Made at UCL


S2 Ep5: The Cost of Freedom


The Cost of Freedom - In this episode we’re exploring the value of freedom, from the people who found it in the bleakest of circumstances to the ways in which we restrict our own freedom (and the freedom of others) without even realising it.

Below, you can also discover more about the stories and access the transcript

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Act 1 - Prof Virginia Mantouvalou

The first act is on the freedom to work without abuse.

Virginia Mantouvalou is Professor of Human Rights and Labour Law at UCL, Faculty of Laws. She has published extensively on issues of human rights and labour law, including workers’ exploitation, the right to privacy and free speech at work, structural injustice, domestic labour, unfair dismissal and modern slavery. Her most recent book is Philosophical Foundations of Labour Law (co-edited with Hugh Collins and Gillian Lester, OUP, 2018). She is currently working on a monograph on Structural Injustice, Workers’ Rights and Human Rights (forthcoming, OUP, 2022) funded through a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship.  She has also worked as specialist advisor to the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights and as consultant for the ILO and the Council of Europe. She is on the management board of Kalayaan, the Equal Rights Trust, and the Institute of Employment Rights and has received the UCL Provost Public Engagement Award for her research with Kalayaan.

  • You can find out more about Kalayaan and the incredible work that they, and Virginia, do here.

Photo of Professor Virginia Mantouvalou

Act 2 - Dr Sarah J Young

On the freedoms and the lack of it at the Shlissl'burg Prison in Russia

Sarah J. Young is Associate Professor of Russian at UCL SSEES, where she teaches and researches nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature, culture and thought. She is the author of Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ and the Ethical Foundations of Narrative (Anthem Press, 2004), and co-editor of Dostoevsky on the Threshold of Other Worlds (Bramcote Press, 2006). Her current research focuses on the Russian tradition of carceral literature, and she has published extensively on the representation of prison, exile and hard labour in works by Dostoevskii, Chekhov, Varlam Shalamov, and others. Her book Writing Resistance: Revolutionary Memoirs of Shlissel’burg Fortress, 1884-1906 is published by UCLPress in summer 2021.

  • Sarah’s book Writing Resistance: Revolutionary Memoirs of Shlissel’burg Prison, 1884-1906 is available to purchase or download for free from UCL press on the 21st of June. Get your copy here

Photo of Doctor Sarah J Young



Act 3 - Dr Salheli Datta Burton

On the dark side of freedom

Dr Saheli Datta Burton is a Research Fellow at the Department of Science Technology Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP), University College London. Saheli is interested in the political-economic and socioethical issues of science and technology with a focus on emerging data-driven and biomedical technologies. She has received research funding awards from the Newton Fund, EPSRC etc. Since the completion of her PhD in late 2018, Saheli has published over 11 peer-reviewed articles in journals such as Social Science and Medicine, Science, Technology and Human Values, Biosocieties and Critical Public Health, book chapters and reports for institutions such as the European Commission and the UK government. Saheli’s work with colleagues at STEaPP on the emerging risks of medical and other IoTs was recently published by the UK Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and reported widely by media outlets such as The Times, Independent, Daily Telegraph etc. 
Her forthcoming co-authored book on global science governance ‘The Elephant and the Dragon of Contemporary Lifesciences’ with the Manchester University Press is out later this year. 

  • Learn more about the perils of the Internet of Things through Saheli’s work here

Photo of Doctor Saheli Datta Burton






#MadeAtUCL Episode Five - The Cost of Freedom


memoirs, people, prisoners, prison, ucl, read, freedom, domestic worker, talking, workers, employer, important, devices, home, exploitation, alexa, smartphone, hacked, fortress, law


Virginia Mantouvalou, Rumi, Sarah J Young, Saheli Datta Burton, Cassidy

[theme music]

Cassidy  00:03

Hello, I'm Cassidy and welcome to the fifth episode of series two of #MadeAtUCL, the podcast. This podcast explores the world of UCL through the groundbreaking research and vital community work conducted by our staff and students.

Cassidy  00:21

Freedom can be a wonderful thing, like the freedom to be queer without fear of prosecution, or to be able to pursue your dream career, or protest when you believe something is wrong. But it can also come at a cost. For instance, things are opening back up again here in the UK, which is really exciting, but also kind of scary because we've been down this road before. In the past, the more freedoms restored the higher number of cases and deaths. But, hopefully, this time around, with the collective cost we've been paying for in the form of diligently getting our vaccine when called to, will prevent this from happening.

