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Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyberscholar Working Group

Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyberscholar Working Group

at MIT

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 6:00 pm
MIT E14-525


The "Harvard-MIT-Yale Cyberscholar Working Group" is a forum for fellows and affiliates of the Comparative Media Studies Program at MITYale Law School Information Society Project, and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University to discuss their ongoing research.

This month's presenters will include:

How’s my feedback? Six puzzles and some notes on web-based review and rating schemes
Malte Ziewitz, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

Over the past decade, web-based review and rating schemes have become increasingly popular as a techno-scientific solutions to public problems. With eBay and Amazon often considered as the archetypes, the idea has spread across a range of industries and targets, including hotels, movies, restaurants and web search, but also lawyers, teachers, doctors, drivers, dates, haircuts and tattoos. Even public services have mobilized such schemes in areas like health care or policing. While some have greeted online feedback as an innovative way of fostering transparency, accountability and participation, others have criticized the forced exposure and alleged lack of accuracy and legitimacy, pointing to the potentially devastating consequences of public evaluations.

How’s my feedback? is a project based at Oxford University that tackles these issues head-on. In a collaborative design experiment with social commerce managers, government innovators, media experts, web developers, consumer spokespeople, academics, reviewers and targets of online reviews and ratings, we are currently exploring the idea of a website that allows users publicly to evaluate review and rating schemes – a feedback website for feedback websites. What happens when we turn the rationale of public evaluation on itself? What is it to evaluate the evaluators? And will this business ever stop?

In this talk, I will provide some background to the project and sketch six puzzles that motivated it. Drawing on my experience of organizing the discussions and related research, I will argue that many of these schemes defy the simple logic of their underlying models. Web-based evaluation is not simply about ‘data’ or ‘information’, but deeply entangled in and constitutive of social relations. As a result, feedback schemes are not the innocent technical solutions as which they are sometimes portrayed, but focal points in an ongoing, work-intensive and highly political process.

Malte Ziewitz is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Broadly based in science & technology studies, law and public policy, his research revolves around new and non-obvious modes of governance in digitally networked environments—the dynamics at work, the values at stake, the design options at hand. Recently, he has been exploring the practical politics of online reviews and ratings ethnographically in two areas: web-based patient feedback and search engine optimization (SEO). Malte holds a First State Exam in Law from the University of Hamburg School of Law and a Master in Public Administration from Harvard Kennedy School, where he was also a McCloy Scholar. He is still affiliated with his former homestead, the Hans Bredow Institute in Hamburg, was a Non-resident Fellow at the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen, and worked on a number of multidisciplinary research teams at Harvard, Oxford, St. Gallen, Hamburg and the OECD. Malte has designed and taught courses on governance, technology and society. As Principal Investigator, he is heading “How’s My Feedback?", an ESRC-funded collaborative project to rethink and evaluate web-based rating and ranking schemes. Website:

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Legislating by Safe Harbor
Nicholas Bramble, Lecturer in Law and MacArthur Fellow in Law at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

Consider three sets of laws. Libel and defamation laws protect “an individual’s right [in] his own good name.” Copyright and patent laws stimulate the progress of science and useful arts. Legislative and judicial safe harbors—such as CDA § 230(c), DMCA § 512(c), and the "capable of substantial non-infringing use" doctrine—promote the development of communications tools and networks.

But consider the ways in which these laws operate. The first two sets of laws set up individual entitlements and exclusive rights. Upon violation of such rights, the law offers some measure of compensation, whether the harm takes the form of defamatory falsehood or unlicensed use of a protected expression or invention. Safe harbors, on the other hand, do not set up new rights or entitlements, but instead seek to promote the leakiness of these rights in networked spaces, rendering them less enforceable. Such promotion of "leakiness" and spillovers represents a fundamentally different kind of lawmaking and judicial decision-making.

My talk explores what we can learn from the success of safe harbors. What does it mean when the essential components of the Internet's legal structure are laws that work by making other laws work less well? How have CDA 230, DMCA 512, and Sony v. Universal been used as part of an emerging regulatory strategy to set up a layer of private intermediary watchdogs between private information owners and private infrastructure providers? What happens when these intermediaries become better equipped to represent the communicative interests of users than users themselves? How might legislators continue to build and protect backwater spaces for discourse and innovation while simultaneously minimizing opportunities for capture of these building and protection tools? And what are the limits of legislation by safe harbor?

Nicholas Bramble is a Lecturer in Law and MacArthur Fellow in Law at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. While at the Yale ISP, he has filed several comments with the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Commerce, taught the Access to Knowledge practicum at Yale Law School, and researched telecommunications, copyright, privacy, and First Amendment issues. He has published articles in the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review, the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology, and Slate. He holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and degrees in literature and linguistics from Stanford University.

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Augmented Reality
Pol Pla i Conesa

Pol Pla i Conesa is a graduate research assistant at the MIT Media Lab completing his master in Media, Arts and Sciences. He graduated from Universitat Ramon Llull (Barcelona) in computer science and he earned a Masters in Science from Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona). He cofounded Multitouch Barcelona an interactive design collective were he worked in massive interactive installations such as the Multitouch Space Invaders ( and the HI Human Interface (

Past Event
May 11, 2011
6:00 PM - 8:00 PM