Session 23: Evaluating Archives in Digital Space

Moderator: Belinda Battley (Monash University)
Retrospective Technological Biography and Temporal Change in the Infrastructure of Personal Digital Recordkeeping / Patricia Galloway (University of Texas Austin)

I propose a study of how graduate students create and manage their own digital archives over time, based on examining a group of personal information management plans created by students in a class designed to introduce digital recordkeeping to archives students and drawn from the years 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2013. The plans have been analyzed for several specific aspects of personal records management, including history of computer and computer application use, functions of digital records kept by the student, structures created to manage records, file naming conventions, file formats, and history of records creation and loss. The reports were created in response to an instrument provided to students to guide their report preparation, although students were not obliged to adhere strictly to the instrument, and it was not intended to be prescriptive, but descriptive of what students actually had done, were doing, and wished to do. These reports provide baseline information about long-term management of personal digital archives, including detailed information about hardware and software used and especially retrospective technology biographies, as recorded by people mostly in their twenties, nearly all of whom had been using computers since at least high school and (as the years advanced) as early as elementary school. The paper contrasts the students’ views of personal recordkeeping with the conclusions of other researchers and research projects, with an eye to the current speed of change in personal recordkeeping habits and an emphasis on technological infrastructure and the persistence of hardware and software choices over time.

The Embedded Archivist: The Case of the Collaborative for Historical Information and Analysis / Tonia Sutherland (University of Alabama)

The Collaborative for Historical Information and Analysis (CHIA), a global digital humanities project, aims to link world-historical data in the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities; allow researchers to draw new connections and conclusions from analyzing large-scale aggregated datasets; and provide for the long-term preservation of historical data from 1600 to the present. Although CHIA’s data is open and external researchers may use it for their own purposes, currently CHIA collaborators maintain one primary collective research goal: to answer questions and address concerns about the creation and propagation of social inequality in human communities worldwide.

Some of CHIA’s main challenges include sustaining the documentation of and increasing the quality and dependability of data; building robust, comprehensive ontological tools to address the heterogeneity of data and the complexity of multi-scale analysis; and reconciling the need to create a centralized data resource with the need for distributed computing and storage. Surmounting these challenges has required assembling an effective group of interdisciplinary theoreticians and developing a worldwide community of scholars to aid in data collection and analysis.

CHIA also aims to create a world-historical data archive. As such, the project highlights the complexities of fashioning data archives at global scales which involve vastly different groups of actors. This paper, presented through the lens of a participant-observer, addresses the nuances of the role of the archivist embedded in a global, collaborative, information-centered project. The research calls for situating archival awarenesses as essential components of any such project moving forward. Collaborative research projects such as CHIA, which leverage archival raw data to change the way humans understand our world, are just one of many areas where there is an emerging demonstrable need for archival intervention. These research communities, largely understudied, are on the rise; here, there are opportunities for archivists to serve and steward as we move into an increasingly collaborative and global era.

The “Right to be Forgotten” in the Public and Private Records of Google / Safiya Noble (UCLA)

Google is a site of considerable contestation over its control in indexing, organizing, classifying, and archiving information. In this paper, I extend previous work on the damage of misrepresentations of vulnerable populations, including racialized minorities and children, to include policy analysis and discussion about the removal of misrepresentative information, particularly when such content is profitable to Google. These policies, generally understood as “the right to be forgotten,” have been established in the European Union and extend to Google and its European domains (e.g., google.de, google.fr). However, Google is still indexing and archiving links about people and groups within the EU on its domains outside of Europe, such as in google.com, opening up new challenges to the notion of national boundaries of the web, and how national laws extend to information that is digitally available beyond national borders. These laws, however, generally ignore the record keeping that Google does on individuals and organizations that are archived and shared with third parties beyond Google’s public-facing search results.

Privacy and identity-ownership is constructed within a commercial web space like Google, and how Google controls the record must be further investigated. Subjects and publics are documented through Google’s algorithms, and displays of search results are decidedly opportunistic and profitable for Google(Nissenbaum and Introna, 2004; Diaz, 2008; Noble, 2013). While tremendous focus in “right to be forgotten” legislation focuses control of records (e.g., websites, images, audio files, etc.) publicly visible on the web, more attention needs to be paid to information that is collected and archived by Google that is not visible to the public. These records are conveyed by Google as necessary for its product development and for enhanced consumer experiences (see Google Privacy Policy). However, Google’s record keeping has its genesis in providing information shared across its networked services for its clients, which include U.S.-based national security agencies, as well as Google’s commercial partners. I argue that increased attention must be paid to both the visible and invisible ways that identity information and records of activity can be archived through internet infrastructures, buttressed by Google’s monopoly on information services in the United States.

The goal of this work is to recognize and name the neoliberal discursive communication strategies used by Google to circumvent or suppress its record-keeping of the public through surveillance, particularly in its privacy policies and responses to Right to Be Forgotten public policy. This paper also illuminates the intensified damage to vulnerable populations that stem from Google’s control and circumvention of privacy and the right to be forgotten. As I have previously argued, Google is at one moment implicated in prioritizing predatory misrepresentations of people because it is profitable, such as algorithmically privileging sexualized information about women and girls because it is profitable (Noble, 2013). Challenging content on the web under the auspices of the right to be forgotten must extend beyond the take down of personal information, and beyond erasing the memory of past acts from the web. I argue that the right to be forgotten includes the recognition of all forms of records that Google is archiving, and sharing with third parties, both visible and invisible to the public.