[iDC] Why Parents Help Children Violate Facebook's 13+ Rule

Mark Andrejevic markbandrejevic at gmail.com
Thu Nov 10 03:24:06 UTC 2011

John's post raises some core questions for discussions about the brave new
world of ubiquitous commercial monitoring.

To answer the question of the potential harms of tracking and target
marketing to kids -- and others (setting aside questions about potential
"abuse" or data breaches and focusing on the use proper, as it were), would
mean considering the impact of marketing, commercialization, and
advertising more generally on children (and society) as well as the ways in
which these shape the content to which they are exposed and their access to
information (if, as Mark Zuckerberg thinks, his social algorithms will
eventually take primacy in organizing our information worlds for us, what
does it mean that these are developed in accordance with commercial
imperatives? What kind of information will be prioritized and made
available via the "social graph" if this is clearly governed by and
subordinate to commercial imperatives? How might a Facebook social graph
differ from one that was not crafted according to commercial imperatives?
These are the same questions we once asked about how commercial imperatives
structures the news and information made available via commercial media
outlets. It surely retains its relevance and urgency in the online context,
yet we don't seem to ask it as much).

In other words, it's not a new question -- if we are concerned about the
impact of commodification and hyper-commercialization in offline realms,
the recent developments in the online world would likely exacerbate those
concerns. Even if we weren't we might start to get concerned about new
marketing strategies and techniques.

What is striking to me is the way in which the online world tends to get a
free pass. If someone were to build a "free" private for-profit school that
was funded by using students as guinea pigs for market research by spying
on them, experimenting on them, keeping data about everything they did, and
then using that to see how most effectively to influence their behavior and
shape their knowledge in accordance with commercial imperatives, the
creator of this school would likely be critiqued and the proposal roundly
rejected. We might engage in some serious questions about what we had, as a
society, become (or am I behind the times?). At the very least there would
be some significant level of public debate. But when important new forms of
sociality and self-expression online are funded this way, we
all-too-readily accept that this is the "only" way it can be done and go on
to ask, heck, what's so bad about marketing anyway: wouldn't we rather have
ads that are relevant to us than ones that are not?

John's post also highlights the problems with a privacy-based critique of
information collection. There are many pathologies associated with the
deployment of the notion of privacy, including the reinforcement of the
imagined primacy of the classical liberal subject that underwrites the
disturbing social pathologies of, say, the Tea Party with its antipathy to
notions of collective goods, shared social responsibility, legal
regulation, and so on. In more concrete terms, of course, a certain
interpretation of the sanctity of privacy underwrites Facebook's business
model, which is based not on "the end of privacy" but on the wholesale
enclosure and privatization of huge amounts of data. Even as we become more
visible to one another in some ways, what's going on "beneath" the platform
or "behind" the screen becomes increasingly opaque (if only because it's
getting more involved and sophisticated).

We don't have a clear idea of the experiments being conducted on us, the
range of data collected about us, or how this data is used because these
practices are not open and available to us. It would be interesting if
Facebook were as open as some Facebook users, posting an update whenever
they conducted a new experiment on us, and writing on our walls exactly
what data they had captured about us (including when and for how long we
looked at our walls). There is an asymmetry to the so called "end of
privacy": users are subjected to it, whereas those who control the
commercial platforms are exempted in significant ways. There are huge
emerging asymmetries in the terabyte world of "super crunching": those with
access to the databases and the tools for managing them can use data in
quite different ways than those without access. Data has different
significance and affordances for them. Moreover, the data itself is
collected in asymmetric ways. Imagine an application that monitored what
Facebook does with our information as closely as Facebook monitored its
users (not that that would redress the asymmetry entirely -- I think more
is at stake).

It's probably more helpful to approach these issues through the lenses of
power, accountability, democracy and social justice than through the lens
of "privacy" concerns. When people express their concerns about privacy
(even as their behavior seems to belie their words), it may well be that
they are attempting to get at some of these broader concerns but don't have
enough a well enough established public vocabulary to get at them.

It's worth understanding that target marketing in the world of the
expanding database is not simply about collaborative filtering (showing us
things that other people who like the things we like also like) or linking
ads to past preferences. The folks engaged in cutting edge forms of
data-mining and targeted advertising are interested in how  knowledge about
everything from our moods to our particular anxieties to our DNA can
provide leverage over us in ways that we are not aware of (the fear is that
if we know what's going on, the strategies might become less effective).
They are also interested not simply in tracking but in creating variations
in the conditions within which we are tracked in order to conduct ongoing
controlled experiments. If that sounds paranoid, just read the marketing
literature on this -- it's creepy in a fascinating futuristic kind off way.
I don't know if these techniques will actually work, but it's worth
understanding that we are incorporating the assumption that they will into
emerging economic models for supporting our communicative and informational
infrastructure. I'm not trying to over-dramatize the issue - but I think
it's worth anticipating the direction in which the industry seems to be

