Data Colonialism: Critiquing Consent and Control in “Tech for Social Change”
Curated by: Small Business Management
Author’s Note: Some of the details have been altered to protect the identity of the author and partners the author has worked with.
While a lot of US-based startups say they’re “saving the world,” there’s a whole field of study for just that. ICT4D (information communication technologies for [international] development) is an interdisciplinary practice that combines tech with international development, human rights, and public health. Projects range from building out technology infrastructure, especially in ‘restrictive environments’ like Cuba,1 to monitoring election violence through social media. ICT4D can also refer to use of technology to improve operations (e.g., building out a data management platform) and building employees’ digital skills (e.g., training on using Excel for data visualization). Funding for ICT4D comes primarily from governmental funds,2 non-governmental organizations (e.g., UN), corporations, NGOs and private foundations, and private individuals (through micro-donation platforms and crowdfunding); the funding available is easily in the billions.3
Like in other sectors of tech, data is a core part of ICT4D inquiry and practice – and far from being a neutral process, the ways that data is collected, stored, processed, analyzed and shared in the field deeply reflects politics, power dynamics and ongoing patterns of privilege and marginalization on