[Air-L] Privacy Buzz

Christian Fuchs christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Tue Feb 16 23:23:23 PST 2010

I like Mark's idea that Google on the one hand has aspects of publicness 
and the commons that are overshadowed by its advertising-related 
surveillance activities that serve private profit interests.

Let's try to put this into theoretical terms: I have argued in my book 
"Internet and Society" that in the digital economy, we find an 
antagonism between the networked productive forces and the class-based 
relations of production that are based on private ownership.

We can observe this very well in the case of Google: At the level of the 
technological productive forces, we can observe how Google advances 
socialization, the co-operative and common character of the 
online-productive forces: Google tools are available for free,  Google 
Documents allows the collaborative creation of documents; GMail, 
Blogger, and Buzz enable social networking and communication, YouTube 
supports sharing videos, Google Scholar and Google Books help better 
access worldwide academic knowledge, etc. These are all applications 
that can give great benefits to humans. But at the level of the 
relations of production, Google is a profit-oriented, 
advertising-financed money-making machine that turns users and their 
personal data into a commodity. And the result is, as Mark has stressed, 
large-scale surveillance and, as Charles has pointed out, the 
undermining of liberal democracy's intrinsic privacy value.

So on the level of the productive forces, Google anticipates a 
commons-based public Internet from which all benefit, whereas the 
freedom (free service access) that it provides is now enabled by online 
surveillance and user commodification that threatens privacy. Google is 
a nice prototypical example for the antagonisms between networked 
productive forces and capitalist relations of production of the 
information economy.

Cheers, Christian

Andrejevic, Mark schrieb:
> 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 te
>  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 a
>  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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- - -
Priv.-Doz. Dr. Christian Fuchs
Associate Professor
Unified Theory of Information Research Group
ICT&S Center
University of Salzburg
Sigmund Haffner Gasse 18
5020 Salzburg
christian.fuchs at sbg.ac.at
Phone +43 662 8044 4823
Personal Website: http://fuchs.uti.at
Research Group: http;//www.uti.at
Editor of
tripleC - Cognition, Communication, Co-Operation | Open Access Journal 
for a Global Sustainable Information Society
Fuchs, Christian. 2008. Internet and Society: Social Theory in the 
Information Age. New York: Routledge.

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