On Wed, Nov 9, 2011 at 1:20 AM, John Sobol <soboltalk at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 10:56 PM, Seeta Gangadharan <
> seeta.gangadharan at yale.edu> wrote:
>> Hi Lynn/all,
>> Though survey research might be useful in ascertaining snapshots of
>> low-income communities' sentiments towards surveillance and privacy, I'm
>> not certain that a survey will capture breadth of harmful experiences
>> that result from tracking or that are perceived to result from tracking.
>> I'd love to hear someone who's working toward that end to suggest
>> otherwise.
> Hi all,
> I would be interested to hear from people about this question too,
> specifically, what are the actual harmful experiences that have resulted
> from corporate tracking/targeting of teens/kids, as opposed to the
> perceived or potential harmful experiences? I can think of the RIAA
> lawsuits but would be keen to hear about others.
> Personally, as a parent of 'tweens I sympathize with the perspective that
> assumes that any and all tracking and targeting of our kids - corporate or
> otherwise - is inherently dangerous and undesirable. But another part of me
> wonders whether this is not an unfounded assumption.
> For example, I am of the belief that the passion for privacy that is
> inherent to literate culture and that arises out of the anonymity of
> literate technology has been a key factor in destroying our perception of
> the interrelatedness of all things, and thus in enabling our disastrous
> delusion that it is OK to exploit the earth to death (ours). Perhaps our
> desire to migrate anonymity into networked culture is a fundamental
> mistake? Perhaps we need to maximize our interconnectedness and our
> collective being, not as unknown atomic individuals but as individuals
> unafraid of being known by our words and deeds (or profile), i.e. not
> anonymous? Perhaps the price we pay for our targeted social networking is
> targeted commercial networking? Perhaps it is inevitable and OK that our
> economy should become personalized - as it once was in oral economies - and
> our resistance to this stems from our allegiance to literate economic
> principles and values that are based on impersonal standardization as
> opposed to targeted personalization and interaction (automated or
> in-person)?
> Targeted marketing already serves us well (or does it? I would say it
> does) on ebay and amazon and etsy etc. Besides, was listening to the radio
> not a form of targeting, and of suggestive marketing, or watching TV or
> reading the newspaper? We let our kids do those things, so the difference
> appears to be in the personalized tracking/targeting capabilities not in
> the pushing out of suggestions per se. Partly what I'm saying is, do I care
> if personalized ads as opposed to generic ads are targeted at my daughter?
> No I don't. Do I care that a vast store of data about her personal and
> commercial (and when she gets older, professional) life is in the hands of
> a company that could be hacked or that could sell it to a 3rd party for
> non-commercial uses? Yes, definitely. So although I don't really care about
> marketing,  I do care about security. So from my personal perspective,
> perhaps the focus of researcher's concern should be less on the
> not-so-nefarious practice of targeted marketing and instead on the
> seemingly more alarming danger of personal data being exported for
> non-commercial purposes?
> Obviously the 'potential' harm is 1984ish and nightmarish. But perhaps the
> 'potential' benefits, on the other hand, are utopian. Or more likely both
> are somewhat exaggerated. But I disagree with you Danah when you say that
> the key determining factor is social norms. I think the determining factor
> is the architecture of the technology, or the code as you/LL put it.
> Because social norms change as a result of technological architectures and
> not the other way around, despite the fact that it is heresy to say so.
> (Unfortunately, the Myth of the Myth of Technological Determinism is even
> more entrenched than the Myth of the Myth of the Digital Native!) So partly
> what I am wondering is whether - given that the architecture of networked
> culture promotes personalization and destroys anonymity, fighting that new
> digital norm is a less useful activity than building constructively on it,
> no matter how uneasy this may make those of us who were raised to cherish
> and expect anonymity in commerce and elsewhere.
> For example, I do not believe that the appropriate response to the RIAA's
> litigious attacks on digital sharing is deeper hiding and sneakier sharing
> tools, precisely because downloaders will always be trackable. I think the
> appropriate response is collective self-empowerment in which millions of
> people should come together and publicly acknowledge their actions as part
> of a popular movement to challenge IP law and at the very least stop the
> harmful music industry attacks on students and their families. Alternately,
> bands should shed their labels and develop digitally-enabled fanclubs in
> which every single fan is known by name and can be tracked and targeted, so
> music and media can flow downstream to fans and money can flow upstream to
> bands and the RIAA can be left out of it all entirely. That would be an
> excellent example of benevolent targeted marketing and personalized
> commerce, and I'd have no problem with my 12 year old sharing her personal
> info in that context...
> These are open-ended questions. Just thinking out loud and exploring
> different perspectives...all comments welcome...
> John Sobol
> --
> www.youareyourmedia.com
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