What's That Noise? Or, a Case Against Digital Privacy as a Matter of Regulation and Control
Cooke, Thomas Norman
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Digital privacy is typically understood as the restriction of access to personal information and user data. This assumes regulation and control on the part of governments and corporations, realized through various laws and policies. However, there exists another realm bearing on digital privacy. This realm involves a wider network of actors carrying out practices and techniques beyond merely governmental and corporate means: users who engage and manipulate digital privacy software that is created by coders, as well as the software itself for the ways in which it mediates the relationship between users and coders. The dissertation argues that by focusing attention on this other realm of coders, users and software interacting with one another we as analysts develop alternative understandings of digital privacy, specifically by attending to each actors noisemaking: the deliberate (or even incidental) process of obfuscating, interrupting, precluding, confusing or misleading access to digital information. The dissertation analyzes how each of these three actors engage in noisemaking across three different types of encrypted Internet systems: The Onion Router web browser; the WhatsApp instant messaging service; the SpiderOak One file hosting service. These relatively taken-for-granted actors instruct the academy that digital privacy is less about regulating and controlling information as much as it is about surrendering control over information management and security. The dissertation demonstrates that digital privacy thus ought to be understood as a reflection of the variegated, contingent and incidental nature of social and political forces unfolding at the edge of and even beyond the purview of governments and corporations.