Privacy, anonymity and resistance

What, as teachers, might we actually do within a social context of surveillance capitalism, personalisation and profiling? Do we work to resist, to build a new internet imaginary which respects privacy and is committed to resisting the ‘psychic numbing’ (Zuboff, 2015) on which ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2017) depends? Should we be finding new ways to value anonymity online, and what might that mean for the way we teach? Is online anonymity toxic or is it a way to resist the data extraction, profiling and personalisation of the techno industry giants? What might the future of privacy in education look like? The readings and discussion this week will focus on these themes and think creatively about our responses.

Core readings

Bachmann, G., Knecht, M. and Wittel, A. (2017) Editorial: The social productivity of anonymity. Ephemera: theory and politics in organization. 17(2): 241-258.
“Anonymity is under attack” claim the authors of this editorial, which introduces a special issue on why anonymity can be a good thing, and is worth fighting for. It gives an overview of the ways in which anonymity is under threat, some of the research in ‘anonymity studies’ which is shaping the debate, and an overview of why anonymity works in the interests of ‘liberte, egalite and fraternite/sisterhood’.

Brunton, F. and Nissenbaum, H. (2015) Obfuscation: a user’s guide for privacy and protest. MIT Press.
Read the Introduction and Core Cases (and more if you like)
Helen Nissenbaum is one of the most interesting authors writing in the area of privacy and anonymity studies – in this text she and her co-author, Finn Brunton, offer us a handbook of ways in which we can deliberately ‘obfuscate’ the global technocorporations who are after our data. This give us a nice way into thinking about what definitive actions we might take, as individuals and educators, to resist.

Gilliard, C. (2017) Pedagogy and the logic of platforms. Educause Review, July/August 2017.
Gilliard’s nice piece for Educause discusses how he has addressed the question of resistance with his classes – this is an excellent, easy to grasp account of resistance in action.

Srnicek, N. (2017) The challenges of platform capitalism: Understanding the logic of a new business model. Progressive Review, 23(4): 254-257
Srnicek’s definition of the ‘platform’ is a useful thing to think with when considering the business models that are shaping our experience of the internet and the future of labour. This is a very usefully brief overview of some of the thinking behind his book, Platform Capitalism published last year by Polity Press.

In the news

Lanchester, J. (2017). You are the Product. London Review of Books, 30(16): 3-10.
A terrific long(ish) read looking at platform surveillance, particularly in the context of Facebook.

Apply Magic Sauce
If you are wondering how accurate the profiling technologies used by platforms really is, you could try it out yourself on the University of Cambridge psychometrics centre web site. Rumour has it that this is the technology adapted/purloined by the private company Cambridge Analytica and used to skew the Brexit and Trump elections. You can read a good Guardian report on that here.

An idea developed by Alan Levine and Brian Lamb. A deliberately hard-to-pin-down acronym (Smallest/Simplest * Possible/Portable * Open/Online * Learning/Living *  Tool/Technology) proposes the idea of a small, pop-up learning object that explicitly does not collect personal data.

Naked Security (2017) Self-hosted search option is a new approach to bursting the filter bubble.
Another example of a strategy of active resistance

Additional readings

Coleman, G. (2012) Our weirdness is free. Triple Canopy, 15.
Coleman conducted an ethnography of the activist hacker collective, Anonymous. This web article gives an overview of her work.

Lee, A. and Cook, P. S. (2014) The conditions of exposure and immediacy: Internet surveillance and Generation Y. Journal of Sociology, 51(3): 674-688
Lee and Cook’s article reports on research with the so-called ‘Generation Y’ (those born between roughly 1982 and 2000), and looks at this group’s perspective on surveillance and ICT. They discuss immediacy as the driving need for this group online, often at the cost of privacy.

Li, Q., and Literat, I. (2017) Misuse or misdesign? Yik Yak on college campuses and the moral dimensions of technology design. First Monday, 22(7)
Li and Literat consider Yik Yak, the now-defunct, anonymous social networking app widely used in universities, as a way into considering the moral and ethical dimensions of technology design.

Ridgeway, R. (2017) Against a personalisation of the self. Ephemera: theory and politics in organization. 17(2): 377-397.
In this piece Ridgeway reports on her own auto-ethnographic study of data surveillance by comparing Google with Tor (the ‘anonymous browser’). It’s a nice example of how to evidence tracking and personalisation in the interests of finding an alternative.

Scjep, T. Like oil leads to global warming, data leads to social cooling
A lovely, graphical and easy way into some of the current debates around data tracking and privacy.

Slade, S. and Prinsloo, P. (2013) Learning Analytics: ethical issues and dilemmas. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(10): 1510-1529
Slade and Prinsloo tackle the topic of learning analytics and privacy, providing a useful set of ideas to work with in thinking about how the issues we are looking at might apply specifically to education.

Wijnsma, L. and Tan, F. (2017) The smell of data
Just one example of a future ‘fiction’ to inspire our thinking around what we might design, build, develop and enact in the interests of resistance.

Williamson, B. (2017) Fast psycho-policy & the datafication of social-emotional learning
Williamson’s blog post looks in detail at one example of an educational technology that is implicated in the platform capitalism critiqued by Nick Srnicek in the core reading – Class Dojo. It’s a useful application of this way of thinking to a concrete example, this time in the context of primary schooling.

Discussion questions:

What would you do, as a teacher, to develop a pedagogy of resistance to surveillance and platform culture?

Is anonymity online worth fighting for, or does it – as Li and Literat (2017) seem to suggest – open up new and vicious forms of victimisation, bullying and hate?

To what extent are the learning technologies we use subject to the logic of platform capitalism?