Sunday, May 4, 2008

Supertraces - Discussion Questions, Public & Private Data

Discussion Questions For Class Tuesday:

1) Steve Mann's inventions empower him as an individual - giving him a means to question authority within it's own constructs. (laws, technology, personnel hierarchies, power dynamics). Mann is pointing out a strong relationship between power and technology. Like the Critical Art Ensemble and other technology artists - he protests the use of technology for surveillance by exaggerating it's current use in society. What means do we have to resist and protect ourselves without being radical activists?

2) The notion of a diagrammatic view of panoptic surveillance, argues that consumers are rewarded by software agents that present familiar images and commodities, and punished by having to work harder outside the system to find obscure or unfamiliar items. Just in Time Systems operate on the principle of suggestion by popular aggregation (others who purchased this) - search terms, and previous purchase history. Does such a system homogenize our thought activities and streamline popular thought or do they provide a means of seeing how others approach the same topic. What would a "decentralized" database or search engine look like? Would it be able to make suggestions without losing context?

3) Given the Murky Nature of Public and Private data (seeker and subject, norms, power roles, expectations of both parties) and the complexity of "user agreements" when we enroll in services, perhaps it would be advantageous to have a GPL (GNU General Public License) for commerce and surveillance. The advantage of the GPL is that most software developers are familiar with it, and can readily agree to it's terms without having to review a long agreement. The expectation that any user will read a term of agreement is unrealistic, so an open-surveillance agreement which protects both seekers and subjects from each other and from larger powers like the federal government, may also limit the capabilities of surveillance technology, or jobs from monitoring our activity. What would such an agreement say, and how could it adapt to multiple contexts? Do people think this is a good idea?

4) In "Born to Buy" a form of modern child labor is described where kids go out and collect information for large companies on consumer preferences of their peers. Generally, the ethics of these practices involve a parental consent form which indemnifies a company from being held liable or having to pay a child whose idea becomes the next profitable product. Children enjoy being listened to and having an opportunity to earn a small fee. Is such a practice morally acceptable? How might labor laws allow children to participate in creative contribution to a market and be sufficiently reimbursed for their efforts if the ideas are successful? What laws are in place to protect the privacy of children who cannot know the implications of their actions?

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