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International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 33, Issue 2, Fall 2019

Victoria I. Burke, Robin D. Burke
Pages 319-343

Powerlessness and Personalization

Is privacy the key ethical issue of the internet age? This coauthored essay argues that even if all of a user’s privacy concerns were met through secure communication and computation, there are still ethical problems with personalized information systems. Our objective is to show how computer-mediated life generates what Ernesto Laclou and Chantal Mouffe call an “atypical form of social struggle.” Laclau and Mouffe develop a politics of contingent identity and transient articulation (or social integration) by means of the notions of absent, symbolic, hegemonic power and antagonistic transitions or relations. In this essay, we introduce a critical approach to one twenty-first-century atypical social struggle that, we claim, has a disproportionate effect on those who experience themselves as powerless. Our aim is to render explicit the forms of social mediation and distortion that result from large-scale machine learning as applied to personal preference information. We thus bracket privacy in order to defend some aspects of the EU GDPR that will give individuals more control over their experience of the internet if they want to use it and, thereby, decrease the unwanted epistemic effects of the internet. