Christena Nippert-Eng’s Islands of Privacy is an interview-intensive book that grapples with how her sample group of Chicago residents attempt to achieve privacy, and the regular issues they face in maintaining privacy on a day-to-day basis. She finds a strong correlation between those who have had their privacy violated and those who want to secure and defend privacy as a concept and important element of their lived experience. 74 interviews were conducted with residents of Chicago and she makes very clear that her findings and conclusions are consequently highly contingent: other populations across America and the world would likely result in very different understandings of what constitutes privacy and a violation.
Privacy is defined quite early as “about nothing less than trying to live both as a member of social units – as part of a number of larger wholes – and as an individual – a unique, individuated self” (6). Further, privacy is identified as something to be managed: it exists by managing public information. Information is seen by participants as inherently public, with effort required to make it private, though interviewed subjects do not necessarily stick to this understanding of privacy throughout their interviews. On the whole, the approach to privacy remains wrapped up in the language on control, seclusion, and selective sharing of information; in this sense, Nippert-Eng’s work can be seen as a fusion of Westin’s Privacy and Freedom and key tenets of Nissembaum’s work in Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life.
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.
Full disclosure, up front: I’m reviewing Canadian Copyright – A Citizen’s Guide (published through Between the Lines) as part of the Mini Book Expo. Now, on to the review…
Canadians are inundated with news about copyright on a regular basis. Where copyright was once a little spoken of technical subfield of law, it has blossomed into a vibrant and relevant facet of Canadian cultural discourse. Unfortunately, such discourse is often clouded by the ‘facts’ of copyright that accompany vast swathes of American media that is projected into Canada; discussions of fair use, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and the definitions of copyright infringement are regularly grounded in American legal statutes. This book offers itself as an accessible panacea that promises to reorient popular discussions of copyright in Canada.
The text is neatly divided into four parts; Ideas, Law, Practice, and Policy. I’ll address each in turn, noting what I appreciated, and what I found lacking (where appropriate). Given that I spend a little bit of time reading and thinking about copyright, I’ll scatter some comments through the review.
Part I – Ideas
This section of the book is meant to give some background to copyright today. It begins by broadly distinguishing between natural rights-based and utilitarian arguments for the value of intellectual property broadly, and copyright specifically. At the same time, the authors recognize copyright as a means to make non-exclusive property (i.e. ideas) exclusive property; copyright functions to cordon off particular ‘things’ from the public. With this theory behind them, they delve into the history of Canadian copyright by examining the traditions of Britain, the United States (US), and France – copyright law in Canada is found at the crossing of these various legal traditions. While the historical basis of copyright often find themselves into texts on the subject, even elementary theory is often hidden from view – the authors should be congratulated for even taking a stab at the theory behind copyright. Given that the book is meant for a general audience, it’s hard to fault them for not digging into the theory too deeply.