Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oh no! I've been advertised to!

Andrejevic: There are some points for concern here. As we give up control of our data in exchange for free storage, endless interconnectivity, and general convenience, we are certainly signing away a large amount of our privacy. That said, the writer has himself whipped up into such a fury over....advertising? I mean, isn’t that what his article comes down to? These companies aren’t using our information to oppress us, but to sell us stuff. And his contention that by playing video games or grocery shopping we are laboring on behalf of Google is REALLY stretching things.

First of all, let’s assume all this is true: companies like Google are tracking your spending habits, the websites you visit, and even monitoring your location via your wireless devices. Computers then take all that information, process it, and send you an advertisement. Wow. I feel so alienated from my labor. Attention: nobody is forcing you to buy that product! It’s a suggestion, an enticement, not a gun to your head. Andrejevic makes it seem as if we are mindless cattle who will respond to whatever ads we receive. He goes so overboard, it’s hard to take him seriously. While all this is certainly a developing issue for our current age, and one that deserves a national dialogue, he needs to present the threat better. People won't be motivated by receiving advertisements. And what is his proposed solution? Municipal wi-fi networks? That seems like a pretty small response to the EXTREME privacy threat he perceives. And it ignores the fact that people are more and more liable to access the internet from their mobile devices, which would still be under the constraints of that encroaching cloud, the “prison” he fears.

OK, I could go on and on ripping Andrejevic. But better to use this as a chance to reflect on the broader issue of information privacy. We are facing an unprecedented situation, and we do need to start thinking about the implications of allowing companies like Google and Microsoft to control our data. This, as I said above, requires a national dialogue. How many people are aware that these companies are tracking all that information? Some, certainly. Most won’t care, because the trade off is real convenience and (let’s face it) some pretty cool technology. But there is a significant segment of America’s population that is very protective of its privacy. How can we present the threat in a way that will mobilize this segment into action? In my opinion, Andrejevic needs to reconfigure his message in a way that will resonate with the public. Continually invoking Karl Marx, and making vague references to the enclosure of the English commons is probably not the best strategy in this country. Just saying.

My reflections on the course lead me to this conclusion: it is up to us to find a means and a message to more effectively communicate the potential danger to the American public. We are the ones equipped with the knowledge of what Google is doing, and what the implications are for privacy and liberty. We are the ones who must work to lobby congress and other governing institutions to ensure our constitutionally protected freedoms are not imperiled by the corporate machinery. To do so, we must investigate the potential dangers, beyond just targeted advertisements. I think we all have a vague idea about what those dangers are, but let’s put some real effort into formulating a concrete message to deliver to the public. We must draft serious policy. We must work with Google and Microsoft to find common ground. These corporations are not totally evil: Google has been involved in a recent dispute with China over censorship, and Microsoft’s founder is one of the world’s greatest philanthropists. It’s too simplistic to paint these companies as unstoppable forces of evil out to enslave us.

I feel as if I could go on and on, but blog posts are supposed to be short and sweet. I have enjoyed this course tremendously, especially the opportunity to engage the rest of you on this blog. Rather than fulfilling Sarah’s request to link to a favorite post of mine, I am instead linking to a post by Tecumseh. This one really connected with me at the time and still gives me chills.

1 comment:

  1. I like that you chose to link to a classmate's post that made an impression in you. Very nice.