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Christian Fuchs Web 2.0, Prosumption, and Surveillance

http://fuchs.uti.at/papers/critical-studies-of-media-and-information/
http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/ojs/index.php/journal/article/view/prosumption/prosumption


In this article Christian Fuchs investigates the economic structure of some web2.0 popular services. Fuchs focuses his critic on two seminal aspects of web2.0 economy: surveillance and prosumption (production and consumption by online users).


Google as example

Social networks are by nature places where users provide data about their preferences, and communicate with other like-minded individuals. This data becomes a lucrative source of revenues for web2.0 corporations. As stated in Google's Privacy Policy, the company is allowed to '"process personal information on behalf of and according to the instruction of a third party"'(p.290). Its economic goal is to generate profit from the gathering of user's data, through its modification. The more Google is present in everyday situations, the more time will users spend on Google services and consequently more users' data will be available to Google, allowing it create detailed profiles of their users (291).


The collected and networked users' data becomes a commodity to be sold to advertising clients, which can then personalize advertising towards each individual costumer. This personalized advertising arrives to the user through his/her interaction with Google services.

In this way a very profitable and simple ecosystem is generated, where the platform(s) where users decide to spend there online lives becomes not only a source of information about users' preferences, but also an advertising billboard.


'[Consumers] are double objects of commodification: they are commodities themselves, and through this commodification their consciousness becomes permanently exposed to commodity logic while they are online in the form of advertisements'(p. 302).

why is data surveillance with economic aims problematic?

'Do people really want to share vast amounts of private data and location data not only with their friend, but also with Google? Can Google be considered as a friend of all humans, or doesn't it rather accumulate power that can also cause great harm to humans? (p.292)


Very simply data surveillance can be considerate as a threat to individuals wellbeing. Since we live in a competitive and stratified society, detailed collections of information on a person can used to hard that person (by for example denigrating one's public image). Being web2.0 users' data privately owned, it can be sold as a commodity, and it can either end up in the hands of the unharmful advertising agency, as well to someone with darker intentions. '[T]here is an antagonism between privacy protection and economic surveillance in Internet nowadays that is dominated by commercial interests'(p.293)


capital accumulation, surveillance, and prosumption in web2.0 (p.297)

Fuchs employs Marx description of capital accumulation to systematize todays' web2.0 economic surveillance in both production and circulation. The two most relevant seems to be of the surplus value and surplus work: 'labour time that exceeds necessary labour time, remains unpaid, is appropriated fro free by capitalists, and transformed into money profit'(p.296)


At the heart of capital accumulation in web2.0 is surveillance and prosumption. The produsage - a hybrid role between producer consumer - constitutes a central characteristic of web2.0, used to outsource the work to consumers and simultaneously abstain from pay them wages. Having consumers work for free, corporations consequently reduce their investment and labour costs. And the surplus value generated by the consumers is in turn appropriated by the corporations.


To Marx profit rate is the relation of profit to relation costs: profit = surplus value / fixed costs + wages. In web2.0 new media economy, as consumers become the main product producers, wages are withdrawn from the relation, having corporations only to worry about the fixed costs (infrastructure), a few wages of employees (to maintain the infrastructure). Looking the relation like: profit = surplus value / fixed costs + wages of employees + 0 users' wages. 'Capitalist prosumption is an extreme form of exploitation, in which the prosumers work completely for free ... users are essential for generating profit in new media economy... they produce and co-produce parts of the products'(p.298)


The accumulation in web2.0 is dependent on the number of users and content they produce. The more content produced and the larger number of users, more profit can be made from advertising. A strategy to bring users to engage in the production of contents is to give them free access space and services on an online platform. User can then not only produce contents for free, but sold be sold as a commodity to advertisers.


Web2.0 accumulation strategies become close to those employed by traditional mass media like TV and radio, with the difference that in web2.0 users are also content creators and advertising is personalized.


'The users are producers of information (produser, prosumer), but this creative communicative activity enables the controllers of disciplinary power to closely gain insights into the lives, secrets, and consumptions preferences of the users' (p.304). Therefore, by creating and transmitting content across web2.0 platforms, users are not only generating contents for free, they are also opening a channel for being surveilled. As said by '[the] web2.0 is largely a commercial, profit-oriented machine that exploits users by commodifying their personal data and usage behavior and subjects these data to economic surveillance so that capital is accumulated with the help of targeted personalized advertising'(p.304)


Prosumers' surveillance p.302

Prosumers' surveillance in web2.0 allows platform operators to create detailed users profiles and use values. Prosumer are sold as a commodity to advertisers. Because on web2.0 producers are consumers; and consumers are producers of information, producer and consumer surveillance merge into prosumer surveillance. The distinction between personal and mass surveillance also disappear, since it addresses large number of people, and is simultaneously personalized according to each user's personal data and online activity.


Solution against surveillance

Fuchs argues for civil rights limitations due to electronic surveillance. In his opinion citizens must become involved in surveilling corporate and political institutions, documenting cases of privacy abuse or increase of citizen privacy. General public awareness should also be raised. And the creation and support of non-profit, non-commercial social network Internet platforms should be motivated. Nonetheless Fuchs admits that the problems raised by electronic surveillance cannot be tackled simply by technological means or a different individual behavior, but only through deep changes in society.


Food for thought:

labour in web2.0 is oriented on the production of affects, fantasy and social relations (p.301)


'The category of the prosumer commodity does not signify a democratization of the media towards a participatory in democratic system but rather the total commodification of human creativity'(p.301)


Foucault's characterization of surveillance: 'He is seen, but he does not see; he is the object of information, never a subject in communication' (1977 Discipline and Punishment p.200)


DoubeClick(google) - an advertising server that collects and networks data about the users' behaviors of different google offices http://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/about/corporate/company/address.html