with your center, please reach out to contact@networkofcenters.net. Applications are periodically reviewed by the NoC Steering Committee.


There are many other ways to get involved with the NoC: research opportunities, courses, events, physical and virtual conversations, fellowships and internships, and more. We look forward to learning new ways in which we can together advance our studies and impact.

  • Join a physical or virtual event
  • Learn about our programs (e.g., internships and fellowships)
  • Follow us on Twitter

Orian Dheu PhD defence - 28 September 2023

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Results of new Horizon Europe projects for CiTiP

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Plixavra Vogiatzoglou PhD defence - 27 September 2023

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People Analytics: Hype, Fear and Real Opportunities

A lot of data is collected about employees. Current studies show: People analytics has risks, but also real potential for human resources.
The post People Analytics: Hype, Fear and Real Opportunities appeared first on HIIG.

Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG), Berlin
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Global launch of the Network Readiness Index 2023 surfaces insights around building a trusted digital world

The 2023 edition of the Network Readiness Index (NRI) has launched, revealing the most digitally ready economies in the world, and providing insights into the current state of global digital transformation.
The global launch event, held at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford on November 20th brought together ministers, industry leaders, academics, and civil society experts from around the world. 
Download the NRI 2023 report.
View the launch event.

The event opened with remarks from Soumitra Dutta (Dean, Saïd Business School; President, Portulans Institute), who underscored the NRI as a tool for framing discussions around the digital future. Amidst the rapid progress and increasing complexity of technology, measuring aspects like trust and inclusion will be increasingly challenging, but increasingly critical. 

“The NRI is the leading index on technology and ICTs, but also the longest running. In 2000, it was not as obvious to think about the social aspects of technology. Today’s NRI, however, accounts for the human element as well as key issues like trust, inclusivity, and economic and social impact. It aspires to be on the frontier of measuring digital transformation.” 
Soumitra Dutta, Dean, Saïd Business School and President, Portulans Institute

Opening addresses from leaders in government, industry, and civil society shed light on the value of digital technology for promoting economic growth, increasing living standards, and fostering sustainability. NRI metrics continue to provide decision makers with data-driven insights, and play a key role in fostering dialogue, shaping policies, and advancing technology for inclusive progress at the global scale and across industries.

“Uzbekistan’s population is growing by almost one million a year, many of them being young people. We are improving our education system so that upcoming graduates are well prepared for the digital economy. I am hopeful that these efforts reflect in our country’s level of network readiness.”
Sherzod Shermatov, Minister of ICT, Republic of Uzbekistan

“While we have scaled to be a very large organization, only 10-15% of workloads have moved to the cloud, so it’s still early days. It’s the education that we are doing through reports like these around digital readiness and its impact on economic growth and sustainability that we need to continue.”
Tanuja Randery, Managing Director, AWS Europe, Middle East and Africa



“In Colombia, better policies in terms of technology and ICT would mean better quality of life, greater competitiveness, more jobs, and economic growth.” 
Diego Molano, Former Minister of ICT, Colombia

“We need better measurements and neutral assessments of how our digital world is growing and faring. This year’s NRI, focused on the issue of trust, is a step in the right direction.”
Bruno Lanvin, Co-author and Co-editor, NRI

“Our collaboration around the NRI 2023 is a powerful alliance. We’re committed to aligning technology with human values, promoting transparency, accountability, and collective responsibility to solidify trust in technology’s transformative potential.”
Khalid Al Kubaisi, CEO, malomatia

Portulans Institute CEO, Rafael Escalona Reynoso, presented an overview of global trends in digital transformation and this year’s theme, which focuses on the state of trust in the network society.
Key takeaways from this year’s report include:

  • Trust in digital technologies has declined over the last decade due to factors like social media influence, AI advancements, and data privacy concerns.
  • Trust and digital inclusion are linked, with economies high in digital inclusion generally trusting technology more.
  • High-income economies, especially European countries, lead the NRI with 16 of the top 25 spots.
  • Middle-income countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, and Vietnam are improving in the NRI, using digitalization to transform their economies.
  • China, now in the top 20, is the only middle-income economy in the NRI’s top quartile.
  • Some middle-and low-income economies, mainly in Africa and Asia & the Pacific, exceed expectations in the NRI, with Rwanda being a notable low-income performer.
  • Arab States are focusing on digital workforce skills, making progress in the People pillar of the NRI.
  • The Americas are recognized for comprehensive digital strategies and balanced digital evolution. However, most Latin America and the Caribbean economies still lag behind.

