Hanging a “privacy” sign outside this blog post’s door

I have to say, the questions for this week’s blog entry travel into rather murky waters. I suppose this is mainly the case because they all seemingly ask for straight-up yes/no responses, as if the arguments surrounding them are clearly black or white affairs with no room for any gray.

They can’t possibly be that simple, though. We’re all graduate students here. We have an inborn desire to make everything much more complicated than that. With that in mind, let’s write several hundred words and yet somehow not really arrive at any conclusions. For science!

1) Do employers have the right to know what their employees do when they are not working? Why or why not?

Maybe. See,  I’ve already totally failed to answer the question. This post is going to be awesome.

Sanderson (2009) argued strongly for the rights of privacy for athletes, and that ostensibly extends to the rest of the population as well. He stated that “what Greg Oden, Matt Leinart, Josh Howard, or any other professional athlete does in his or her private life (short of criminal activity) should be outside the organization’s purview” (p. 248). That pretty much covers his particular view on the matter, doesn’t it? Nice and clear-cut. Well, except there’s that whole parenthesis part.

See? This is the whole problem with yes/no questions. Even the people who are totally on one side end up adding conditions. As soon as that can of worms opens up, there’s no going back. Now we have to ask “what does criminal activity consist of?” Should we be running to the sports organizations, ready to tattle at the first sign of a speeding ticket?  “Oh hey, Superstar X is doing back flips at the park after receiving that reportedly severe back injury during last week’s game. Well, I guess that’s not technically illega- OH MAN, HE JUST LITTERED! It’s game time.”

It’d be easy to answer this question by saying something trite like, “Well, if what the employee says or does would affect the company negatively in some way, then yeah, the company surely has the right to know. But otherwise, we deserve our privacy.” But this answer doesn’t satisfy me in the least, because while it’s as correct an answer as I think we can honestly arrive to, it’s not particularly practical. There’s not some magic filter that companies can press on Facebook that reads “only really stupid things your employees say that affect the company will come through this feed, but everything else will be super top-secret.” We live in the social media age. Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are omnipresent and ready to catch all your dirty secrets and air them for everyone to see. So don’t be blatant, or hide under the bed for the rest of your life.

Man, I’m totally going over the word limit on this one. I’m also rambling. Oh well, good thing this isn’t going to be saved on some server somewhere for forever. That sure would be embarrassing.

2) Can these cases with professional athletes be applied to (or compared with) other types of employees – such as lawyers, teachers, advertising sales reps, etc. Why or why not?

My initial response to this question was going to focus on how they cannot be compared given the financial situation. Sanderson said that “sports organizations invest exorbitant sums of money in professional athletes in exchange for athletic skills that generate large revenue streams for them, thereby positioning athletes as a commodity that the organization uses to increase its value” (p. 244). The more money a company has tied into a particular person, the more they are going to care about what that person does. This, in and of itself, creates a substantial difference between the situation of a professional athlete, who can make millions, and a teacher, who…  uh…  gets a lot of satisfaction from their work, I’m sure.

That’s not to say the educational institution a teacher works at isn’t going to care if said teacher is “behaving in a manner unsuitable for their profession,” whatever that means. However, I believe there can be less scrutiny on a teacher by the sheer virtue of their lack of fame. (Except, of course, to their no-doubt adoring students.) Sanderson stated that “the interactivity with professional athletes that many fans crave might in actuality be strategically used by sports organizations to monitor and protect their investments in professional athletes” (p. 249). When sports stars are sighted in public, people gravitate towards them and want to see what they’re doing. When a teacher is sighted in public, their students usually flee in the opposite direction in terror. (At least this was my experience when bumping into my students outside of school).

But the point stands, figures who are not “famous” to the world can at least take solace in the fact that those outside their community will most likely not care at all about their actions. Unless they do something spectacular that lands them on Failblog. In which case, let me thank you in advance for the free entertainment.

Wow, I sort of answered the question that time. We’ll see how long this lasts.

3) Should people be concerned about the location tracking capabilities discussed by Abe? Do these technologies have negative aspects?

