thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Thursday, October 11, 2007


The privacy field is currently in the hot phase of a paradigm shift. You can tell this from the multitude of new conceptional terms that pop up almost weekly. I already wrote about "wikisurveillance" and the concept of "Limited Liability Personae", and the identity management folks currently have a hot debate about the "Identity Oracle".

Now, Michael Zimmer has coined the term "netaveillance". It is based on Helen Nissenbaum's theory of "privacy as contextual integrity". He is trying to grasp the information flows among users of web 2.0 platforms, and he does this based on a thoughtful discussion of other terms:
What seems to be emerging is a new form of voyeuristic surveillance of people’s everyday lives, fueled by Web 2.0. This has been referred to varyingly as “lateral surveillance,” “peer-to-peer surveillance” or even as a new kind of “participatory panopticon.” Yet these terms – and the theories embedded within them – seem insufficient to fully grasp the significance of the emergence of this new voyeurism of the mundane. Surveillance, via its etymology, implies the “watching over” of subjects from above, with an explicit power relationship between the watchers and those placed under its gaze. Trying to describe surveillance as “peer-to-peer” suggests a flattening of the power relationship that is counter to its very definition. Similarly, the notion of a “participatory panopticon” is at the same time redundant and contradictory. Foucault revealed how panoptic power becomes internalized by the subjects, thus, they necessarily “participate” in their own subjugation. Yet the top-down power relationship within the panoptic structure remains. The participation by the subjects in their own surveillance does not make them equal with the watchers in a panoptic model. Yet the informational voyeurism associated with Web 2.0 seems to imply a balance between the users: one shares their data streams in order to improve the overall worth of the network, coupled with the presumption that they’ll be able to observe and leverage others’ streams as well.

This notion resembles that of “equiveillance,” a state of equilibrium between the topdown power of surveillance, and the resistant bottom-up watching of sousveillance. Yet, these concepts imply merely a balance in access to surveillance information, and is focused more on how to reach some kind of harmonious relationship with our rising surveillance society. With the informational voyeurism of Web 2.0, however, the goal isn’t to resist or come to terms with the power yielded by traditional surveillance, but rather to participate in a widespread and open sharing of the mundane details of one’s daily life. To give one’s peers a glimpse into one’s own personal universe.

These snapshots of the minutia of people’s lives have been compared to the Japanese concept of “neta”, the tidbits of people’s lives that are shared with family and friends as a kind of social currency.
The full manuscript is here, the accompanying slides are here.

I rate this as a "must read" for everybody interested in Web 2.0 and privacy. (Now, how do I put this into a facebook minifeed?)


Blogger Michael Zimmer said...

Thanks for the positive response to this new concept I'm trying to explore. I welcome any feedback by you and your readers.

12/10/07 05:17


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