Read the full press release here
A stimulating panel discussion, moderated by William Dutton (Director, Portulans Institute) surfaced valuable perspectives on the topic of rebuilding trust in the network society.

Trust is a basic enabler of technology adoption, but is increasingly challenging to foster. While questions remain around who is responsible for its re-establishment, it is clear that the future will require a concerted effort from government, industry, academia, and civil society, each with a distinct role to play. 

“Lack of trust is inherent and embedded into the fabric of digital societies. The question moving forward will be how we manage it.”
Victoria Nash, Director, Oxford Internet Institute

Panelists from industry highlighted the importance of responsible development in the technology sector, and developing tools that reflect customer values in order to foster a culture of trust and drive adoption. Today, consumer priorities revolve primarily around the security of data and robust infrastructure. 

“Digital technology is a major contributor to economic growth, living standards, and sustainability, especially in developing economies. There is much growth to be seen from AI adoption, however the problem is we don’t have enough companies, businesses, and governments adopting it at the pace that is needed to drive maximum economic growth. Currently, less than 30% of businesses use some form of cloud computing, which reflects an issue of confidence in the technology.” 
Tauja Randery, Managing Director at Amazon Web Services (AWS) EMEA

“The need for confidence is increasing, the visibility of breaches is increasing, and the importance for data protection is increasing in the eyes of the consumer. Consumers vote with their wallet on trust: they rate trustworthiness and data protection on par with price, quality, convenience and speed.”
Radhika Chadwick, Partner, McKinsey & Company

However, responsibility does not only fall on companies and consumers. Policy action and oversight, in the form of appropriate regulation and frameworks, will also play a pivotal role in building trust in the digital age. Such actions should focus on encouraging tech companies to implement robust cybersecurity, educating individuals about their digital rights, and setting global precedent for data practices. 

“We must build in the right behaviors in institutional and organization environments to try to ensure that every party is doing what they can to provide the kind of oversight that we need and ensure that we are protected. Because, in the end, that is what enables us to take more risks, be more creative and innovative.” 
Sadie Creese, Director, Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre, University of Oxford

“Regulation today is far slower and less adaptable than we need it to be. What COVID showed us is that in a crisis, we have to make very fast decisions with very limited data, and we have to adapt based on what is and is not working very quickly. Regulation needs to be more adaptive, and we almost have to reframe how we think about how we regulate and the data we use to do so.” 
Radhika Chadwick, Partner, McKinsey & Company


Panelists also highlighted the role of skilling and education in fostering trust, supporting inclusion, and advancing diversity in the digital age. In a world where digital technology has penetrated nearly every aspect of life, the conversation must move beyond who has access to technology, towards understanding who has access to the social and economic benefits that technology can provide. This involves critically looking at urban-rural gaps and digital gender divides, and who has the agency to address these issues. 

“If we leave part of the world behind on digital adoption, we lose the ability to have them contribute to answering global challenges. It is in the interest of humanity to make sure everybody is a part of this technology revolution, no matter where they come from.”
Sadie Creese, Director, Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre, University of Oxford

The discussion concluded with remarks around the future of trust in the digital world, with an eye towards demystifying emerging technologies and their potential risks and benefits. 

“There is a degree of alarm that happens at the advent of any revolution. We must be careful of the assumption that lack of trust is necessarily a bad thing. We never want to get rid of ‘reasonable’ trust, which is based on critical faculties determining whether content is accurate and trustworthy and secure.”
Victoria Nash, Director, Oxford Internet Institute

Officially in the 5th edition of its renewed model, the Network Readiness Index remains a powerful tool for developing and evaluating policies to promote digital transformation, and benchmarking progress on the regional and global scale.  
Portulans Institute extends its gratitude to our 2023 Knowledge Partners at Amazon Web Services (AWS), Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI) and malomatia for their contributions, to Saïd Business School and University of Oxford for hosting the event, to our panelists and speakers for an enriching conversation, and to all who attended virtually and in-person for the continued support. 
The 2023 Network Readiness Index is now available for download here.
The post Global launch of the Network Readiness Index 2023 surfaces insights around building a trusted digital world appeared first on Portulans Institute.

