Digital alienation as the foundation of online privacy concerns

Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 45 (3):109-117 (2015)
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Abstract
The term ‘digital alienation’ is used in critical IS research to refer to manifestations of alienation online. This paper explores the difficulties of using a traditional Marxist analysis to account for digital alienation. The problem is that the activity people undertake online does not look coerced or estranged from the creator’s individuality, both of which are typically seen as necessary for the production of alienation. As a result of this apparent difficulty, much of the research has focused on the relationship between digital alienation and digital labour. This paper attempts to overcome these difficulties by discarding the traditional approach. We argue one can better understand digital alienation by focusing on the relationship between user intent and technical infrastructure, rather than concerns with labour. Under the existing economic model dominating the internet, free services are financed by recording user activity and then using the products of this commercial surveillance to sell information about people to others. We show how the real harm in current online business models is that commercial surveillance is being used to commodify private life. Seeking to define personal data in more precise terms, we will introduce two new concepts necessary for a detailed discussion of any ethical issues regarding personal data - the digital shadow and the digital persona. We will then show how affordances in current online systems are tuned to commodification of the user’s personality. We will then explore the nature of online surveillance and show how affordances combine with the surveillance economy to produce digital alienation.
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2016
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DAIDAA
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Archival date: 2016-03-15
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2016-02-04

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