Cassidy  01:10

As you might have guessed already, our guests today are here to talk about freedom, in its privilege, in its beauty, and in its deception.

[intriguing music]

Cassidy  01:24

First, we'll discuss the structural injustices faced by vulnerable workers in the UK, and how

Virginia Mantouvalou  01:31

freedom can be both a positive and negative it can have both pros and

Cassidy  01:36

Then we'll hear from someone who will bring insight into the lives of a group of political prisoners who found hope in the bleakest of circumstances.

Sarah J Young  01:44

When you spend so much time reading about people who have lost their freedom, the value of freedom becomes so much clearer.

Cassidy  01:54

This will be followed by insight into how Alexa and other technological devices in your home can be hacked, and used as tools for abuse.

Saheli Datta Burton  02:05

Freedom has its constraints. It is constrained by politics, by economics, by cultures, and is intrinsically socially embedded, so socially constructed this freedom - it's not as we perceive it to be.

[more music (intriguing and uplifting)]

Cassidy  02:22

Let's get started.


Cassidy  02:28

This is...

Virginia Mantouvalou   02:29

Virginia Mantouvalou, I'm a professor of Human Rights and Labour Law at UCL in the Law Faculty,

Cassidy  02:35

and her research looks at structural injustice...

Virginia Mantouvalou    02:39

I'm working on various aspects of the interaction between Human Rights and Labour Law. So I'm looking at issues of workers rights as human rights, issues of modern day slavery, issues of workplace privacy, and other aspects of labor rights and human rights at work.

Cassidy  02:59

Can you tell us what structural injustice is?

Virginia Mantouvalou    03:02

Obviously, many of us think that the law is about doing good things to people, protecting people from exploitation, etc. However, through my research over many years, I realized that sometimes there are legal rules, so concrete legal rules, that place people in what I call structures of exploitation. That the law sometimes creates vulnerability to exploitation. I'm talking about structural injustice and it's a concept that is used quite a lot in political philosophy and legal theory. We're talking about situations where social processes put people in a position of disadvantage, while other people benefit from this situation. These are not situations where there is clearly one individual agent, one person or one institution that harms people, it's about processes where we cannot really identify, necessarily and easily, the agent who is responsible for harming someone else. But it's about whole processes. So in relation to my research in law, the questions that I was... I started looking at over the years is when can we say that there are concrete legal rules? When can we say that there are laws that create vulnerability and lead to structures of injustice?

Cassidy  04:40

Can you talk about some of these laws are that are really causing the problems?

Virginia Mantouvalou    04:45

Yeah, so the first example for this is the example of immigration rules, so there are concrete immigration rules that say that, you know, the worker can arrive in the UK but they can only arrive accompanying an employer and they cannot change employer. So, there is evidence that workers in this situation under very restrictive visa schemes are trapped in exploitative employment relationships so that they are illtreated by their employers either by being underpaid or by having to work in terrible working conditions. So what happens is that sometimes is these workers leave their employer and they become undocumented, and then they look for more work and then they are trapped in exploitative relationships by employers who know that they are undocumented, etc. So this specific immigration law creates workers vulnerability to exploitation and this is systematically exploited by private employers.

Rumi  05:50

[extract from interview in Kalayaan documentary, recording is outside with background noise of a park] If I have something wrong, they quickly get angry and shouting, because I am just housemaid. So they are thinking I am the housemaid, housemaids is the small people, so they can do what they want to do.

Cassidy  06:04

You just heard an extract from a Kalayaan interview with Rumi, a domestic worker from Indonesia. When she came to the UK, her employers took her passport to prevent her from leaving the abusive work situation that they had created. Through her research, Virginia has been working with Kalayaan where she is also a trustee, an organization which supports domestic workers through advocacy and advice. Virginia won the UCL Provost Award for Public Engagement for our work with Kalayaan. Kalayaan was able to help Rumi get her passport back [extract from interview, we hear a woman with a Scottish accent explaining that Rumi "does not work for you" anymore] and find new, better employment.

