Jigsaw – ‘Algorithmic Neutrality’ or ‘Anglo-Americanisation’? And some ideas on our overall theme.

I found Clara’s finding on jigsaw very fascinating so did some research that might lead us to discover some connections between her area of research and Eamon’s and mine, which would help us to start thinking about the bigger picture – where our project is likely to lead us to and the answer to our overall question.

https://qz.com/846836/inside-google-jigsaw-the-powerful-tech-incubator-that-wants-to-reshape-geopolitics/

1. Google as a leading example of the Anglo-America tech companies’ ‘algorithmic neutral’ ideology: 

This is an extremely intriguing article discussing the ideology behind Jigsaw and reflects on the bigger picture: it suggests a sense of self-claimed political neutrality of tech companies such as Google.

“If the company sold access to water or electricity instead of information, it might be regulated like a public utility. But Alphabet tends to shy away from this analogy (though Jigsaw’s representative was surprisingly open to it), preferring to frame itself as an organization that can be trusted because of its commitment to “algorithmic neutrality.” (See point 3 for its meaning of  being sociopolitical neutral.)

2.  Connections with the rest of our group and reflections on the overall project: 

I feel like this is a case in point in connecting Clara’s research with Eamon‘s and mine: we might propose a contrast between the Chinese approach with the Anglo-American one that Chinese tech companies concentrate on providing tech as a utility, while Anglo-American ones such as Jigsaw label themselves as ‘algorithmic neutral’: “As described by Evgeny Morozov, a leading thinker on the political implications of technology, Google sees itself as an “algorithms-powered neutral intermediary that stands between a given user and the collective mind of the Internet.

3.  Sociopolitical implications: Jigsaw’s embodiment of classical western liberalism while it does not pick a side (but really?): 

“From a sociopolitical standpoint, Jigsaw seems to embody a form of classical liberalism… it is interested in extending liberties to vulnerable populations, not denying them….… Jigsaw is sympathetic to many of the same values as Western foreign policy, but it is not picking winners based on ideology. Take Project Shield. For an independent news publication to receive protection from hackers under Project Shield, it must prove only that it is not state-sponsored and is not on a terrorist watch list. (Jigsaw uses severa watch lists, not just the American one.) Jigsaw doesn’t screen for democratic, secular, pro-American or pro-Google leanings.

So does Jigsaw really not pick a side? It seems to be suggested that its so-called self-claimed standing of neutrality makes sure Jigsaw is not a biased, whitewashed means of westernisation whilst upholding liberty as the key principle. But can you really separate the two?

4. HOWEVER, “Neutrality is a messy business.” – Critics and challenges: 

The idea of sociopolitical neutrality, although captivating, is subject to many critics on attacking on its idealism and potential problems especially concerned with power structures, politics and state authorities.

“Unfortunately, the power structures that preceded the internet—governments, courts, and armies—have so far limited technology’s emancipatory potential. Even if Jigsaw’s users have free speech and access to information, they still have physical selves that can be taxed, threatened, or imprisoned by the state. As the political theorist David Runciman writes, thus far the “internet has not proved to be the autocracy-busting, freedom-generating machine that many hoped.””

“Jigsaw wants to be politically neutral, but it also wants to make an impact by assisting activists and journalists engaged in the messy business of real-world politics. That is not an easy balance to strike. ”

5.  How justified? How ethical? A good deed at best? But on what grounds? 

To go back to our project, which is to investigate Anglo-American social media and technology in relation to the expansion of neo-colonialism: Google and Jigsaw might help us present a counter-argument: “Professor Jacob Rentdorff, a specialist in business ethics at Copenhagen Business School, suggests that Alphabet can counter accusations of “ethical white-washing” by making sure the principles behind Jigsaw are “directly integrated into its business and strategy activities.”

In addition, it might be suggested that Jigsaw is a product of a globalised technological world that might bring about mixed results, among which there are arguably positive influences. Not to mention it is still at its early stages. With Jigsaw’s potential and Google’s vision, it would be interesting to see where its strategy and potential will lead it to in the future.

On the other hand,

Firstly, should Google and its Jigsaw, Facebook with its Free Basics, to be considered as an invisible and gradual way of western political, social and cultural intervention? Does globalisation mean westernisation – or in this case, Anglo-Americanisation

Secondly, the purpose proposed by Jigsaw implies a sense of helping and saving those who need help and are in danger. This is of course is a good deed, but could you say it might develop into a means of control over those countries and people, especially if authorities become interested in it and politics is involved? Consider, for example, the claim about Russia’s manipulation and the ‘fake news’ cycle during the US election of 2016 on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. 

6. Example, “Google and Jigsaw launching safeguarding tools for Kenya election”:

http://www.itwebafrica.com/security/515-kenya/238509-google-launches-suite-to-safeguard-media-during-the-kenya-election-period

It states that Google and Jigsaw were teaming up to safeguard the Kenyan Election of 2017 by protecting the media from online attacks and hacks. Clara: this sounds like a big claim…it might be interesting to find out some details and results to see if they actually managed to do so? To add, it is worth noting that this is a case regarding Kenya, which is relevant to some aspects of the research that Eamon and I are doing (to be elaborated later).