Thursday, 20 February 2020

Reconfiguring National Data Infrastructures through the Nordic Data Imaginary

Aaro Tupasela, Karoliina Snell, Heta Tarkkala
Big Data & Society 7(1), First published: February 20th, 2020
Keywords: big data, health data, health policy, platform economy, Nordic data gold mine, data imaginary, sustainability

Data has become a central feature of economic development and system of production. The range of companies that source data from their users on a daily basis has become a mainstay of ethical and legal discussions surrounding data relations between the sources, collectors and users of that data. In our article just published in Big Data & Society, we focus on the development and implementation of national data infrastructures within the Nordic countries.

The Nordic countries aim to establish a unique place within the European and global health data economy. They have extensive nationally maintained and centralized health data records, as well as numerous biobanks where data from individuals can be connected based on personal identification numbers. Much of this phenomenon is the result of the emergence and development of the Nordic welfare state, where Nordic countries sought to systematically collect large amounts of population data to guide decision-making and improve the health and living conditions of the population. These massive collections of data have remained somewhat separate and connecting data between different sources has taken time and effort for researchers to accomplish due to ethical and legal constraints associated with such practices. With the explosive growth in utilizing big data in research and development, however, these data infrastructures are being re-purposed within the Nordic countries.

Recently, the so-called Nordic gold mine of data is being re-imagined in a wholly other context, where welfare state data and its ever-increasing logic of accumulation is seen as a driver for economic growth and private business development. This model, which the private sector has given birth to, has become a model for national projects to capitalize on population data. Our article explores the development of policies and strategies for health data economy in Denmark and Finland. We ask how nation states try to adjust and benefit from new pressures and opportunities to utilize their data resources in data markets. This, we argue, raises questions of social sustainability in terms of states being producers, providers, and consumers of data. The data imaginaries related to emerging health data markets also provide insight into how a broad range of different data sources, ranging from hospital records and pharmacy prescriptions to biobank sample data, are brought together to enable ‘full-scale utilization’ of health and welfare data.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Call for Special Theme Proposals for Big Data & Society, Due March 9

Call for Special Theme Proposals for Big Data & Society

The SAGE open access journal Big Data & Society (BD&S) is soliciting proposals for a Special Theme to be published in 2021. BD&S is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, scholarly journal that publishes research about the emerging field of Big Data practices and how they are reconfiguring academic, social, industry, business and government relations, expertise, methods, concepts and knowledge. BD&S moves beyond usual notions of Big Data and treats it as an emerging field of practices that is not defined by but generative of (sometimes) novel data qualities such as high volume and granularity and complex analytics such as data linking and mining. It thus attends to digital content generated through online and offline practices in social, commercial, scientific, and government domains. This includes, for instance, content generated on the Internet through social media and search engines but also that which is generated in closed networks (commercial or government transactions) and open networks such as digital archives, open government and crowd-sourced data. Critically, rather than settling on a definition the Journal makes this an object of interdisciplinary inquiries and debates explored through studies of a variety of topics and themes.

Special Themes can consist of a combination of Original Research Articles (10000 words; maximum 6), Commentaries (3000 words; maximum 4) and one Editorial (3000 words). All Special Theme content will be waived Article Processing Charges. All submissions will go through the Journal’s standard peer review process.

Past special themes for the journal have included: Knowledge Production, Algorithms in Culture, Data Associations in Global Law and Policy, The Cloud, the Crowd, and the City, Veillance and Transparency, Environmental Data, Spatial Big Data, Critical Data Studies, Social Media & Society, Assumptions of Sociality, Health Data Ecosystems, Data & Agency, Big Data and Surveillance.  See to access these special themes.

Format of Special Theme Proposals
Researchers interested in proposing a Special Theme should submit an outline with the following information.

      An overview of the proposed theme, how it relates to existing research and the aims and scope of the Journal, and the ways it seeks to expand critical scholarly research on Big Data.
      A list of titles, abstracts, authors and brief biographies. For each, the type of submission (ORA, Commentary) should also be indicated. If the proposal is the result of a workshop or conference that should also be indicated.
Short Bios of the Guest Editors including affiliations and previous work in the field of Big Data studies. Links to homepages, Google Scholar profiles or CVs are welcome, although we don’t require CV submissions.
      A proposed timing for submission to Manuscript Central. This should be in line with the timeline outlined below.

