Gender, colonization, and the limits of surveillance capitalism
The Anti-Dystopians #3
It’s time for podcast number 3! This one is a good one. I talked with Stefanie Felsberger, a PhD candidate in Gender Studies at Cambridge, about her research on surveillance, data flows and mensuration tracking apps (no pun intended). We discuss how colonization impacted the development of surveillance technologies; why we think (or shouldn’t think) about data as a commodity, instead of labor; and how the ownership of knowledge about female bodies has translated into power—from the witch burnings to period apps.
Articles Mentioned in this Podcast
The woman who tried to hide her pregnancy from Big Data (and failed) and why pregnant women are such a high value target for advertisers. This isn’t Product Placement™ but if you find yourself wanting to know more about the Smart Period Cup, who are we to stop you?
In another example of news that makes you think, “Of course they are, but still”—the US military is buying location data from every day apps, including a Muslim prayer app and Muslim dating site.
More on the testing and importing of technologies development in low rights environments, and how colonization spurred the development of surveillance tech. For a contemporary example, technologies developed by US military contractors in Yemen were used to disburse G20 protesters in Pittsburgh in 2009.
If you want to know about surveillance tech that was used to target the Black Lives Matter protests, go here and here. Or there’s an ACLU overview on surveillance tech available in the US, as well as a list of who has stingray tracking devices. And on the use of police drones to surveil protestors.
Virginia Eubanks on how marginalized groups are often governments' test subjects (her full book on the subject here or here.) Relatedly, how Baltimore became the US’s lab for developing surveillance tech.
For Chinese companies’ role in Africa and the Middle East, watch part II of this documentary.
More academic books and articles:
1.) Jarrett, Kylie. 2016. Feminism, Labour and Digital Media: The Digital Housewife. New York and London: Routledge. 2.) Lupton, Deborah. 2016. The Quantified Self: A Sociology of Self-Tracking. Cambridge: Polity Press. 3.) Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia. 4.) Browne, Simone. 2015. Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 5.) Fuchs, Christian. 2013. “Theorizing and Analyzing Digital Labor: From Global Value Chains to Modes of Production.” The Political Economy of Communication 2, no. 1: 3–27. 6.) Kaplan, Martha. 1995. “Panopticon in Poona: An Essay on Foucault and Colonialism.” Cultural Anthropology 10: 85-98. 7.) Mitchell, Timothy. 1988. Colonizing Egypt. Berkley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.
Things I’m Reading
An excellent report by No Tech For Tyrants on UK government contracts with Palantir. By the way, do you know Biden’s ODNI pick Avril Haines used to work for Palantir? Honestly, it’d be easier if articles just started listing the Biden appointees who don’t have links to tech at this point.
Amazon is surveilling its workers who it thinks are at risk of unionizing (shocker), but did it have to use a company with the historically-fraught name “Pinkerton”?! Don’t worry, I’ll be fair to Amazon—Google and Facebook use Pinkerton to spy on employees too (including listening to their conversations in nearby coffee shops).
The bizarre “China Mystery Seeds” episode, where literally thousands of Americans received seeds packets they hadn’t ordered in the mail, might have been solved (hint: it all comes back to Amazon).
China is perpetuating genocide against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and Intel and Nvidia chips are powering their surveillance tech in the region. Speaking of which, Apple is lobbying *against* a bill aimed at holding U.S. companies accountable for using Uighur forced labor. (Thanks for the article forward, Sam).
In case you’ve forgotten, the Brexit transition period is set to end in a month, and the UK government has privately admitted it could lead to “systemic economic crisis” as the UK’s official exit coincides with a second wave of coronavirus. My article on why Brexit is going to be really, really bad.
Sophie Hill’s data visualization of Tory contracts on “My Little Crony” is excellent, and strikingly informative. Can anyone do this for Big Tech?!
Things You’re Reading
Peter Thiel associate Joe Lonsdale runs a cloud-based software for governments. Tracking governments’ cloud computing providers is my latest obsession—send ones you find!
Apparently, Elon Musk’s (and Peter Thiel’s and Mark Zuckerberg’s) SpaceX also runs the StarLink satellite Internet service. I really hope the company goes public soon so we can all read the SEC filings—just what are these space companies up to? (I’m actually asking.)
Amazon released Amazon Sidewalk this week. Will someone tell me what it is and why it’s bad?
Or, anything else you find interesting—send my way!