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BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Panel Discussion

In the panel discussion on Tuesday, Gregory Donovan presented on a term called dataveillance, which is basically the surveillance of personal data—online messaging, home address, credit card information, purchase history, browsing history, etc.—by the government and third party organizations/advertising interests. More specifically, he spoke about how conducting this type of surveillance the public is becoming increasingly easy as urban centers become ‘smart city’ oligopticons in which information and communication technologies are seamlessly integrated into a camera-laden, heavily automated infrastructure.

In discussing culture, specifically youth culture, within smart cities, Donovan spoke about the role of proprietary media in the lives of youths. Because of the way that young people use media, they are especially susceptible to dataveillance techniques. Generally, older people use traditional forms of communication, such as fax, phone calls, and in-store purchasing. Young people tend to conduct most of the communication over purely digital channels: SMS, Instant messaging, e-mail, and online purchasing. In this way, most of their conversations, actions, and advertising preferences are recorded and stored in ‘the cloud.’

Donovan argued that social media service providers are in the wrong due to the inaccessibility of their terms and conditions policies. Like we saw in the movie two weeks ago, most social media sites require acceptance of a 30-60 page terms and conditions policy agreement. Due to the size of the text, the sheer mass of text, and language used, users are in no way able to meaningfully consent to the information. And, according to Donovan, service providers want it this way.

I really like the way that he phrased this, because it raises an interesting question: what is meaningful consent? How can the average Internet user possibly be cognizant of every terms and conditions agreement that they have ever had to sign? As we also saw in the movie, the number of hours that it would require for the average Internet user to read everything is astronomical, and practically impossible.

Though Donovan didn’t provide a solution wrapped up in a box with a bow, I was definitely in agreement with his suggestions for moving toward a culture that is more self-aware in online activity. As I brought up in class yesterday, I also really liked the point that was made during the panel about “expectations of privacy.” As a culture, we need to not only hold media service providers accountable for making sure that they’re consumers are adequately aware of privacy settings, but also that we collectively have a concept of privacy that could be upheld in a court of law. The discourse surrounding these issues are especially important because there is no standard, no legal precedent in cyber privacy law that can be referenced.

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