Tag Archives: surveillance

ZunZuneo: A Tale of Failed Transparency and Gross Surveillance

ZunZuneo was named for the slang term used to describe a Cuban Hummingbird’s tweet

The Internet seems both excited and generally confused by the U.S. government’s failed entre into Cuban Social media via its version of a bare-bones Twitter, called ZunZuneo. The confusion is not unwarranted, as the operation includes the United States government, two separate for-profit contractors, (and eventually, a management team who didn’t know they were part of an International government sponsored ruse), key players and various bases of operation which span the globe, from Spain to the UK to the Cayman Islands and Nicaragua, and, of course, tens of thousands of Cuban citizens who gratefully began using a new mysterious messaging service that made instantaneous text-based mobile communications financially accessible in 2010, and then inexplicably disappeared in September 2012.

This long form article from the Washington Post does a nice job disentangling the ins and outs of the story, based on documents leaked to the Associated Press. I highly suggest you take the time to read the piece, but in very short summation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) collaborated with Creative Associates and eventually, Mobile Accord, to distribute a Twitter-like service (ZunZeneo) to Cuban citizens, with the hope of eventually utilizing the service to incite political mobilization against communist regimes. Mostly, though, the operation never went beyond gaining users through shared news stories and sports commentary. They ran out of money in 2012, Cuban users lost the service, and no revolutions were incited. It’s all general buffoon-like and harmless (except, of course, for all of the money), begging for cynical commentary and smart jokes about a deeply ineffective U.S. government. Except, something very serious happened in the process, something that should make us all—both Cubans and Americans—pretty ticked off. (more…)

Panopticon For whom?

Sometimes it feels that to be a good surveillance theorist you are also required to be a good storyteller. Understanding surveillance seems to uniquely rely on metaphor and fiction, like we need to first see another possible world to best grasp how watching is happening here. Perhaps the appeal to metaphor is evidence of how quickly watching and being watched is changing – as a feature of modernity itself in general and our current technological moment in particular. The history of surveillance is one of radical change, and, as ever, it is fluctuating and rearranging itself with the new, digital, technologies of information production and consumption. Here, I’d like to offer a brief comment not so much on these new forms of self, interpersonal, cultural, corporate, and governmental surveillance as much as on the metaphors we use to understand them.


More eyes, different eyes: droning & Google Glass

Three articles came out this week that help me develop my concept of droning as a general type of surveilance that differs in important ways from the more traditional concept of “the gaze” or, more academically, “panopticism.” There’s Molly Crabapple’s post on Rizome, the NYTimes article about consumer surveillance, and my colleague Gordon Hull’s post about the recent NSA legal rulings over on NewAPPS. Thinking with and through these three articles helps me clarify a few things about the difference between droning and gazing: (1) droning is more like visualization than like “the gaze”–that is, droning “watches” patterns and relationships among individual “gazes,” patterns that are emergent properties of algorithmic number-crunching; and (2) though the metaphor of “the gaze” works because the micro- and macro-levels are parallel/homologous, droning exists only at the macro-level; individual people can run droning processes, but only if they’re plugged into crowds (data streams or sets aggregating multiple micro- or individual perspectives).


More on Drone Sexuality: droning, knowing, and binaries

If drone sexuality means machines telling us who we are and what we want, then dating site algorithms are drone sexuality, right?

As I said last week, I’m responding to Sarah’s recent series of posts on drone sexuality. In this post, I want to follow through/push one of Sarah’s concerns about the way her account relied on binaries–both gender binaries (masculine/feminine) and subject/object binaries. I don’t know if Sarah would want to follow my argument all the way, but, that’s one thing that’s great about thinking with someone–you can develop different but related versions of a theory, and more fully explore the intellectual territory around an issue, topic, or question.

What if droning isn’t something “masculine” phenomena do to “feminine” ones, but a process that everyone/everything undergoes, and, in sifting out the erstwhile winners from losers, distributes gender privilege? In other words, droning is a set of processes that dole out benefits to “normally” gendered/sexually oriented phenomena (masculine, cis-gendered, homo- and hetero-normative, white, bourgeois ones), and that subject “abnormally” gendered/sexually oriented phenomena (feminine, trans*, queer, non-white, working class) to increased vulnerability and death?


