[Air-L] Privacy Buzz

Jean Burgess je.burgess at qut.edu.au
Tue Feb 16 19:37:25 PST 2010

Mark, thanks for this - a bit in haste, but I want to dash off a reply

It won't surprise you that I have a kind of inverse but complementary view
- first up, I want to suggest this: the fact that commercial motivations
drive the development of platforms for cultural participation and public
communication does not in itself negate their public, social and cultural

However, the commercial imperatives of platform providers introduce
genuinely new and difficult questions, precisely because their ways of
engaging us as users, their regulatory mechanisms, their governance
structures etc etc take little or no account of their role in producing
public good. 

Where you say Google's "provision of "free" services makes it come to feel
more like a public utility than a cutthroat commercial entity", I say it in
some ways actually *is* a public utility. And in fact our participation via
these platforms already includes the practices of citizenship.

We have seen this with acute examples like Buzz, but also people (including
me and Joshua Green) have written about issues like public archives - when
YouTube is in some ways a more comprehensive repository of popular memory
than many publicly funded cultural institutions, without any public
responsibility (other than complying with corporate regulation), where does
that leave us? I struggle to imagine how something like a public service
charter could be imposed on a global giant that has already run away with
the whole game; however it's useful to think through the role of state-based
regulation in terms other than "Censorship!". I also think your fantasy/plan
is a great thought experiment - especially thinking through what
transnational service provision might look like; how publicly funded
enterprises can innovate, and so on. As you say, kind of big questions!

But then thirdly, just because I want to say it (and not necessarily to you
personally), I must say as a cultural studies scholar I can't accept the
false consciousness explanation for how Googlespacebooktube have come to be
popular in the first place (we are seduced by the tools of our own
enslavement which we misrecognise as agency - by which one must mean,
*other* people suffer from this misrecognition). If we want to dream of
alternatives, then we need to understand this too, not as
seduction/manipulation, but in terms of an invitation to participate.
Although replicating the scale of Google is impossible and possibly
undesirable, how can not-for-profit, open source platforms, public service
providers etc create the same popular warmth of invitation and insistence on
usability above all that make Google, facebook, youtube, the iphone etc etc
commercially successful? [With the proviso that we obviously agree that
Google's recent behaviour has been anything but warm and gentle].


On 17/02/10 12:56 PM, "Andrejevic, Mark" <mark-andrejevic at uiowa.edu> wrote:

> Thanks to Jean for this post, which opens up the big questions, in particular:
> "How might we ask to be addressed as citizens instead or as well?" One of the
> things that has struck me about Google for some time now is its ambition to
> take over functions that I think of as being appropriate for public utility
> providers or public service providers rather than commercial entities. Its
> ambition, for example, to serve as a global digital library, or as a
> high-speed broadband provider for the US or as the (e)mail service and
> document storage service for educational institutions, and so on. In its own
> upbeat way Google is the uber-privatizer of the neoliberal era. And in some
> ways its provision of "free" services makes it come to feel more like a public
> utility than a cutthroat commercial entity -- it's not (directly) selling us
> anything, but providing us with seemingly free services the way other public
> service entities do. When I see it functioning this way, it just becomes so
> temp
>  ting to fantasize about taking it over and turning it into a public utility
> or a public service corporation. I understand the shortcomings of doing this
> with respect to competition-fueled innovation (and the fact that utilities
> tend not to operate at the transnational level). But there would be certain
> advantages in terms of transparency, accountability, and cross-subsidization
> (depending on the kind of tax or fee system that could be used to support it).
> Not to mention that it wouldn't need to store and capture all the data it now
> collects for commercial purposes or to experiment with ways to use this
> information to promote consumption of various kinds. I think freely available
> broadband should be constructed along the lines of a public utility -- but
> Google is ahead of the game, already considering how it might provide "free"
> (commercially supported) broadband, thereby not only increasing its audience,
> but claiming the tremendous amounts of data that it will thereby be abl
>  e to collect. It's hard to imagine that the payoff for collecting and using
> this info would offset the costs of storing it, but that, of course, is the
> wager of the emerging commercial model. It seems to have worked out for Google
> so far.
> In any case, the internet itself suggests that our imagined possibilities for
> the provision of digital services needn't be limited to the horizons of the
> commercial marketplace. It seems worth resisting critiques that take this
> horizon as a given.
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