Cassidy  06:45

I think about these people, 'cause a lot of times they are in trouble in these situations and then they try to get help for it. But then when they try to get help, they end up putting them in detention centers or other things end up happening. And so they end up becoming almost more vulnerable. And then, you know, if they're, if they're not able to find other jobs, and they're desperate to stay there, then they're probably going to go with illegal work, right? And then of course, that's going to put them in an even more vulnerable situation. So it's scary, and it's a horrible position that they're putting them in and thinking about this, it just seems to me like these laws are just a way for keeping the power imbalance for those in power to stay in power, while those that are not, aren't able to get out of their situation... it's frustrating.

Virginia Mantouvalou  07:40

Oh, god, yes. And when I gave my inaugural lecture, then I had friends coming to me afterwards saying, "I'm so angry", you know, they got angry that the law plays this role. The other thing I wanted to say, though, is that I'm not only interested in how the law creates this vulnerability, and is connected to these structures of exploitation, but also how we can use the law as academics, as active citizens or as activists how we can use the law to improve this situation and I think that we can. And it's clear that at times, these laws can change and all these groups of people, for migrants, certain disadvantaged people, the law does not have to make them vulnerable. There are concrete laws that make them vulnerable, but there are ways in which the law can help them and can empower them.

Cassidy  08:37

What are some laws you think that can change that would really make a difference for people?

Virginia Mantouvalou  08:43

So for example, within the UK, I mentioned the overseas domestic worker visa that ties the worker to the employer with whom the worker arrived. Until 2012, we didn't have this. We had a visa whereby the domestic worker could arrive here accompanying an employer, but then they had the right to change employer. And after five years in the UK, they had the right to settle in the country. And this was a really good visa and there are people who came on this visa and stayed in the UK and even then, later on got a UK citizenship. So a visa should not tie workers to an employer because sometimes employers are exploitative, they are abusive. And if my employer is exploitative and abusive, I may... I will probably be able to change employer or even to go to court to claim my legal rights. If you're a domestic worker, there is very little you can do. You are too fearful first of all, but also it's very difficult to prove that you are exploited or abused when you work in a private household. So there are certainly straightforward ways to improve this thing, to improve the law and to remove this vulnerability that forces people in exploitative working relations and drops them in this situation. It's not acceptable, it's not okay for the law to create further vulnerability to exploitation of people who are already in a position of disadvantage.

Cassidy  10:29

Absolutely. What would you recommend for people to do to try to help things to change? Is there... can they call people can they what can they do?

Virginia Mantouvalou  10:30

I think it's important for all of us to be active citizens in one way or the other. It's important to support work of NGOs, for instance, who are committed to improving workers rights and human rights. For workers, obviously, it's extremely important to be part of organizations and members of a trade union, when possible. Sometimes I think strategic litigation can also help bring some change, legal change, sometimes, trade unions, workers and other organizations managed to bring strategically, to bring the cases to court. So that challenges these laws. But none of these things are easy. We all benefit from these injustices we really all do by being consumers, by living in this society, by having a domestic worker perhaps, by employing a domestic worker, by buying fruit and vegetable from the supermarket where we have had seasonal agricultural workers working. So it's important to be aware of these issues, and to think creatively about what is the best way that we can contribute in addressing them.

Cassidy  11:48

So there are a lot of things that we could be doing and should be doing if we can because, as Virginia explained, many of us are benefiting from a system that exploits vulnerable people for cheap labor from cleaning our offices to picking our fruit. Luckily, researchers like Virginia and organizations like Kalayaan are helping to protect domestic workers and advocate for change.

Rumi  12:23

[extract from interview, uplifting music plays in the background] I'm working on a fight this in the wake so I can go out I can meet my friend I can go out wherever I want. It's nice in here. Actually nice, I like it...


Cassidy  12:38

Our next guest is here to talk about the fight for another type of freedom. One that takes place in the confines of a prison. Dr. Sarah J young is an Associate Professor in the UCL School of Slavic and East European Studies. She's had a lifelong passion for Russian Studies, and her most recent research has focused on bringing to light long forgotten memoirs of Russian prisoners. The story she's found for her book coming out this month, Writing Resistance: Revolutionary Memoirs of Shlissel'burg Prison 1884 to 1906, are truly inspiring feats of the human spirit.

[intriguing and uplifting music]

Cassidy  13:28

Shlissel'burg is still around, but it's no longer used as a prison, thank goodness. When was it used as a prison? And where is it located?

Sarah J Young  13:37

It was first used, it was used as a prison between 1711 and 1917. So for quite a long time. It's located at the mouth of the Neva River, St. Petersburg is on the Neva River and the mouth of the river is on Lake Ladoga, about 35 kilometers to the east of St. Petersburg [a cold wind whistles in the background]. The fortress is on a tiny island, it sort of takes the whole of this island, just by the mouth of the river.