Portulans Institute
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La Conférence Cyberjustice Europe 2023 en images

La conférence Cyberjustice Europe 2023 a été un succès, et nous souhaitons exprimer nos remerciements à l’équipe de l’Institut des Études et de la Recherche sur le Droit et la Justice, ainsi qu’au Conseil de l’Europe, avec qui nous avons collaboré pour organiser cet événement.

Cette conférence a été une opportunité unique de discuter de l’impact de la technologie sur les politiques et les pratiques de la justice à travers des plénières et des ateliers portant sur des sujets allant de la réglementation de l’IA au développement des règlements en ligne des litiges (REL).

Ouverture officielle


Pr Nicolas Vermeys (Laboratoire de cyberjustice), Mme Valérie Sagant (Institut des études et de la recherche sur le droit et la justice), Jeanne-Marie Tuffery-Andrieu (Université de Strasbourg) et Christophe Poirel (Conseil de l’Europe).

Plénière N°1 : Une réglementation et une régulation indispensables de l’IA en justice mais comment et pourquoi ?


Yannick Meneceur (Conseil de l’Europe), Alexei Grinbaum (CEA), Pre Aurore Hyde (Université de Reims) & Vadim Pak (Conseil de l’Europe)


  • Les enjeux de la réglementation et de la régulation
  • Une approche fondée uniquement sur le risque ?
  • Les conséquences d’une concurrence des réglementations et des régulations

Atelier N°1 : Devant la recrudescence de la cybercriminalité, quelle réponse apporte la justice


Pr Benoît Dupont (Université de Montréal), Pr Jean-Loup Richet (IAE Paris-Sorbonne), Giorgi Jokhadze (Conseil de l’Europe) & Pr Stefano Caneppele (Université de Lausane)


  • Une réponse technologique
  • Une réponse nationale et une coopération internationale

Atelier N°2 : Le développement des règlements en ligne des litiges (REL) : une indispensable politique publique ?


Pr Fabien Gélinas (Université McGill), Valentin Callipel (Laboratoire de cyberjustice), Marek Swierczynksi (Conseil de l’Europe), Orna Rabinovich-Einy (University of Haifa)


  • Un aperçu du développement public en Amérique du Nord
  • Une histoire d’échecs d’initiatives privées en Europe
  • Des initiatives publiques en Europe

Plénière N°2 : Les nouvelles routes de l’information juridique et judiciaire ?


Dr Hannes Westermann (Laboratoire de cyberjustice), Pr Emmanuel Netter (Université de Strasbourg), Juge Geneviève Vanderstichele , Tigran Karapetyan (Conseil de l’Europe) & Sandrine Zientara (Cour de cassation française)


  • La nouvelle économie de la diffusion de l’information juridique et judiciaire
  • Les chatbots
  • L’open data des décisions de justice : gouvernance et utilisations

Atelier N°3 : Horizons lointains ou proches : les nouveaux professionnels du droit


Pr David Restrepo Amariles (HEC Paris), Pr Gregory Lewkowicz (Université Libre de Bruxelles)& Pr Bruno Deffains (Université Paris Panthéon Assas)


  • La naissance du « Chatavocat » est-elle proche ?
  • Le cybernotaire est-il déjà là ?
  • La blockchain au service de l’exécution numérique des décisions de justice ?

Atelier N°4 : Le futur de l’audience est-il virtuel ?


Conférenciers: Pr Nicolas Vermeys (CRDP & Laboratoire de cyberjustice), Pre Linda Mulcahy (University of Oxford), Pre Anna Tsalapatanis (UCL), Volker Settgast (Fraunhofer Austria Research Gmbh) & Pr David Tait (Western Sydney University)


  • Faciliter l’accès des justiciables aux services numériques
  • Préparer les justiciables à la tenue d’audiences en ligne
  • Utiliser les mondes virtuels pour rendre la justice

Plénière N°3 : Le progrès technologique est-il l’ami de la démocratie ?


