SOC PhD candidate Fernanda Rosa awarded Columbia University grant to study IXPs

SOC Ph.D. candidate Fernanda Rosa has been awarded a prestigious grant from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) to fund her dissertation research investigating the role of Internet exchange points (IXPs) in Internet governance. The project, titled “Global Internet, Local Governance: A Sociotechnical Approach to Internet Exchange Points,” examines these important sites in the Internet’s physical infrastructure from a science and technology studies (STS) perspective while making visible their impact on Internet governance and freedom of expression online.

Additionally, Ms. Rosa was awarded a 2017 Google Policy Fellowship, which will take her to Mexico City this summer where she will be conducting research for her dissertation and working with Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales (R3D), a Mexican organization dedicated to the defense of human rights in the digital sphere.

We congratulate Fernanda on these impressive accomplishments and look forward to seeing what she discovers as her research proceeds. You can follow her on Twitter @fefe_rosa

Are we coding for the future we want? Dr. Isabelle Zaugg on Digital Standards and Lost Languages

American University SOC Ph.D. student Dr. Isabelle Zaugg successfully defended her dissertation on Wednesday titled “Digitizing Ethiopic: Coding for Linguistic Continuity in the Face of Digital Extinction.” Drawing on field work conducted in Ethiopia last year as part of a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship, Dr. Zaugg’s project investigates the relationship between the growth of information communication technologies and rapid declines in language diversity.

Abstract: Despite the growing sophistication of digital technologies, it appears they are contributing to language extinction on a par with devastating losses in biodiversity.  With language extinction comes loss of identity, inter-generational cohesion, culture, and a global wealth of knowledge to address future problems facing humanity.  Linguists estimate a 50%-90% loss of language diversity during the 21st century, with the lack of digital support for minority languages and scripts a contributing factor.

Over time, digital design has come to support an increasing number of languages, but this process has been largely market-driven, excluding languages of communities too small or poor to represent viable markets.  Lack of support for a language in the digital sphere means that language communities begin using other more dominant or “prestigious’ languages for digital communication.  This results in “digital extinction,” including the impossibility of raising youth fluent in their mother-tongue.  Once the youth in a community have stopped using a language, it is typically on the path to extinction within the next few generations.

This research investigates the role of digital design and governance in including or excluding languages from the digital sphere through the instrumental case study of Ethiopic, a script that supports a number of languages at risk of digital extinction, including the national language of Ethiopia.  Using qualitative and quantitative methods, the dissertation investigates late 20th century efforts to include the Ethiopic script in Unicode-ISO/IEC 10646, the dominant digital sister standards that allow scripts of the world to appear on devices, websites, and software, as well as the ongoing challenges Ethiopic-based languages face for full digital viability in the 21st century.

Concluding with policy recommendations and best practices for digital design, governance, and advocacy efforts to preserve language diversity, this research sheds light on far-reaching implications for the public good of digital design and governance.  The decisions we make about digital technologies will impact generations to come, and this dissertation asks, “Are we coding for the future we want?”

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Zaugg on her defense and wishing her well as she begins a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Postdoctoral Fellowship in “Global Language Justice” at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University in the Fall.

Dr. Fernanda Rosa on ‘Global Internet, Local Governance: A Sociotechnical Approach to Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)’

Last month, AU SOC PhD candidate and Internet Governance Lab fellow Fernanda Rosa successfully defended her dissertation titled, ‘Global Internet, Local Governance: A Sociotechnical Approach to Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)’. 

As the physical points through which Internet service providers (ISPs)(e.g. Verizon, AT&T, etc.) and content delivery networks (CDNs)(e.g. Akamai, Cloudflare, Amazon, etc.) exchange web traffic, IXPs play an incredibly important — though largely unseen — role in delivering content to end-users. As such, these physical sites of interconnection mediate all manner of public interest questions, including efforts to bridge the digital divide, notions of Internet sovereignty and data localization, innovation, interoperability and more.

As Dr. Rosa explains:

The Internet is an arrangement of interconnected private networks, each of them with different types of technical and political control (Abbate, 1999; Roberts et al., 2011; DeNardis, 2014). Although the network interconnections are not visible to Internet users, they are typical and essential for the Internet. Such connections are physical and logical, and are possible through cables and structures distributed among countries (Nye, 2014). In this context, an important interconnection facility gains relevance within the Internet architecture, the Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).  IXPs are physical facilities where these networks can interconnect, including Internet Service Providers (e.g. Comcast) content intermediaries (e.g. Google, Facebook), universities, banks and other networks. The purpose of my dissertation is to illuminate the sociotechnical (Winner, 1986; Latour, 1999) aspects of the IXPs, making visible the controversies behind them and the social and political values at stake. In my dissertation, IXPs’ functions and affordances will be elucidated and contextualized in light of public interest questions, such as digital divide; sovereignty and infrastructure dependence among countries; Internet surveillance; the Internet economy and the privatization of Internet governance. To do that, I use a mixed methods approach, including qualitative interviews, on-site observations, data collection on IXPs websites and analysis of quantitative datasets about Internet routes and traffic.

We congratulate Dr. Rosa on her defense and look forward to seeing how her research develops going forward.

Dr. Sargsyan Ph.D. Dissertation on Information Intermediary Privacy

Picture, T. SargsyanCongratulations to Tatevik Sargsyan, who today successfully defended her dissertation “Exploring Multistakeholderism Through the Evolution of Information Intermediaries’ Privacy Policies.” Her dissertation committee was chaired by Dr. Laura DeNardis; committee members included Dr. Kathryn Montgomery, Dr. Derrick Cogburn, and Dr. Declan Fahy. The external reader was digital privacy expert Dr. Michael Zimmer of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.


Dispatch from the Association of Internet Researchers conference, Phoenix, AZ, October 21-25, 2015

Dr. Laura DeNardis with some of her doctoral students and postdoctoral researcher and former AU SOC student Tijana Milosevic

At this year’s Association of Internet Researchers conference, Dr. Laura DeNardis and several of her doctoral students presented current projects on Internet governance. During a panel titled “Doing Internet Governance – STS-informed Perspectives on Ordering the Net”, Dr. DeNardis and doctoral candidate Andrea Hackl discussed the need to investigate the mediation of LGBT rights at the deeper level of Internet governance rather than the content level. In a session on privacy, doctoral candidate Tatevik Sargsyan discussed different data localization proposals by governments. In this context, Tatevik argued that governments use concerns over privacy and security to pursue their political and economic agenda. Postdoctoral researcher and former AU SOC doctoral student Tijana Milosevic presented on tools used by social media to respond to cyberbullying incidents on the platforms. Together with American University Professors Dr. Patricia Aufderheide and Dr. Aram Sinnreich as well as Dr. Benjamin Burroughs from the University of Iowa, Tijana also presented on attitudes on use and copying of copyrighted material.Read More »