Cassidy  14:03

That already sounds, like, creepy because it's like this isolated prison there. But then what was the prison used for?

Sarah J Young  14:10

It was mainly used for political prisoners - the victims or perpetrators of political intrigues at court.

Cassidy  14:18

And these victims of political intrigue were actually tied to the Russian Revolution. Can you talk about that revolution, like what that is and what was going on in history at that time?

Sarah J Young  14:29

Okay, so where does the Russian Revolution start? It's... a very difficult question. One can sort of talk about it starting in 1881, perhaps, with the assassination of Tsar Alexander the Second. The revolutionary movements had been building for a few years, this was a country of enormous inequalities with peasants who'd only recently, they were they had been enserfed, they were sort of indentured labor and they'd only recently been released from that but on terrible terms, frankly. The revolutionaries came to the conclusion that the only way to change things was to assassinate the Tsar, so that eventually happened in March 1881. It didn't change things, not immediately anyway. And the revolutionary movements at that point was rounded up and that was this generation of revolutionaries who ended up in Shlissel'burg Prison.

Cassidy  15:20

So these political prisoners who tried to assassinate the Tsar are sent to this prison that's completely isolated on an island. And can you talk a little bit about like, what the conditions were like there at the prison?

Sarah J Young  15:31

It was pretty grim. I mean, certainly in the old prison in 18th, and early 19th century, there was a very small, old prison built into the fortress with small and very dingy cells [water drips in the background] they were extremely cold, there was very little light, food was quite poor. For most of the prisoners though, their incarceration was quite short. Most of them were there for one or two years, you do get some prisoners who were there for a very long time, though. The record holder, Walerian Łukasiński, is a Polish freedom fighter. He was in the prison for 38 years, which is unthinkable. Then what happens, the prisoners of 1884, were in a new prison, which was a 40 cell prison with frankly, all mod cons. They had toilets, plumbed water, things that aren't actually sort of particularly normal in every Russian prison today. But it was still a very, very harsh regime, they were in total solitary confinement, [a door slams shut] they had some no contact with other prisoners. The jailers [someone walks passed jingling keys] weren't supposed to speak to them, they have no contact with the outside world, people in the outside world weren't even supposed to know that they were there. They had terrible food, very, very cold cells, no work, they were just sort of supposed to sit in the cells all day with no work, no books, no nothing.

Cassidy  16:51

The tapping on the wall was the only way to communicate, I believe?

Sarah J Young  16:55

Yeah, something... a system that's known as the wall alphabet [wall tapping], that is very well known for communicating between cells. And this was used in the 20th century as well, when people were imprisoned under Stalin. And even that was very severely punished at first, but in the end, the guards realized they couldn't stop it. So it's a very laborious way of communicating. But it did allow them some sort of contact with each other.

And then the prisoners were able to exercise in pairs. First of all, that was the first thing, so for half an hour a day, they would get to see somebody else and when you've been in sort of complete solitary confinement for two or three years, you can imagine that's a really extraordinary sort of moment of actually having real contact with another human being and then the prison built allotments for them. So the first meaningful work they had. And in the end they were also sort of breeding chickens and that sort of thing [laughing]. So they, they...  all quite extensive and growing tobacco as well, at one point and really, sort of what happened was the prisoners just pushed and pushed against the boundaries of what they were allowed. And basically, they gained more and more liberties as time went on. There were some reversals, you know, it was definitely a very sort of constant process.

Cassidy  18:26

It's amazing to think that these people that were so deprived, were able to make such progress under very bleak conditions. Out of the 68 prisoners only 30 survive, and half of them wrote memoirs, Sarah was able to access all of them but could only include a few in our book.

Sarah J Young  18:26

The memoirs they're really interesting as a sort of group, a collective text. And there was one which is sort of very horticultural. They spent a lot of time working on allotments. And so there's one giving great, enormous, huge amounts of detail about compost, [laughs] which I thought it's not really not really my scene. But then it was these three that really stood out to me. Together, they read very well and they give sort of a very rounded picture and that's what I wanted to achieve. So I've got Liudmila Volkenshtein's memoir. And she's important because there were only two women, long term prisoners there. They were sort of one of the first memoirs of prison written by a woman in Russia. And so one thing that's really important about this memoir, I think, is because she was writing at a time when a lot of the other prisoners were still in the fortress. This is a really urgent piece of political writing. This is about bringing to the world's attention what was going on in this fortress. So that was... I thought that it was absolutely crucial to include that.