Valerie Sagant (Institut des Études et de la Recherche sur le Droit et la Justice), Pr Dominique Boullier (IEP Paris – Sciences Po), Pr Hugues Bersini (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Pr Yves Poullet (Université de Namur)


  • Lutter contre la désinformation numérique : décoder le vrai du faux
  • Démocratie et algorithmes : vers une nouvelle forme de démocratie ?
  • L’empire de la surveillance numérique : quels risques pour les libertés individuelles ?
Centre de Recherche en Droit Public
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Unsettling the Cloud: On Data Centers and Counter-Narratives

As I gaze out of my window, I am met with a totem. This totem is gray and windowless, nestled in between offices and academic buildings. Behind it is a park, and the longer I stare, the deeper it becomes embedded in the natural landscape, after a bit I forget it’s there. But in the corner of my eye I can see another one; another totem. This one intimidates me with its red glow.  
These buildings came to serve as mystical pillars of data flows to me, they became sites of reification, sites where the cloud finally condensed and data rained down. They assumed a posthuman status; high-tech facilities where humans are only needed to keep other humans out.
 I always imagined data as something abstract, as a floating entity, but as my encounters with these pillars started a process of materialization, it simultaneously sparked a desire to interrogate and to demystify.
Luke van Wijk, 2023
Data centers and information infrastructure present the complex materialism of what is imagined as a dematerialized industry. The data industry is comprised of a myriad of large corporations that mainly rent out servers for data processing and storage. They sell the dream of the digital, which is freed from the constraints of material capitalism and can therefore grow infinitely. In dematerialized finance, the physical is omitted and an abstract idea of the cloud takes form. The cloud is the dominant imaginary that constitutes a large part of our understanding of data. Nonetheless the physical remains. Not only does it remain, it requires energy and labor, it is privately owned, it is opaque; often hidden in plain sight.
Acid Clouds is a book by Niels Schrader and Jorinde Seijdel in collaboration with photographer Roel Backaert wherein Dutch data centers have been systematically photographed and catalogued. The book, which will be published in April 2024 by NAI010  is described as ‘a research project initiated by graphic designer Niels Schrader and photographer Roel Backaert that maps the hidden cloud infrastructure in the Netherlands’[1]. These photographs are paired with critical essays and other relevant information to form a critical intervention in the data industry and the ubiquity of data infrastructure. In the book, they have attempted to establish a link between dominant narratives and their material realities. It also seeks to expose the entanglement of colonialism and capitalism as it exists in the data industry. Readers not only become familiar with the infrastructure that facilitates the flow of data but gain a sort of material literacy of these spaces, allowing them to recognize and critically reflect on them. Nonetheless, the representational logics and imaginaries of the data industry continue to dominate the collective understanding (or lack thereof) of these spaces, which is why works like Acid Clouds are so important. In my analysis of the data industry and of the book, I was informed by conversations both with Niels Schrader and with a former security employee of a prominent Dutch data center.
Luke van Wijk, 2023
In the current neoliberal paradigm, cognitive labor and dematerialized finance are defining features of the socioeconomic landscape. Precarity and abstracted forms of labor dominate the mind of the contemporary proletariat. We live and work in the digital; our labor and the cloud are deeply entangled. As was aptly stated by Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi in Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide: “As we move into the age of info-labour, there is no longer a need to invest in the availability of a person for eight hours a day throughout the duration of his or her life. Capital no longer recruits people but buys packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers. In the internet economy, flexibility has evolved into a form of fractalization of work.”[2]. My generation was born into this paradigm, and therefore largely accepts the collective imaginary of the cloud and the structures of dematerialized finance as a given. Nonetheless, physical infrastructure is required for this digital laborscape to function. This infrastructure remains largely out of sight and therefore unacknowledged, meanwhile, the companies that own and maintain the infrastructure are moving freely and uncriticized as they continue to present narratives of a green and immaterial digital world; the lack of visibility allows them to govern the facilities without scrutiny. These privately owned spaces facilitate the flow and storage of data through thousands of servers, using significant amounts of power. Furthermore, the internet as well as fundamental government services rely on these facilities to function, granting the companies that own them a consequential amount of political leverage and power. As I explored these spaces and their materiality, several geopolitical and environmental complexities started to emerge.
I lived in Amsterdam Science Park for three years, sharing my surroundings with two major data centers. These windowless buildings left a deep impression on me and were an important point of departure for my research. They are owned by big players in the data industry: the Data Tower (AMS9) is owned by Digital Realty, which is an American company specializing in data infrastructure. The other center (AM3) is owned by Equinix, also American. Amsterdam Science Park also houses the Nikhef, an academic organization that specializes in data and internet technologies. Science Park is therefore a significant site of data technology and infrastructure. Both data centers are colocation or multi-tenant spaces, meaning that they rent out servers and data storage to independent clients. These include both commercial clients and government services. They simply provide the space and technology to facilitate internet and data services. This contrasts with single-tenant data centers that house servers used by a single company, enterprises like Google, Amazon, and Facebook come to mind here.
On their website, Digital Realty emphasizes the technological capabilities and reliability of AMS9, as well as mentioning that it runs on “100% renewable energy” and serves as a site for “establishing a European presence and global expansion”[3]. Similarly, Equinix describes their Amsterdam data centers as “energy efficient” and as providing “ample capacity for growing businesses and [enabling] customers to access rich industry ecosystems”[4]. Through these descriptions, the dominant narratives and representational strategies of data centers start to emerge. These narratives are clearly embedded with ideological coding.
