The Privacy Paradox in a control society

On: September 24, 2010
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About Sander Jansma
I am a MA. New Media student and part of the class of 2010. During my bachelor in Communication & Multimedia Design at the University of Rotterdam I started my own webdesign company and got acquainted with alot of things internet has to offer! Now, 3 years later and a BA in my pocket I not only want to know the practical side of the internet, but also the theoretical side. My interests are the great web, design, development, social psychology, technology, marketing, communication and mobile.


Nowadays a lot of people are in some form represented on the internet. These virtual forms can include profiles on social network sites like Facebook and Twitter, but also as writings on a personal websites and blogs. They have been labeled many names, including data double (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000), a databased self (Simon, 2005) and the one I like most: the dividual (Deleuze, 1992). As Deleuze tells us in his Postscript on the Societies of Control, we “have become dividuals, and masses, samples, data, markets or “banks” (p:5), meaning we are separated from our body and turned in a digital self, making a whole new way of control possible. But what exactly is the impact of this control on our privacy and is this feeling rightly?

According to Deleuze and Foucault, control puts us in the role of subject. In Foucault’s disciplinary society control exists in the form of discipline and bodily monitoring, where in Deleuze’s control society this control is mainly focused on the dividual and exists in the form of modularity and codes (password etc.) (Deleuze, 1999, p:5). This control is being done by continuous communication between computers, monitoring our every digital move and fed by data assemblage and shared surveillance (Simon, 2005).

That’s where the internet comes in. An article in Dutch newspaper ‘De pers’ brought forth the question of the possibility of a degooglization; a way to alter or make your digital self disappear from the internet and its powerful search engines. (De Pers, 2009) This question arose from the growing presence of our dividuals and the way we dealt with the information it was made of. Because we are not just being monitored by institutions only, but also by everyone with access to the internet, it becomes more and more important to control this information. “Nominal freedom of action is canceled by the ubiquitous look of the other” (Mark Poster, 1990, p:90-91).

By putting yourself on the web, you make yourself instantly searchable by search sites like Google or Bing, which can have both advantages and disadvantages. For example, it is sometimes said that, if you are not on the internet, you don’t exist. Self-exposion on the web, e.g. photo’s on Flickr, resumes on Linked-in and profiles on Facebook, can result in an acceptance of other people and in a commodification of the self (Haggerty & Ericson, 2000).

On the other hand, too much personal information can result in a need of privacy: harmful information can end up at places you don’t want them to end up, for instance at your future boss, current enemies or commercial companies. This combined with the influence other people can have on its appearance and data, e.g. by tagging you in a picture or placing photo’s and movies in comments, can make a dividual somewhat anarchistic and dangerous.

All in all a paradox in privacy is at hand. Do we have to focus on privacy by not putting any information of ourselves on the internet, hereby avoiding a “dangerous” dividual but becoming “non-existent” to some, or should we focus less on privacy and become visible (but controllable) to the public, but make possible the disclosure of sensitive information?

According to Wendy Chun in Control and Freedom(Chung, 2006, p:30), we should place ourselves in a vulnerable position, because the internet can’t be in control of our freedom…

Or can it?

1. Kevin D. Haggerty and Richard V. Ericson (2000), ‘The surveillant assemblage’, British Journal of Sociology, 51(4), 605‐622.

2. Simon, Bart (2005),The Return of Panopticism: Supervision, Subjection and the New Surveillance, Surveillance & Society, 3(1), 1‐20.

3. Gilles Deleuze. “Postscript on the Societies of Control” (1992)


5. Poster, Mark (1990), The Mode of Information, Chicago: UCP, 69‐98

6. Wendy Chung. “Introduction” in Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (2006)

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