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IPO 2.0: The Panopticon Goes Public

Greg Elmer


To suggest that privacy is dead is not to revel in or encourage its demise, nor even to claim that it is not a desirable outcome, right, or valued policy. Rather, what this paper suggests is that in certain circumstances (increasingly on social media platforms) the privacy of users now stands in direct opposition to the stated goals and logic of the technology in question. One need not give up certain goals of privacy to recognize that business models of online companies like Facebook and Google are now entirely predicated upon the act of going public--there would be no Google search engine or Facebook social networking platform without the content, information, and demographic profiles uploaded, revised, updated, and shared by billions of users worldwide.

This paper then offers some initial thoughts on a theory of publicity, of going public in the social media age. If social media platforms are governed by ubiquitous surveillance and continuous uploading and sharing of personal information, opinions, habits, and routines, then privacy would seem only to be a hindrance to these processes. To ignore such clear mission statements, coupled with repetitive attempts to undermine, display, and obfuscate so-called privacy settings, would seem disingenuous at best, and willfully blind at worst. These online platforms profit from publicity and suffer from stringent privacy protocols--their whole raison d’être is to learn as much as possible about users in order to aggregate and then sell such profiled and clustered information to advertisers and marketers. Can we really conclude that such businesses violate users’ privacy when their platforms are in the first and last instance wired for ubiquitous publicity? Or more to the point, do privacy-based perspectives provide an adequate framework for understanding users’ relationships with social media platforms and their parent companies?


Facebook; going public; publicity; privacy; Google; social media; Michel Foucault; Jeremy Bentham

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