Information on the types of submissions published by the Journal and other guidelines is available at .

Timeline for Proposals
Please submit proposals by March 9, 2020 to the Managing Editor of the Journal, Prof. Matthew Zook at The Editorial Team of BD&S will review proposals and make a decision by April 2020. Manuscripts would be submitted to the journal (via manuscript central) by or before September 2020. For further information or discuss potential themes please contact Matthew Zook at

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Winter break

The journal Big Data and Society will be on winter break from December 21st to January 5th. Please accept any delays in processing and reviewing your submission, and in related correspondence during that time.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, 4 November 2019

Engaging with ethics in Internet of Things: Imaginaries in the social milieu of technology developers

Funda Ustek-Spilda, Alison Powell, Selena Nemorin
Big Data & Society 6(2), First published Oct 3, 2019.
Keywords: Internet of Things, social milieu, ethics, virtue ethics, responsible technology

Discussions about ethics of Big Data often focus on the ethics of data processing – ‘generation, recording, curation, processing, dissemination, sharing and use’ of algorithms (including machine learning and artificial intelligence) as well as corresponding practices such as programming, hacking and coding (Floridi and Taddeo, 2016: 1). Data-based systems, however, do not come from nowhere. In this article, we attempt to shift the focus of ethical discussion from the context of data processing to the contexts of data production. We attend to the ethical qualities of the social milieu in which data-intensive technologies get to be produced and the practical reasoning people in this social milieu undertake in their day-to-day encounters with technology development.

Our analysis is based on our ongoing work as part of a research project titled VIRT-EU: Values and Ethics for Responsible Innovation in EUrope. As part of our research, we have conducted multi-site ethnographic fieldwork with developers, designers and entrepreneurs as part of the IoT startup ecosystem in Europe. Between 2016 and 2018, we followed industry meetups, hardware and software showcases, workshops and industry conferences and conducted in person interviews and held co-design workshops; amounting to more than 100 unique fieldwork visits. We also analysed 10 years of data from the records of the IoT meetups in Europe. In conducting our analysis, we sought answers to the following two questions: How do developers in start-ups and small companies practice ethical decision-making? What are the technological, business and social contexts that influence these decisions?

Our findings indicated that the social milieu of technology development, being strongly focused on innovation, attracting funding, corporate reputation and market share created challenges for explicit engagement with ethics. This, we argued, holds a major constraint to systemic change in the field. Many people considered ethics as important as a topic, but not urgent in their list of things to-do. From our analysis, we developed three action positions to illustrate points of engagement with ethical and moral concerns. These positions are of course not exhaustive of the positions available to those in these spaces, but include the most significant directions of engagements we observed in our fieldwork. These positions are the Disengaged; the Pragmatist and the Idealist. Within the Disengaged position, many IoT developers remained ambivalent about the 'use' of ethical reflection and discussion beyond compliance with existing regulations; concentrating their attention more on issues relating to business and financial stability. To illustrate, within the nearly 90 meetups held by IoT London Meetup Group held in the last ten years, our analysis indicated that ethics as a topic featured only once, while GDPR emerged as a topic that was mentioned often. The Pragmatist position places ethical concerns squarely in relation to business interests but is not necessarily subsumed by them. We found that ethics was referred to in its relation to new and emerging market opportunities and allowing businesses to limit financial liability. An Idealist position on the other hand, advocated action on values and principles by incorporating them directly into business ventures and social networks. A series of IoT manifestos advanced some of these perspectives (Fritsch et al., 2018) and some developers we interviewed also positioned themselves and the trajectories of their ventures along these lines. A strong identification with ‘we’ rather than ‘I’ and separation of individual and collective subjectivities in relation to ethical concerns as well as an active engagement with the responsibility for producing ethical technologies (and futures) were shared among these individuals.