And then the second one is by Mikhail Ashenbrenner, who was a Colonel in the army and got into sort of radical politics. And he was a incredibly erudite man and this is a, it's a really sort of incredibly detailed memoir. You're talking about everyday life, talking about all the things that they were doing the things that they were reading. This is the one where you really sort of get to grips with, you know, where you could actually really reconstruct what they were doing on a daily basis, what their life actually looked like.

Then the third one by Vasili Pankratov is really interesting, because whereas Liudmila Volkenshtein was from the gentry, and so was Mikhail Ashenbrenner, Pankratov was a peasant and a worker. So he was pretty much an educated by the time he arrived at the fortress. He could read but not much, not much else, but he became as they all did, because they were studying because they have nothing else to do s lot of the time, he became sort of very well read, he learned languages, he sort of became an expert in various areas. But he sort of retains this down to earth style that you don't have in the other memoirs. And it's a really, really vivid picture that he paints of how the prisoners relate to each other and how they relate to the guards. He really, he just really brings the whole thing to life, frankly, in places these memoirs are quite harrowing to read but once you get to Pankratov, it's actually great fun.

Cassidy  20:57

It's astonishing that Pankratov was able to make the most out of what was meant to be an awful experience, going from being completely uneducated to this well-read individual who knew multiple languages. their stories are really interesting and also really significant.

Sarah J Young  21:18

It's important because this is a really sort of extraordinary group of individuals thrown together in this prison, and many of them died. But the one of the ones who survived, they really sort of became this extraordinary group, a collective, who worked to improve conditions in the prison. And because so many of them died, they really sort of became icons for the revolution, but they have just most of them have just been forgotten. In the sort of intervening years since the... after the Russian Revolution, it's sort of obscured a whole sort of area of revolutionary history that is really quite important, and a whole area of Russian prison history as well and what they can tell us about that.

Cassidy  22:00

Why do you feel that it's important to shed light on this whole issue of what happened? And then the whole revolution? Why do you think it's important that we know about it today?

Sarah J Young  22:10

With the Shlissel'burg Prisoners really, for the first time, you get this idea of the violence of the state. It's very, very much more political than rather than an ethical message. And that is something that we see continuing into the 20th century. And you see this idea of the Shlissel'burg Prisoners as model prisoners. Not in the sense that they behave themselves for the prisoner authority, quite the opposite in a way, in that they know how to act in order to survive. And they learn how to do that from previous generations of prisoners. How we deal with this. How we sort of behave in a way that makes us stronger, not be destroyed by this. And this is something that you get from generation to generation and you see it even even in writings about prison today in Russia, that they're still thinking about these memoirs from the Soviet period and what they can learn from those.

Cassidy  23:09

If you’re as intrigued as I am about these new memoirs, here’s a little info about when and where you can find a copy about Sarah’s new book.

Sarah J Young  23:18

The book comes out at the end of June. It's coming out with UCL press and because it's UCL press, it's Open Access. Which means that you can go to the UCL press website and search on Writing Resistance, and you'll find a link to download the book for free.

[transitional music]


Cassidy  23:41

Now that we've explored how pushing for incremental amounts of freedom can be used as a form of profound revolutionary resistance. Let's explore another form of freedom.

In previous episodes, we've explored the positive aspects of advancements in technology and what the freedom to utilize these advancements means: less invasive surgeries, touch sensitive prosthetics, fraud prevention... But there is a darker side, particularly when it comes to those cool tech devices you have in your home. You know, those ones that talk back and keep track of your fitness progress, you may reconsider what you keep around after you hear this.

[ominous music]

Cassidy  24:32

This is

Saheli Datta Burton  24:33

Saheli Datta Burton.

Cassidy  24:35

And her research looks into

Saheli Datta Burton  24:36

the politics and economics of science and technology, mostly looking at the emerging technologies in the health area.


Cassidy  24:47

And so I know like a lot of the research you've been doing lately has been on like fitness devices and issues of people being hacked on these fitness devices. It's interesting, because I've never really thought about fitness devices as something that I have to worry about a security breach of. It's just not something that came to my mind. So what kind of data can these people collect?

