the culture and values of social media

New talk: Big Data, Data-Mining, and the Social Web

Posted: October 30th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: marketing, privacy, Talks | Tags: , | No Comments »

Today I gave a talk at the Power, Privacy & the Internet event hosted by the New York Review of Books. I was on a heavy-hitting panel with the wonderful James Bamford, who has been writing books taking the NSA to task since I was playing with Barbies– and as a result, knows more about where the NSA came from and where it is going than anyone else I’ve ever met. Rounding out the panel was Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, who has been
pressuring the Obama administration to reform the NSA and has met personally with the three out of five members of Obama’s new NSA review board. Phew.

My talk, in contrast, was about the corporate collecting of personal data. I had just seen a fantastic presentation at AOIR by Dave Parry on the Obama campaign’s use of data-mining techniques, and was well-prepared as a result (thanks Dave!).

Here’s the first paragraph of the talk:

While recent revelations regarding the NSA’s role in the collection and mining of the personal information and digital activities of millions of people across the world have garnered immense media attention and public outcry, there are equally troubling and equally opaque systems run by advertising, marketing and data-mining firms which have not attracted as much attention. Using techniques ranging from supermarket loyalty cards to targeted Facebook advertising, private companies systematically collect very personal information, from who you are, to what you do, to what you buy. Data about your online and offline behavior is combined, analyzed, and sold to marketers, corporations, governments, and even criminals. The scope of this collection, aggregation, and brokering of information is similar to, if not larger than, that of the NSA, yet it is almost entirely unregulated and many of the activities of data-mining and digital marketing firms creep under the radar.

You can download a PDF of the entire talk here. Thanks much to #aoircamp for the time and space in which to write it up.


Social Surveillance in Every Day Life

Posted: May 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, privacy, publications | Tags: | No Comments »

I’m lucky to be in Toronto this weekend, interacting with amazing colleagues like Chris Soghoian, Priscilla Regan, Leslie Regan Shade, Lee Tien, Finn Brunton, David Phillips, David Lyon, and too many others to mention. We’re all here for the Cyber-Surveillance in Everyday life workshop, sponsored by the Surveillance Studies Centre at the University of Toronto.

Today I presented a new paper draft, The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life. In this paper, I lay out a theoretical framework for looking at social surveillance, and present some places where it’s useful for analysis (namely, Facebook stalking, context collapse, and lifestreaming).

Marwick, Alice. (2011). “The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life”. Cyber-surveillance in Everyday Life, Toronto, May 12-15. [PDF]

Abstract: A profile on a social network site or a Twitter account is created and constructed against the background of an audience—as something to be looked at. This paper argues that the dual gaze of social surveillance—surveying content created by others and looking at one’s own content through other people’s eyes—is a normative part of constant ongoing social media use. Social surveillance is distinguished from “surveillance” along four axes: power, hierarchy, symmetry, and individuality. Based on ethnographic work in the San Francisco technology scene from 2008-2009 and amongst teenagers in the Southeastern United States in 2010, I look at this surveillance, how it is practiced, and its impact on people who engage in it. I use Foucault’s concept of capillaries of power to demonstrate that social surveillance assumes the power differentials evident in everyday interactions rather than the hierarchical power relationships assumed in much of the surveillance literature. Social media involves a collapse of social contexts and social roles, complicating boundary work but facilitating social surveillance. Individuals strategically reveal, disclose and conceal personal information to create connections with others and protect social boundaries. These processes are normal parts of day-to-day life in communities that are highly connected through social media.

We had a lively debate in the presentation about whether or not this model of “social surveillance” renders the term so widely as to be useless (which I obviously disagree with). In my dissertation, I began theorizing how widespread lifestreaming affects self-presentation and subjectivity, with regard to the internalization of the expectation that people are watching. I think the surveillance literature is a very useful place to continue this theory; I’d be interested to hear what others think.

This is a draft; I’ll be revising and submitting to Surveillance & Society post-haste.


CNN on “the end of privacy”

Posted: December 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Press, privacy | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

John Sutter from CNN interviewed me for this story that provides a broad overview of information-sharing concerns. I think it’s fairly balanced, and I’m also happy that this quote made it in:

“The teenagers and 20-somethings we talk to — a huge aspect of their social life goes on online,” Marwick said. “Not participating in online life is like not having a phone or not going to parties — it’s choosing to opt out of an important part of their social community. It’s not really a choice for many young people.”

You’ll notice that I relay an anecdote that danah blogged about: a pair of girls we interviewed who used the “super logoff” and “whitewashing” methods. “Super logoff” is deleting your account upon exiting Facebook; “whitewashing” is deleting comments, pictures, and Wall posts after they’ve been up for a few hours. While we’ve only interviewed a few teens who’ve exhibited these behaviors, they’re part of a continuum of creative privacy-protection strategies that includes maintaining multiple profiles, “social steganography,” or posting coded messages that are meant only for a select group, switching from Facebook to SMS when appropriate, deleting one’s Facebook account, and a host of other permutations and possibilities. I’m glad that people are beginning to understand that participating in online social life doesn’t– at all– mean the participants “don’t care about privacy.”

This is the first of a series, and I’m very curious to see where CNN goes with it.