Privacy: A Quick Lit Review

This isn’t a ‘full’ post, in the sense that I’m not actually going to get into any issues. Instead I’m going to put up a list of texts that are particularly helpful in getting into debates surrounding privacy, as well as some texts that deal with privacy as it relates to the process of digitization. I want to do this for two reasons: First, because I am curious to see how I would change this list in a year or two’s time, and second because when I was getting into my Master’s project I couldn’t find anything like the list I’ve prepared.

For the usual purposes of full disclosure/covering my ass, I’ll note that this list should be read as something ‘ongoing’/’in development’. It’s not comprehensive of everything that I’ve ever read and only reflects what I’ve been exposed to up until this point.

Core Books

Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy: An Anthology by Ferdinand D. Schoeman.
Somewhat amusingly, I finally got this book just a month or so after receiving my MA. Why is this the first book on the list? Because it would have saved me a metric buttload of time in going to primary sources to ‘catch up’ on the genealogy of privacy debates. Schoeman has done an exceptional job in collecting major issues and debates in privacy, drawing from prominent philosophical and legal theorists. The downside: it was published in 1984, so it misses the more contemporary discussions in the ongoing debates surrounding privacy. That said, its indispensable if you’re looking for a solid first academic discussion of privacy.

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Search and Privacy

People use Google and Yahoo! throughout their daily lives – they need to know how to get from point a to b, need to find ecommerce sites, need to search friends’ blogs, need to learn how to cook fish, and have (generally) grown used to having the equivalent of electronic encyclopedias at their fingertips at all times. I’m not going to bother addressing concerns that this might be detrimentally affecting how people learn to retain information (i.e. as information is increasingly retained as search strings rather than as info-articles) but want to instead briefly consider how search intersects with privacy.

We hear about the need to protect our private information all of the time. ‘Shred your bank statements’, ‘be wary of online commerce sites’, ‘never share personal information on the ‘net’, and other proclamations of wisdom are uttered in print and video on a regular basis which are, in most cases, completely ignored. Proponents of the commercialization of privacy use this as definitive proof that citizens really don’t care about their privacy like they did in days gone past – people are willing to give up their names, addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information to receive services that they want. In light of this regulators should just butt out – the market has spoken!

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Genealogy and the ‘Net

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading some of Foucault’s Society Must be Defended. Over the course of the book Foucault will be radically changing his early positions, and I hope to note and discuss these changes as I come across them. This said, I’ve recently finished the first lecture and wanted to reflect on the power of genealogies, the fragmented character of the ‘net, and synthesize that with Wu and Goldsmith’s account of the Internet and Foucault’s own thoughts on power as repression. There’s a lot to do, but I think that it might be very profitable to at least toy around with this for a bit.

Genealogy

There is a tendency to try and capture knowledge in unitary architectures. Foucault equates this to trying to develop a unifying concept to explain the behaviour of each droplet of water that explodes from around a sperm whale when it breeches. In the very process of establishing a complex formula to receive this information, the act itself is lost.

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