Saheli Datta Burton  25:11

I mean, once they have unauthorized access to your device, they can collect whatever data there is, in quite a few hacker conventions, hackers have actually, in the public forum, hacked into these devices into pacemakers, into insulin pumps to show that you could just hack in, if you change the dosage of the insulin pump, then, you know, it could have fatal consequences. It has been the case that there is no recorded instance so far of this happening. But in the case of a pacemaker, the pacemaker actually reads the data off to the mobile device of the user and the data is recorded in the smartphone. From there, the health organization which is responsible for looking after the patient then pulls the data from there. But this data is never available to the patient, to the user and so if there's a breach, and somebody pulls that data, I mean, if you don't even know what reading there is, what has been taken or how it affects you...

Cassidy  26:17

It's incredibly creepy to think that someone could be viewing your private information without you having any idea. In these kinds of scenarios, I've always pictured it being a stranger going after that information. But that's not always the case.


Cassidy  26:35

And then one thing that was brought up in a recent paper of yours was an issue of domestic abuse as well, when hacking into this information, which is another thing that I would would not consider or think about. How would people, I guess, well, I guess it's obvious now how people would use that when you talk about that insulin issue, but what are some other examples of ways that someone could use that to abuse someone?

Saheli Datta Burton  27:04

For example, children's toys - these all have Bluetooth. Those small iPads, like a Leapfrog, that is connected to the home broadband, and it has bluetooth access. So a passerby… and there has been a case where somebody in the vicinity of a home broadband access used the space and the storage space available there to store child abuse images. Somebody with even basic knowledge of Bluetooth and wireless technologies can do this. And, for example, in one research, the child's Leapfrog showed up in a very large corporation's network. But these tend to be ignored by the IT staff of organizations, because for example, now that we are in lockdown, a lot of us, we are all connected through our home broadband to the wider networks. For example, at UCL itself is my home broadband, but somebody connects to the LeapFrog they have access to the UCL network. So that's just, you know, one way that unauthorized access can work. Another way is by directly talking to the child who is using that Leapfrog or that smart toy or that smart Barbie or, you know, whatever. And I think in the case of one of the toys, in Germany, the company was actually pushing sales through the toy in the sense that the toy was talking to the child and saying, "would you like to have this?" or something. So it's kind of a marketing to the child, you know? So these are the various ways. I mean, it's very anticipatory at this point but could somebody then talk to the child and find out their route from the school, on the way, where they go to, where they are walking?

Cassidy  28:52

Wow, that's, I mean, yeah, and I think about how much we use these kinds of devices, you know? I think about my parents, you have the Alexa and like how much information can be taken in or I also think about people, because everyone's pretty much working from home and then dealing with very sensitive information, maybe that information is being recorded and used. It's terrifying.

Saheli Datta Burton  29:17

No, that's another thing as well, you know most of these things, smart homes, they have cameras, they have microphones, and if the Alexa is sitting there, or there's a toy, or a device that is just sitting there, even if you have a TV where the red light is turned on, and it's switched off, but it's on, and it's a smart TV, it can hear what you're saying. If somebody hacks into it, and you're having a private conversation it can be recorded. So you don't really know who's hearing in, who's looking in, who has access to these.

Cassidy  29:51

Oh, wow, wow, this is definitely opening my eyes [laughs]

Saheli Datta Burton  29:57

No and that that's really one of the key areas that for the research in this area is to create public awareness more than anything. How do these things like Alexa affect me, like you were talking about your parents and same with mine. For them, it's just a fun thing. You talk to them, "how's the weather today, Alex?" "Oh, it’s great." And if somebody's talking to you, I think, it's a fun thing, but it has a real dark side, which needs to be explored, and people need to be aware of before making the decision to have these things sitting in their home in. It's almost as if, I like to tell my mother, it's almost having another person in the room. You just don't feel it because it's embodied in a little black metal box, but it is almost like having not just another person, it's like having a crowd in the room. Because you do not know how many third parties are listening to you.

Cassidy  30:53

Absolutely. So what can be… what would you suggest be done?

Saheli Datta Burton  30:59

It's not a question that I can answer on my own, but I can just kind of discuss some of the ways that has been proposed this be approached. One is through deliberation with the public. I mean, we all know by now that the public voice is important. But what is the public voice? Which public? You know, what, what exactly should the public do in this case is do they have a voice? So how to include the public voice, make it more inclusive, is, I think, key here. And that has been the direction for a lot of the researchers to create the awareness make the public more demanding. And that in a sense, has become easier with the smartphones that we all carry in the sense that it becomes a public debate very soon.