The examples from the respective websites hint at the vernacular practices of these companies, but their visual strategies are also relevant to their representational logics. The ideologically layered visual output of these companies presents them as posthuman and entirely technified[5]. This is not actually the case, as these spaces require different kinds of labor to function. This contradictory visual strategy exposes the ideological coding that takes place in their self-representation: data centers are supposed to be imagined as sleek, automated spaces that imply a similar mode of operation as ‘smart’ technology. In reality, these spaces are more like data factories, requiring consistent labor and human intervention to remain operational. The narratives that are ubiquitous across the data industry became glaringly obvious as I started researching them: sustainability, green energy, the cloud, and infinite growth. The contradiction between these narratives and the material realities of these spaces is not at all hard to grasp, nonetheless, our collective imagination of the data industry remains entrenched in narratives put forth by data companies, exposing the need for critical intervention.
In my conversation with a former security employee at a Dutch colocation data center, it was revealed to me that the servers housed in the center not only required frequent maintenance but that the labourers conducting this maintenance were outsourced by the companies that rent the server space. These external labourers work on a freelance basis and are often from India or Eastern Europe. They were described as working under precarious freelancer conditions, arriving at one data center after having just been at another. They would then work for several hours in the cages that house the servers, often in high temperatures due to the heat produced by the servers. Furthermore, the server cages were not maintained by the data center, but rather by the companies that rented them, often resulting in stacks of hard drives and messy cables piling up in them, clearly countering the constructed imagery of the data industry. The conditions of the workers as well as the apparent state of the server cages contrast heavily with the available images of data centers, this contradiction became emblematic of the narratives that are upheld within the data economy. A general feeling of contradiction runs deep in the data industry, as is the case for most industries, but the way that the material realities of data flows are lurking out of sight of our perceptions feels particularly sinister.
Luke van Wijk, 2023
According to Jennifer Holt and Patrick Vonderau, the visual strategies of the data industry have significant ideological implications, they state that “Infrastructural politics [are] not just about what is deliberately hidden from sight or is invisible; [they are] equally about the hypervisibility created around some of an infrastructure’s component parts, all while most of the relations it engenders and the rationality embodied in its overall system sink deeply in obscurity.”[6]. These logics underpin a general strategy of concealment, which makes data infrastructure notoriously difficult to research and scrutinize. In fact, when researching one of the Science Park datacenters on-site, I spoke to a person living across from the building while he was smoking outside of his front door; he told me that he had no idea what the building was even though he saw it every time he left his house. Obscurity is therefore really the perfect word here, and it implies a subsequent need for clarity. This clarity can be achieved through critical counternarratives.
The former employee I spoke to also indicated that one of the floors of the data center was dedicated to an important government department, and (armed) government representatives would frequently travel to the data center with physical hard drives in order to store them on-site. The fact that government data is so sensitive that it can’t be digitally transferred to the servers in fear of interception is stored at a privately owned facility should raise red flags. This dependency on privately owned infrastructure for fundamental bureaucratic services further complexifies the data center as a geopolitically charged space. I found the geopolitical leverage that these companies possess extremely worrying. They came to represent the deterritorialized neoliberal entities that dominate the global financial landscape, however, unlike many other big corporations, they remain largely unscrutinized. The lack of scrutiny is due to a lack of visibility of these spaces and the imaginaries that come to represent them. The more I looked into these spaces, the more concrete their narratives became, alongside this concretization the urgency for critical counternarratives also became increasingly evident.
The established representational strategies that have been mentioned rely heavily on the obfuscation of the material and on a rhetoric of the digital that omits physical consequences. The cloud symbolizes this rhetoric. The metaphor of the cloud is a dominant collective imaginary that serves as “[…] a marketing concept that renders the physical, infrastructural realities of remote data storage into a palatable abstraction for those who are using it, consciously or not.”[7]. In my conversation with Niels, he emphasized that this imaginary is most likely derived from geek culture, and doesn’t constitute a malicious media strategy that has been manufactured by the tech industry to mitigate critical engagement with its infrastructure. Nonetheless, data companies benefit from this imaginary, as it essentially renders data immaterial. This imaginary obfuscates the link between the data industry and its physical infrastructure through the abstraction of the metaphor. The imaginary of the cloud is part of a larger narrative of endless growth that stems from a deterritorialized and digitized neoliberal landscape. If data exists only as an abstract, cloud-like entity, then its industry can grow exponentially. This narrative presents the digital as an ever-expanding avenue with seemingly no physical constraints, as was seen in the aforementioned examples taken from the websites of Digital Realty and Equinix. Words like ‘growth’ and ‘expansion’ are ubiquitous in the vernacular practices of these companies.
The environmental impacts of the data industry also become largely invisible through the narratives that naturalize data. The visual representation of data centers often depicts them as embedded in the natural landscape, supplemented by statistics about sustainable energy practices. This strategy obviously serves to divert attention away from the massive amounts of energy consumed by these facilities. I found it noteworthy that the way these companies represent themselves is fundamentally contradictory: on the one hand, they boast about the technological capabilities of their facilities on their website, this information is clearly meant for investors and businesses who are looking to rent server space. On the other hand, they put forth an imaginary of data as something green and immaterial, something that can grow endlessly. This is not only relevant to businesses that seek exponential growth as it promises endless financial growth as well, but also to the general public, who are led to believe that data is something abstract, non-physical, and non-threatening to the environment.
