Privacy: The Crux between Democracy and Capitalism

digital-privacy

Twitter is highly important to my professional brand, thus I chose to use the platform as my case analysis.

Democracy and capitalism are not as linked as mainstream American society thinks. U.S. law defends the rights of corporations, however, it does not hold them to a higher standard of behavior as in Europe, for example. We must remember that, as Kovacs mentioned, companies are concerned with profit margins, and until laws are made or their profits fall due to public concern over privacy issues, they have a vested interest in continuing to exploit this loophole.

I also agree with Kovacs that data mining is not done with fully malicious intent. Understanding users better allows governing algorithms to better serve them, suggesting better books or movies so that they can optimize what services users receive. Twitter’s policy openly states this in “Twitter for Wed Data” (para. 15), and most interestingly makes those results available to profile owners.

While Taddicken explored the “privacy paradox,” I think it’s important to consider that people rarely have a large social scope when looking at themselves; we think “x” horrible thing happens to others, not ourselves. Thus, we are disinclined to really consider our own security on platforms with hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people because the statistical likelihood seems small, even though everything about digital privacy tells us it isn’t. I use a plurality of platforms professionally, and, in line with Taddicken’s findings, I share personal info less. I feel comfortable with what online “stalkers” know about me.

I disagree with Fuchs on applying socialistic political economy to analyze a capitalistic system. Under social concerns of wealth distribution, privacy protection vs. invasion is an issue colored by wealthy corporations exploiting lower-income users (i.e. privacy fetishism). However, this does not consider services received. Users pay for the service of Facebook or Twitter’s software, not with money but with information; if users didn’t receive anything, per Uses and Gratifications theory, they would not be using the platforms. Therefore, in such a digital transaction, both users and providers receive service or compensation that they deem to be fair, if not a bargain. Until users see such transactions as not fair, again per Kovacs, this transaction is the personification of capitalism, i.e. what the American system is built around.

Democracy affords us rights, including the right to give away our rights. As Twitter states in clear and simplistic terms, usage of the platform signifies agreement with the terms of service; don’t academic syllabi work the same way? If you stay in a class you agree to the rules. We all know students don’t read syllabi, but they are held accountable to it this contract regardless. As long as users “spend their votes” as is, they have little cause to say they have been duped or violated when user policies such as Twitter openly states that usage of the platform is consent for the usage of private information as the company sees fit (para. 2).

 

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Author: Phillip Arceneaux

I am a Ph.D. student in the College of Journalism and Communication at the University of Florida.

5 thoughts on “Privacy: The Crux between Democracy and Capitalism”

  1. The “spend their votes” concept is an interesting one. Of course, the idea is that where someone spends their time and/or money, is the place they’re voting for to succeed. However, I’m not sure it’s totally fair to apply it to new media technologies today. When we consent to having an email address or a mobile phone, are we really spending our votes, or are we acting in a compulsory manner to fit into society. Imagine telling someone you didn’t have an email address . . . yikes! While Twitter may not be quite so extreme, it could one day be. Then what happens to those who choose not to use it because of the terms of service? Or can they?

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  2. Hello, Phillip. First, I have to say Uses and Gratifications is not a theory, it’s a perspective. Because it didn’t explain the cause and effect relationships, it doesn’t contain a mechanism (I just learned it several days ago). Second, I think because of educational system difference, you could not understand the essence of Marxist political economics. The origin of this opinion is from the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Factory works do not have farmland (their land have been exploited by factory owners). The only one way they could survive was to be milked by factory owners, worked for them. They did get paid. But, far too less than they should get. That’s why workers generated surplus value. For Fuchs paper, you mentioned people paid for online service, get served. But, the point is what users get is far less than what they should get, the same thing as workers.

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  3. I agree that we tend to keep passive in the contractual terms we agree with social media companies. Those terms of services that most users never read are seen as part of the power that that organization exercise over to the rest of society. However, if we don’t care about them, by the point of don’t even take a minimum amount of time to see its content, it makes as even weaker. First, because we forget that if everything goes wrong, our counterpart in this contract will say that we agreed with these conditions, including how we exchange our privacy for services. Second, because now as citizens –rather than consumers– once we start to question those terms (because we can’t negotiate with these companies), we can get politicians involved to change policies. One example of this situation happened during the last days of the Obama Administration when a bill was passed limiting those terms and conditions that impeded users to post negative comments about companies (nondisparagement clauses). This would’ve never happened if users didn’t raise the issue as a top Internet policy.

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  4. Phil, it’s great that you touch on the scope of online privacy and our concerns. I agree, we tend to think bad things happen to “other people,” not to us, and if we’re not doing anything wrong, we shouldn’t be affected. But this is a slippery slope because our actions and words can so often be taken out of context as well. But I’m guilty of this too. I want to use a service, so I just click “yes” to the terms of service, and think “ehh, who is going to find me on this anyway? There’s billions of users, no one is concerned with ME.”But I suppose this is exactly the kind of thinking that mega-corporations depend on to keep functioning and buying and selling our information. I guess the real question is, now that we know all of this, is what to do? Social relevance theory holds that we won’t give up or devices and our apps, and new apps that promise transparency and privacy aren’t popular enough to replace the giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. So, what’s the solution, what are consumers to do?

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