Last Friday we had a startup meeting for the project “iAccept: Soft surveillance – between acceptance and resistance”. I, as PI, was granted 3,9 million Swedish kronor (approx. € 390.000) from the “Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation”. The project will start in mid-2017 and run for three years. The project group consists of colleagues with a variety of competences and a multi-disciplinary background, who in their previous research have touched upon related issues, but from different perspectives and angles. The project group consists of Anna Johansson (Humlab), Coppélie Cocq (Humlab), Jesper Enbom (Dept. of Culture and Media Studies), and Lars Samuelsson (Dept. of historical, philosophical and religious studies).
Above: My picture from the Banksy “Laugh Now” exhibition, at Moco Museum, Amsterdam
When using for example Facebook or Google we accept their terms of condition, stating for instance: “By using or accessing Facebook Services, you agree that we can collect and use such content and information in accordance with the Data Policy”. Some might think this is just and fair, others see it as a severe and intrusive form of surveillance.
This project highlights this complex field through a humanistic multidisciplinary approach, and will contribute to broaden a rather polarized debate on surveillance, democracy and digital media. The starting point for the project is the view on soft surveillance as a double-edged sword. The interpretation of surveillance is a matter of how we structure and understand our life in the future, and hence it is a question for humanistic research – as an important complement to existing research.
The iAccept-project will study the paradoxical relation between how we on one hand contest what is seen as unjust or intrusive surveillance, but on the other hand voluntarily give away personal information through our use of for example social media, smartphones, credit cards and shopping behavior – information often open and free to use for compiling data sets to map and interpret our lives. The large amount of digital information we produce provides never before seen possibilities for harvesting data, linking different data sets together and thereby get new information about our lives and actions.
This project studies surveyors and the surveilled and their/our attitudes and ground for surveillance practices. While governmental surveillance (hard surveillance) is given lots of attention, both as regards how it is done and how people respond to it – primarily from a social science or law perspective, less attention is given to surveillance done by commercial and noncommercial actors (also known as soft surveillance).
Stefan Gelfgren, Director, Humlab