Data Economy Interfaces: Mediating Relations in Fluid Assemblages

Everyday connected things have become key sites for the production of behavioral data about people’s lives, enabling corporate actors to predict and control behavior in service of enormous profit under the economic model of surveillance capitalism. This production of data and nudging have come to be primary functions of digital networked technologies. However, when it comes to the design of these things and the ways in which they are presented to end users, it is the utility and experience that are in focus. These other functions of things typically do not come to presence at the level of the interface during use. There has come to be a rift between the way things come to presence and what they actually are, between appearance and function, when it comes to everyday things that are fluid assemblages.

This week is the 4S/EASST 2020 conference in the field of science and technology studies, where I will be (virtually) presenting in a session on ‘moralizing the data economy’. In my presentation, I consider possible conditions needed for a moral economy of data at the level of the interface and interaction, through looking at how basic principles of informed consent play out (or not) in a series of small examples (including Journal, invisible Google products, and a Sony headphones EULA). This opens up the larger question of what is acceptable, which also gets to the core issue of the kinds of relations that are mediated by these kinds of things. We need to consider true alternatives and ways of intervening to tune industrial systems and surveillance capitalism toward possible postindustrial futures in which data technologies are used for good of the many rather than profit for the few.

A recorded version of my talk is below.

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