On Balance, or Why Privacy Is A Red Herring

A longer, more academic version of this post appears at Its Her Factory.

This post follows up on my earlier post about a culture of moderation. Here I want to consider one aspect of this contemporary focus on moderation: the idea of “balance.” We talk about work/life balance, the “balance” between individual freedom and national security, and, as Jenny notes, the “balance” between tech use and abstention.


Drones, Sound, and Super-Panoptic Surveillance

In last week’s excellent post on drones, Sarah argues that surveillance is what makes an remotely controlled, semi-autonomous robot a drone. As Sarah puts it, “a drone is what a drone does: it watches.” Or, more precisely, it “gazes,” or watches with the eyes/from the perspective of hegemony, and for the purposes of surveillance, normalization, and discipline. In this post, I want to both agree and disagree with Sarah’s definition. I agree on the fundamental premise, that a drone is what a drones does–surveil/normalize/discipline. I disagree, however, that this “doing” is primarily watching, a manifestation of the phenomenon we both call “the Gaze.” Droning, at least as I want to define it here, is a practice of surveillance distinct from Gazing.


Resistance through Play


As Edward Snowden settles into his new life in Russia, and Facebook inc. faces accusations of providing information to government officials about protesters in Turkey, issues of privacy are on the lips, minds, and newsfeeds of many global citizens.

Citizens sit with the uncomfortable and now undeniable reality that we are being watched. That our own governments, in many cases, are doing the watching. And that the economic, social, and interactive structures makes this kind of surveillance largely impossible to avoid.

I have noticed an interesting trend as people work through what many view as an unfortunate inevitability of pervasive surveillance: the use of play as a form of resistance. To be sure, PJ Rey (@pjrey) is our resident Play Theory expert here at Cyborgology. I am an admitted novice to this line of theory. As such, I hope that those with greater expertise than I will supplement my wide-eyed sociological noticings with established or developing social theorists and their theories. (more…)

Film Review: Elysium, Dystopia, and Class Conflict

Elysium Movie Poster

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Elysium was trashy action flick. It sacrificed any pretense of plot or character development to maximize the number of fight sequences and explosions. It’s clearly geared toward the X-Men 7/J.J. Abrams crowd. However, Elysium does accomplish a few things worth considering:

  1. It injects a class narrative into an action movie—a genre that has been intellectually moribund in recent decades.
  2. It offers a revolution (as opposed to reform) narrative.
  3. It envisions a dystopia arising more from state neglect than from state control.
  4. It avoids technological reductionism.

(Note: Spoilers to follow) (more…)

Blame The NSA, Not Exhibitionism


One problem with taking social problems and re-framing them as individual responsibility is that it ends up blaming victims instead of pressuring root causes. This mentality creates a temptation to, for example, respond to the NSA scandal involving the government tapping into Internet traffic with something like, “well stop posting your whole life on Facebook, then”. Or less glib is the point raised many times this month that the habit of constant self-documentation on social media has made possible a state of ubiquitous government surveillance. The brutality of spying is made both possible and normal by the reality of digital exhibitionism. How can the level of government spying be so shocking in a world where people live-tweet their dinner? Perhaps we should stop digitally funneling so much of our lives through Gmail now that the level of surveillance is becoming clearer. Sasha Weiss writes in The New Yorker that, (more…)

Nothing to Fear


“Steve, what did we decide to codename her?”

Steve clicked through his notes. “Turnkey, sir.”

“Turnkey? Who the hell came up with that?” Raymond knew The Agency was running out of codenames, but this was ridiculous. As a top official, he had enough on his mind; how was he supposed to keep track of this shit?

“Well, I think it’s because—”

“So does that mean we’re moving ahead?” Isobel interjected.

“The data is there,” said Michael. “We’re positive she has one of the stronger connections to Wedge that we’ve been able to identify. The frequency of their SMS communication alone—plus the fact that they so often text late at night—indicates that this is clearly more than a working relationship.”

“Not to mention,” Patricia added, “that Occupy essay they wrote came out almost a year ago. If it was purely a working relationship, they’d have no reason to still be in contact.”

“So you think they’re lovers?”

“Well, we’re not certain yet,” Michael replied. “I’ve got Steve filing for a warrant to go through the SMS content, and her email content as well. We’re hoping she’ll turn out to be less opaque than Wedge—”  (more…)