Josh Cowls is a student on the DPhil in Information, Communication & the Social Sciences, and was previously a student on the MSc in Social Science of the Internet.

Josh is also a Research Associate in Data Ethics at The Alan Turing Institute and a member of the Institute’s public policy programme, where he works with government bodies to translate principles of digital ethics into practice for policymakers. A Turing Doctoral Student and member of the OII’s Digital Ethics Lab, Josh’s research agenda centres on democratic decision-making in the digital era, and he is the author or co-author of work on AI ethics, state surveillance, online agenda-setting and the use of web archives, in publications such as New Media & Society, Minds and Machines, and in numerous edited volumes.

Josh is the Convenor of the Turing’s Ethics Advisory Group and a member of the Turing’s Data Ethics Group, and sits on the Digital Catapult Machine Intelligence Garage’s Ethics Committee. He was previously involved in the Turing’s work with the Information Commissioner’s Office on a framework for algorithmic explainability, and was part of efforts to establish the Ada Lovelace Institute. He is a regular contributor to Monocle 24 Radio.

Research Interests

Digital democracy, big data, the ethics of AI, agenda setting, web archives

Supervisors at OII

Positions held at the OII

  • DPhil Student
  • Research Associate, July 2017 – November 2019
  • Research Assistant, September 2013 – August 2015
  • MSc Student, October 2012 – August 2013


Past projects

  • Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities

    Participants: Professor Ralph Schroeder, Professor Eric T. Meyer, Josh Cowls

    The Big UK Domain Data for the Arts and Humanities project works with data derived from the UK domain crawl from 1996 to 2013, in order to develop a framework for the study of web archive data and produce a major history of the UK web space.

  • Accessing and Using Big Data to Advance Social Science Knowledge

    Participants: Professor Ralph Schroeder, Professor Eric T. Meyer, Dr Linnet E. M. Taylor, Josh Cowls

    The project will follow 'big data' from its public and private origins through open and closed pathways into the social sciences, and document and shape the ways they are being accessed and used to create new knowledge about the social world.


  • Ethical guidelines for COVID-19 tracing apps

    28 May 2020 Nature

    Protect privacy, equality and fairness in digital contact tracing with these key questions.

  • The Globalist

    16 April 2015 Monocle

    Monicle's broadcast news programme talks to Josh Cowls about the EU antitrust case against Google. (15.30 on the clock)

  • The Briefing

    25 March 2015 Monocle 24

    Josh Cowls talks about diplomacy on twitter after the US Ambassador to Libya left the site as a result of online attacks after she tweeted about an air strike. (from 20.00)

  • Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: who are the world’s most popular football clubs?

    9 December 2014 Guardian Sportblog

    Why the global football clubs are put so much store on scoring via social media. Josh Cowls talks about the online relationships between clubs and their supporters around the world.

  • Why big data has some big problems when it comes to public policy

    28 August 2014 Washington Post

    A feature on the this year’s Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining conference mentions a presentation by Josh Cowls.

  • The Bill Heine Show

    1 June 2014 BBC Radio Oxford

    Josh Cowls joined the Sunday morning discussion show on local BBC Radio Oxford talking about the upsides and downsides of social media. (c17:44 on the clock)