Surveillant Internet Technologies and the Growth in Information Capitalism: Spams and Public Trust in the Information Society
THE NEW POLITICS OF SURVEILLANCE AND VISIBILITY, TORONTO, K. Haggerty, R. Ericson, eds., pp. 340-362, University of Toronto Press., 2006
Posted: 11 Jun 2006
In July 1993, The New Yorker published Peter Steiner's celebrated cartoon of two dogs furtively watching a computer screen and one saying to the other: "on the internet no one knows that you're a dog" (vol.69, no. 20, p. 61). The cartoon gained instant popularity by symbolising optimistically the free commons of cyberspace. Now consigned to the dustbin of history, it is quite clear in the cold light of the 21st Century that not only does the technology detect that you are a dog, but the same data flows will indicate what breed you are, your fur colour and type, whether you prefer Eukanuba, Pedigree Chum or some other proprietary brand of dog food, how old you are and whether your kennel cough injections are up to-date. And from this information, other technology will trawl through networks of databases to combine your information with that from other similar breeds of dog to evaluate your probable state of health and anticipate the financial and personal burden that you will make upon your owners. Not to mention any other risks to them or society that you are likely to pose, such as potential adverse changes in your temperament brought about by hormonal changes due to your age. Of great significance here is the fact that this information about your canine characteristics has a monetary value which can be exchanged in the informational market place.
One of the hallmarks of the new industrialism that underpins the information age is the valorizing of information and the subsequent growth of a new economy based upon information capital(ism), which is the accumulation of profit and wealth arising from the exchange and exploitation of informational sites of value.
This chapter will explore how the 'surveillant' qualities of Internet technologies have facilitated the growth in information capital(ism). It will also illustrate how the medium is shaping the message, because just as this new economy has merged with, and spans across, formal (legitimate) economies to create entirely new and beneficial business opportunities, then the same processes that have given rise to it have also generated the opportunities for new forms of harmful and intrusive behaviour. Behaviours which are endangering the establishment of public trust in the technology of the information society.
The first part of this chapter will briefly overview the emergence of the information age and the rise of information society. The second part will then look at the 'surveillant' technologies of the Internet which make possible the accumulation and exploitation of valuable personal information. The third part will explore the construction of the industry in spams, or unsolicited bulk emails (UBEs) as they are often called, to illustrate the economy of the trade in information capital. The fourth part will assess the new opportunities for offending which arise from the appropriation of information capital and which are characteristically different to 'traditional' forms of criminal or harmful activity. The conclusion will consider the earlier discussion within the context of trust.
Keywords: Spams, Information Technology, Information Capital, Surveillance, Information Society, Cybercrimes, Cybercrime
JEL Classification: K19, L99, M10, O00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation