IGF 2019 Pre-Event #24
Otherwise Salon: Graphs & Sovereignty

Otherwise Network


„It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a founder in possession of a good graph, must be in want of an investor.“
Benedict Evans (https://twitter.com/benedictevans/status/1036469665004834816)

Graphs are a computational abstractions of relations between entities: people, places, goods, interest, aspirations etc. Facebook for example owns and exploits what Mark Zuckerberg has called the “social graph” (Zuckerberg 2008). Amazon owns a consumption graph linking goods and people, Uber, Lyft and a host of mobility companies currently aim to monopolize the mobility graph linking locations and movements of people.

Hence it can be said that for today’s platforms graphs are a strategic asset.

The relationship of political actors and nation states to graphs is more difficult to assess. Documents from the Snowden archive as well as doctrinal writings from US and British sources suggest that at least intelligence services considered graphs as an important and strategic asset since the early 2000s. Graphs allow to map entire populations and their relationships and to conduct information operations. Identifying communities within populations and influencing them relies on the same computational techniques as advertisement on social or search graphs owned by Facebook or Google.

What are the infrastructures of graphs and who controls them? How do graphs and graph analysis alter our understanding of individual privacy - and related: do we have to think about privacy scaled to larger aggregates like populations? We will discuss these questions along with key findings on the development of graphs as strategic assets both in economic and political contexts. On this basis we then like to discuss what it means for thinking about sovereignty when whole populations can be represented and managed by and with graphs. We then like to offer some thoughts on the political problems and dimensions of these dynamics.

Christoph Engemann is Post-Doc for Society and Digitalizion at the Faculty of Media Bauhaus-University Weimar. His research interest include media of statehood, genealogy of transactions, history and media of graph theory, and rurality and barns.