PhD Defence: Anouk Mols (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Everyday experiences of privacy and surveillance: Negotiating appropriate forms of monitoring

8 December 2021 at 13:00
Senaatszaal Erasmus University Rotterdam
Link to livestream:

Supervisors: Susanne Janssen and Jason Pridmore

On an ordinary Wednesday evening, a family is about to have dinner. Meanwhile, the father receives WhatsApp messages from the neighbourhood crime prevention group, the mother checks the student tracking system of the youngest son, and the daughter instructs a smart speaker to play music. In this scenario, personal information of the family members is collected, processed and shared. In other words; they are the subject of surveillance. The smart speaker collects data for commercial purposes, the mother processes information to support her son, the father is connected to a group of neighbours who keep an eye out on the street (and one another). It seems that the family members don’t care about privacy and trade it for safety, control, and convenience. However, the dissertation of Anouk Mols shows that everyday experiences of privacy and surveillance are more complex. The research is based on interviews with a 100 respondents about the use of WhatsApp for security and work communication, smart technologies, and parental control tools. On a daily basis, people negotiate what forms of surveillance they find (in)appropriate and respond accordingly. They are constrained in these negotiations by a lack of transparency about data collection, and limited influence on surveillance practices. This study leads to the conclusion that tangibility is key to increasing awareness of and resilience in privacy and surveillance practices. Making complex surveillance issues and privacy solutions tangible via metaphors, examples, and visible markers, enables people to better identify surveillance practices and to apply privacy-preserving measures.