Ah, the Car-Navi system. Abe (2009) wasn’t kidding about these “becoming more and more popular in Japan” (p. 77). Every single car I bummed a ride in while living in Japan had one of these things. Of course, so many people have GPS devices in their cars here in the States now too, so I guess it’s not all that culturally specific.

Honestly, I’d have to say that this is a buyer-beware sort of thing. If you’re afraid of Big Brother in the Sky seeing just how often you’re driving to McDonalds to stock up on the McRib since it’s totally a limited time offer, then you really shouldn’t be buying a GPS device. And I’m afraid Abe’s argument that people are not “aware… that their engagement with interactive media makes the surveillance of communication much easier and more pervasive” simply doesn’t hold water for me here (p. 76). I mean, the thing is a GPS device. You know… Global Positioning System. It’s in the freaking name!

Could it be used for negative purposes? I’m sure it could. Maybe McDonalds is cyber-stalking me at this very moment, wondering why I haven’t stopped by in such a long time. To which I would respond, “because the McRib is really gross.” Nevertheless, it’s not something I would worry all that much about. But if you do, that’s cool. Don’t get one! Go buy your McRibs with wild abandon!

Actually, don’t do that. I mean, really, what is even in those things?

4) Does Abe’s argument about hospitality make sense to you in the context of online surveillance? Why or why not?

Sweet, this is a question I totally have a solid answer for.

No, Abe’s argument about hospitality made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. I really, truly, had no idea what on Earth he was trying to say. It was like he slipped back into Japanese there and I was just nodding politely with an expressionless face at the last five pages of the article.

Alright! That was the best question ever!

Man, where do we begin. Abe said that “the basic attitude that characterizes the logic of surveillance is being suspicious and intolerant of others. Trying to be tolerant of strangers might be more productive than the intolerant attitude, backed by ambiguous fear and suspicion of others, which is becoming strong in surveillance societies” (p. 83).

You know what else is “backed by an ambiguous fear and suspicion of others”? Abe’s entire article. Yeah, I said it. I totally went there. Again, thankfully this won’t be preserved on the web for Kiyoshi Abe to find and get really angry at me over. Boy, would my face be red.

Seriously though, I don’t understand Abe’s point about hospitality. He asks “is it impossible for us to make not paternalistic but rather egalitarian, open and indiscriminative relationship [sic] with unknown strangers” (p. 84). But why would I want to do that? You just spent a dozen pages describing how, by using interactive media, I’m opening myself to being spied upon every moment of my waking life.

Am I to understand that it is the organization that is evil, but the individual is ok? Abe states that “people engage with interactive media in their private life believing them to be just useful tools. But they do not know how, and to what extent, these can be used for collecting personal data and policing the activities of users by third parties” (p. 78). Can’t these third parties just as easily be the complete strangers you are telling me to invite with open arms? Doesn’t this seem contrary to what you’ve advocating? And why am I answering this question with so many questions?

I’m afraid that while Abe’s talk about a more hospitable world is certainly a noble aspiration, I felt it came completely out of left field given everything he stated before.

Well, alright then. This was blog post 12. We made it! We had a few laughs. Shed some tears. And maybe even learned a little bit.

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end. And with that, I bid you all…

Wait, what do you mean I have a week’s worth of Media Diaries to write? That can’t possibly be…

Well, shoot.

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4 Responses to Hanging a “privacy” sign outside this blog post’s door

  1. Sijia says:

    Me either don’t think the location tracking capability is that horrible. After couple of years of new technology exposure, people are not that naive to believe technology only brings the good. Risks are inevitable and we make certain tradeoffs for the benefits and advantages. I think people are using GPS or other location-tracking devices for good reasons, and I don’t think they are going to stop using them only because there might be some pravacy issues.

  2. I enjoyed the whole post, but I especially liked:

    “You know what else is ‘backed by an ambiguous fear and suspicion of others’? Abe’s entire article. Yeah, I said it. I totally went there.”

    I asked the question about hospitality because I didn’t get it. I think maybe if I went and read Derrida, then I might have a better idea what Abe was trying to say. But reading Derrida is strenuous, and I wasn;t convinced that in the end it would help.

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