4S: Privacy and Surveillance in Web 2.0

I am currently attending the annual meeting of the Society for Social Studies of Science in Montreal. Earlier today I had the pleasure of participating on a panel I co-organized with Anders Albrechtslund titled, “Ways Knowing Everything About Each Other: Critical Perspectives on Web 2.0 and Social Networking.”

Here are the first few paragraphs of my contribution:

Privacy and Surveillance in Web 2.0:
A study in Contextual Integrity, and the Emergence of “Netaveillance”

This talk is an attempt to collect and organize some thoughts on how the rise of so-called Web 2.0 technologies bear on privacy and surveillance studies, focusing on two important considerations.

First, since many Web 2.0 platforms are built on the open flow of personal information, one commonly hears statements that users have no expectations of privacy when using such tools, that they don’t care that the whole world knows about their life, or that Scott McNealy’s famous quotation – “You have zero privacy anyway; get over it” – really has come true. I argue this is not true, and that users of Web 2.0 applications do maintain particular formulations of personal privacy. What has emerged with Web 2.0 systems is a more complex notion privacy – not simply based on secrecy or a strict public/private dichotomy – but a more nuanced and contextual notion of privacy. I’ll show how the theory of “privacy as contextual integrity” provides a useful framework to consider privacy in a Web 2.0 world.

Second, even considering a more contextual notion of privacy in the Web 2.0 universe, the fact remains that many users of the systems openly share streams of personal information, while also surveilling the personal information made available by friends and strangers alike. Instances of peer-to-peer surveillance, amateur data mining, etc abound in the Web 2.0 world. Many of us seek to understand the conditions under which these kinds of socio-technical systems have emerged, and what effects they might have. To help us understand and explain this phenomenon, I’ll introduce the term “netaveillance,” which might provide a useful concept around which a more robust theory of surveillance about the Web 2.0 phenomena might be built.

The text of my talk is here, and the slides are here (both PDFs).

Our panel also featured excellent contributions by Malene Charlotte Larsen, Anders Albrechtslund, Ingrid Erickson, Ben Light & Gordon Fletcher, Trevor Pinch, and a response by Søren Mørk Petersen.

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