Siva Vaidhyanathan’s The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) is a challenging, if flawed, book. Vaidhyanathan’s central premise is that we should work to influence or regulate search systems like Google (and, presumably, Yahoo! and Bing) to take responsibility for how the Web delivers knowledge to us, the citizens of the world. In addition to pursuing this premise, the book tries to deflate the hyperbole around contemporary technical systems by arguing against notions of technological determinism/utopianism.
As I will discuss, the book largely succeeds in pointing to reasons why regulation is an important policy instrument to keep available. The book also attempts to situate itself within the science and technology studies field, and here it is less successful. Ultimately, while Vaidhyanathan offers insight into Google itself – its processes, products, and implications of using the company’s systems – he is less successful in digging into the nature of technology, Google, culture, and society at a theoretical level. This leaves the reader with an empirical understanding of the topic matter without significant analytic resources to unpack the theoretical significance of their newfound empirical understandings.
I spend an exorbitant amount of time reading about the legacies of today’s telecommunications networks. This serves to historically ground my analyses of today’s telecommunications ecosystem; why have certain laws, policies, and politics developed as they have, how do contemporary actions break from (or conform with) past events, and what cycles are detectable in telecommunications discussions. After reading hosts of accounts detailing the telegraph and telephone, I’m certain that John’s Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications is the most accessible and thorough discussion of these communications systems that I’ve come across to date.
Eschewing an anachronistic view of the telegraph and telephone – seeing neither through the lens that they are simply precursors to contemporary digital communications systems – John offers a granular account of how both technologies developed in the US. His analysis is decidedly neutral towards the technologies and technical developments themselves, instead attending to the role(s) of political economy in shaping how the telegraph and telephone grew as services, political objects, and zones of popular contention. He has carefully poured through original source documents and so can offer insights into the actual machinations of politicians, investors, municipal aldermen, and communications companies’ CEOs and engineers to weave a comprehensive account of the telegraph and telephone industries. Importantly, John focuses on the importance of civic ideals and governmental institutions in shaping technical innovations; contrary to most popular understandings that see government as ‘catching up’ to technicians post-WW I, the technicians have long locked their horns with those of government.
Scholars and civil advocates will be meeting next month in Toronto at the Cyber-surveillance in Everyday Life workshop. Participants will critically interrogate the surveillance infrastructures pervading daily life as well as share experiences, challenges, and strategies meant to to rein in overzealous surveillance processes that damage public and private life. My contribution to the workshop comes in the form of a modest overview of literature examining Deep Packet Inspection. Below is an abstract, as well as a link to a .pdf version on the review.
Deep packet inspection is a networking technology that facilitates intense scrutiny of data, in real-time, as key chokepoints on the Internet. Governments, civil rights activists, technologists, lawyers, and private business have all demonstrated interest in the technology, though they often disagree about what constitutes legitimate uses. This literature review takes up the most prominent scholarly analyses of the technology. Given Canada’s arguably leading role in regulating the technology, many of its regulator’s key documents and evidentiary articles are also included. The press has been heatedly interested in the technology, and so round out the literature review alongside civil rights advocates, technology vendors, and counsel analyses.
Downloadable .pdf version of the literature review.