In conversation with Niels, it became clear that he identifies the infinite-growth narrative and its subsequent implications as the central problem and point of critique for data infrastructure. The narrative, which depends heavily on principles like Moore’s Law (which implies that technological innovation leads to exponential growth), is deeply embedded with the ideological underpinnings of Silicon Valley. This ideology not only presents the tech industry as environmentally friendly or neutral through greenwashing practices but also centers white, male voices. Moreover, the practices of big tech companies are inherently colonial and imperial due to their extractivist business models. This also exposes the general entanglement between colonialism and capitalism, as data is not only exploitatively extracted but territory upon which the infrastructure can be built, as well as resources that are required to keep it operational, are imperative to the services they offer. The data industry, which self-represents as immaterial, is actually engaged in extremely territorial and physical practices. Niels also mentioned that the speed of data technology and the lack of tech literacy, even among experts, abstractify the understanding of the limits and constraints of this ‘infinite’ growth narrative. The material consequences are omitted for the sake of a neoliberal imaginary where the data industry can endlessly expand. Of course, the link between the imaginary and the material still exists and needs to be interrogated and scrutinized. This is what Acid Clouds seeks to do: by visualizing and cataloguing the physical infrastructure that maintains these narratives, the link between the two is not only established but can then be criticized. Furthermore, Niels emphasizes a necessity for alternative narratives and critical voices to destabilize dominant narratives, something which Acid Clouds also aims for through the inclusion of critical essays in the project. This kind of critical intervention is necessary because it serves to visualize the “[…] decontextualized technologies, [which remain] largely immaterial, dimensionless, and almost impossible to even imagine”[8].
Acid Clouds is one example of how critical interventions can unsettle dominant narratives and stimulate critical engagement. The practice of investigative aesthetics argues that aesthetics can serve to redistribute sensibilities and ways of knowing the world, doing so according to principles of making knowledge public[9]. There are several examples of artworks that seek to make visible the infrastructure that our data flows through. A well-known example would be Landing Sites (2016) and Undersea Cables (2016) by Trevor Paglen, wherein he attempts to visualize the underground or undersea cables that facilitate the flow of information and are essential infrastructure for the internet. Similarly, Eva and Franco Mattes have several works in which they install yellow cable trays in institutional contexts to materialize the flow of data and data processes that are usually immaterial. These works invite spectators to critically engage with the materiality of data, more broadly they make spectators aware of the existence of the infrastructure in the first place, destabilizing the notion of a dematerialized digital landscape and presenting an alternative visual narrative.
Acid Clouds seeks to establish the link between growth narratives and the material infrastructure of the data center. By systematically photographing and cataloguing Dutch data centers, Niels and Roel visualized and concretized the material implications of the cloud and the growth narratives they rely on, providing a counternarrative that unsettles the notions of a dematerialized digital landscape. The lack of alternative visualizations was the original motivation for the Acid Clouds project. Niels states that the objective of the book is not to antagonize companies or data centers, but to provide an accessible and critical counternarrative. Furthermore, Niels refers to the process of the book being one of visual journalism, rather than an aesthetic practice. The book brings attention to the ability of aesthetics to engage in storytelling, particularly in the information age, where individuals are subjected to a myriad of contradictory narratives at all times, which often leads to conspiratorial ways of thinking. This is because the conspiracy theory often simplifies and concretizes a narrative, which allows an individual to anchor themselves in the whirlwind of information. This is obviously problematic because it prevents critical engagement and preconfigures a narrative, thereby negating the critical capabilities of the individual. To Niels, establishing visual narratives through artistic practices has the potential to undermine the conspiratorial tendencies of the information age, as well as democratise access to these narratives and therefore unsettling hegemonic narratives.
The book is structured around the images of the data centers, which have been systematically photographed in order to catalogue the material pillars of the data industry in the Netherlands. This visual aspect of the book is supported by various essays that offer critical analyses of data infrastructure. By presenting the data centers in the format of a catalogue, a network of data infrastructure starts to form. By concretizing this network, the reader is invited to critically reflect on the physical infrastructure that upholds the data industry, therefore disrupting the imaginary of the cloud and immaterial data. Furthermore, readers gain a sort of aesthetic literacy, through which they can recognize and decode sites of data infrastructure, as these sites and their functions often remain hidden in obscurity. Especially when presented as a series, the data centers take on an almost monolithic appearance, and the photographs being taken at night grants them an eeriness that contrasts with the conventional visualizations of these spaces.
Niels Schrader & Roel Backaert, 2023
Niels Schrader & Roel Backaert, 2023
Niels Schrader & Roel Backaert, 2023
Niels Schrader & Roel Backaert, 2023
Throughout this project, the necessity for critical interventions in the data industry became more and more urgent to me. The data industry relies heavily on its constructed imaginaires and narratives, omitting the material. Critical interventions that destabilize and scrutinize these imaginaries by providing counternarratives pose a necessary form of resistance. Green and dematerialized narratives still dominate the collective perception of tech companies, this is why works like Acid Clouds among other artistic interventions are so significant. These works attempt to disrupt those narratives and present alternative ways of knowing and sense-making. Due to the blackboxed and opaque nature of data centers, alternative visualizations are necessary in this disruption. When combined with critical voices that are external to the data industry, works like Acid Clouds have the potential to meaningfully shift the collective understanding of data infrastructure.
Luke van Wijk, 2023
Special thanks to Niels Schrader for taking the time to discuss the project with me and to Luke van Wijk for assisting with the visual material.
More information about the Acid Clouds project can be found here: https://acidclouds.org/