Our analysis demonstrates that the extent to which individual subjectivity can influence engaging in ethical action may depend on the organisational environment technology developers are embedded in. This means that constraints (financial, structural, social or other) are not merely external things to be overcome for ethical action to take place, but rather intrinsic to the social milieu technology developers are part of. This goes some way to explain why on the one hand we are seeing a plethora of new ventures subscribing to emerging fields such as ‘technology for social good’ or ‘business with purpose’ whilst on the other hand technology products continue to violate privacy, intensify bias and entrench social power. Put simply, it is not simply that technology developers do not have ‘virtuous intentions’ but that the social milieu they are part of structures their space for action.


Floridi L and Taddeo M (2016) What is data ethics? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 374(2083): 20160360.

Fritsch E, Shklovski I and Douglas-Jones R (2018) Calling for a revolution: An analysis of IoT manifestos. In: Proceedings of the 2018 CHI conference on human factors in computing systems, Montreal, QC, Canada, 21–26 April 2018, p.302. New York: ACM Press.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Event: Data empires -The birth of sensory power

Engin Isin (QMUL) will be delivering a lecture based on a chapter co-written with Evelyn Ruppert (Editor, BD&S) in their recently published edited collection, Data Politics: Worlds, Subjects, Rights (Bigo, D, E. Isin, and E. Ruppert, eds. (2019)). Speaking in relation to a blog published on this site, he will suggest that since the 1980s, we are possibly experiencing the birth of sensory power. The lecture is sponsored by Goldsmiths Centre for Postcolonial Studies and will take place on 9 December 2019, 17:00 - 19:00, RHB 221, second floor, Rutherford Building, Goldsmiths University of London.  More information here.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Datafied knowledge production: practices, mechanisms and imaginaries at work in big data analyses

Special Theme Issue
Guest lead editors: Nanna Bonde Thylstrup*, Mikkel Flyverbom**, Rasmus Helles***

* Aarhus University
** Copenhagen Business School
*** University of Copenhagen

Digital transformations, such as datafication and algorithmic sorting, create new conditions for how we come to see, know, feel and act. This special issue explores the intersections between digital transformations and knowledge production by asking questions such as: what does datafied knowledge production look like? Which digital infrastructures support its future development? And what potentialities and limits do datafied forms of analysis and knowledge production contain? The responses we offer include the suggestion that while the resources, material features and analytical operations involved in datafied knowledge production may be different, many fundamental concerns about epistemology, ontology and methods remain relevant to understand what shapes it. By seeking to understand and explicate such assumptions, operations and consequences, the articles in this special issue sketch the contours of knowledge production in a digital and datafied world.

Editorial: Datafied Knowledge Production
Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Mikkel Flyverbom, Rasmus Helles

Datastructuring—Organizing and curating digital traces into action
Mikkel Flyverbom and John Murray

Data out of place: data waste and the politics of data recycling
Nanna Bonde Thylstrup

Make data sing: The automation of storytelling
Kristin Veel

The optical unconscious of Big Data: Datafication of vision and care for unknown futures
Daniela Agostinho

Data in the smart city: How incongruent frames challenge the transition from ideal to practice
Anders Koed Madsen

Unsupervised by any other name: Hidden layers of knowledge production in artificial intelligence on social media
Anja Bechmann and Geoffrey C Bowker

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Event: Data Rights - Subjects or Citizens?

On 11 November, the Mile End Institute (Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL)) is hosting an event that will discuss how the exponential accumulation of data from everyday online and offline activities raises tensions about who has the rights to produce and own such data. A panel will feature three speakers from a recently published book edited by Didier Bigo, Engin Isin, and Evelyn Ruppert (Editor, BD&S): Data Politics: Worlds, Subjects, Rights (2019). Engin Isin (QMUL) will chair the panel with Elspeth Guild (QMUL), Jennifer Gabrys (Cambridge; Co-editor, BD&S) and Didier Bigo (Sciences Po and KCL) speaking about their contributions. Click here for more information and to register.  The book is Open Access and a pdf copy can be downloaded here.