Cassidy  31:52

Yeah, it's interesting that it's like there's this awful thing going on with technology, this dark side that you want to bring awareness to, but then also technology you have to use... You're supposed to use technology to also bring awareness to this bad issue and so it's like, it's like technology is on both sides of that [laughs] of that issue.

Saheli Datta Burton  32:13

No, absolutely. It's a, it's a fine balance. But that balance is very hard to achieve.

Cassidy  32:18

It's also making me think of how this kind of technology is just everywhere.

Saheli Datta Burton  32:23

That's absolutely the case. Every time I hear someone say, "Hi, Alexa, what is the weather today?" Every time I see somebody do that. The key thing is to ask the question, what is that device doing for me? And you know, what, what are the harms really that I should consider? Don’t just read what's on the brochure, on the manual on the box, but look inside ask the questions. I think that really brings home to me this the need for the public to be more aware to become more demanding of what is it they're getting into their homes.

Cassidy  33:01

Yeah, yeah, no, no, I yeah, I feel like I'm gonna be like, "Hey, Mom and Dad, you might want to reconsider this Alexa, maybe listen to this podcast".

Saheli Datta Burton  33:11

I'm not scaremongering. But the key thing is to know, and people, I don't think, sadly, ask those questions, you know. I mean, my own mom is like, "Oh, look, I got a Alexa". What did you do? Do you know, I'm studying this thing? Did you even bother to ask me? [laughs]

Cassidy  33:33

For you personally, like, do you... Are there any devices that you think are worth getting? That have this kind of technology?

Saheli Datta Burton  33:43

No, but then again, you know, I wouldn't want to put myself in opposition entirely and say, I'm completely opposed to all things connected or smart, because I mean, I do have a smartphone. I can't, you know... I have to get my emails when I'm outside. I mean, yeah, I think one should be able to, or one should be able to make the decision to what extent they want their private lives to be intruded upon by tech, because the tech may look neutral, it is not. It is politically economically constrained, and more so there is the security issue. And it is really an intrusion into the privacy of a lot of people's homes, into lives, really, in the sense of, say, for example, if I give you the example of a child, you know, UNICEF made a very valid comment and it said something to the effect, that we have children in classrooms, they have smartphones, they have smartwatches, this 24 hour surveillance, what does it do to childhood? So I think it's really key to kind of ask those questions. But yes, can I do without a smartphone? No, I can't. So I have to get that. But, you know, can I do without Alexa? Probably shouldn't be saying this on a public domain podcast, but no, I wouldn't. I wouldn't get it. Because it's really having not just a person but a whole company and a whole group of people there in the room with me and I don't think I would want that.

Cassidy  35:17

That's fair enough. Yeah, as smartphones, you can't really avoid these days. And also because right now, we're required to be basically contactable all the time, whether emails, phone, whatever. It's like, Well, why couldn't I reach you? Anyway, that's a whole other topic. But... [laughs]

[curious music]

Cassidy  35:46

I got a little off topic there at the end. But the point is, those smart gadgets you have may seem great. But you may want to think twice about them because... Alexa is listening.

So what have we learned from today? One, there are a number of UK work laws that need to change in order to protect people. In order to change this, we can advocate for it, of course, but in the meantime, we can also join unions when possible and be conscientious buyers where we can. Two, even in the most devastating and dire of circumstances, there's always hope. and persistence is the key. And three, maybe that techie device that you're like, "oh, this is super fun" is not... is not really worth it

[theme music]

Cassidy  36:42

Thank you for listening to Made at UCL, the podcast. To listen to previous episodes or find out more about life at UCL, visit www.ucl.ac.uk/made-at-UCL, or subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast.

This episode was presented by me Cassidy Martin and produced by Cerys Bradley.

It featured music from the Blue Dot Sessions and additional sounds from freesound.org.

Special thanks to Sarah, Saheli and Virginia for sharing their time and expertise. And to Kalayaan for sharing their video audio with us.

This podcast is brought to you by UCL Minds, bringing together UCL knowledge, insights and expertise through events, digital content and activities that are open to everyone. I hope you enjoyed listening as much as I enjoyed interviewing our guests this month. Thanks again for stopping by. Take care of yourself and each other.