[1] “Acid Clouds.” Acid Clouds, acidclouds.org/.
[2] Berardi, Franco. Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide. Verso, 2015.
[3] “AMS9 Data Center: Science Park 121: Digital Realty.” AMS9 Data Center | Science Park 121 | Digital Realty, www.digitalrealty.com/data-centers/emea/amsterdam/ams9.
[4] “Amsterdam Data Centers.” Equinix, 19 June 2023, www.equinix.com/data-centers/europe-colocation/netherlands-colocation/am....
[5] Taylor, A.R.E. “The Data Center as Technological Wilderness.” Culture Machine, vol. 18, 2019.
[6] Holt, Jennifer, and Patrick Vonderau. “‘Where the internet lives.’” University of Illinois Press, 2017.
[7] Holt, Jennifer, and Patrick Vonderau. “‘Where the internet lives.’” University of Illinois Press, 2017.
[8] Holt, Jennifer, and Patrick Vonderau. “‘Where the internet lives.’” University of Illinois Press, 2017.
[9] Fuller, Matthew, and Eyal Weizman. Investigative Aesthetics: Conflicts and Commons in the Politics of Truth. Verso, 2021.

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14.12.2023 CIS #36 Guillaume Latzko-Toth

La datafication et ses publics. Une approche sociotechnique des publics de données
L’article 14.12.2023 CIS #36 <br>Guillaume Latzko-Toth est apparu en premier sur Centre Internet et Société.

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