[iDC] Privacy and the Institutionalization of Labor

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Sun Jun 21 16:58:13 UTC 2009

Hi Michael, 

Thanks for your post. In my short response below I am only hinting at a few
issues, which do require a much longer discussion.
How do you account for the institutionalization of interaction labor?
I am comparing social networking services to religious sects, which are
extremely easy to join and exceptionally hard to leave. It's Hotel
California all over again, "such a lovely place..."

Facebook Connect increases the flow of personal information while
simultaneously reinforcing corporate monocultures through guided bus tours
(and hey, you can even take your friends with you). http://is.gd/18qam
MZ's treasure trove does not move a bit; it still sits safely on the lawn of
the walled garden. 

Maurizio Lazzarato writes that capital is obliged in a life-and-death
necessity for the capitalist not to Œredistribute¹ the power that the new
quality of labor and organization imply.

The "power" of organization is about people who continue their presence, who
keep on sharing and managing their relationships on "social utilities" like
Facebook. While you can take a bus ride to CNN or Citysearch --with Facebook
Connect-- you cannot export your videos, friend list, conversations, photos.
It's a spider web of profit.

Remember, in 2008 when Facebook hired Republican Ted Ullyot who used to be
chief of staff to former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as their
General Counsel. I talked to many people who wanted to leave Facebook at
that point but they soon realized that the price was hefty.

Perhaps some of you have read James Grimmelmann's Facebook and the Social
Dynamics of Privacy where he describes user demands for ³ownership² of
³their² information as a trap. He warns that privacy is contextual and that
it'd be risky if user A would be allowed to take the information in user B's
profile with her when leaving Facebook for another service. James is right
but issues of this sort could be addressed through complex permission
processes: User A would have to sign off on user B taking a specific set of
A's data with them. The technical granularities matter and I think that data
portability is worth fighting for.

I am on board with your third point but I only partially agree with your
second finding: "Allowing user control over their information flows is
counter to profit maximization." Services like Facebook Connect give people
limited control over their information flows (i.e., you can decide to make
your newsfeed available to your contacts on Citysearch). There is no option
to *export* your photos or notes. Users have no say in where their
information can flow (i.e., FB lets you only connect to selected sites) and
most importantly this limited mobility of informational flows merely serves
to reinforce the market dominance. Allowing users limited control over their
informational flows reinforces profits. It's such a lovely place, such a
lovely place, and you can check out at any time but you can never leave...

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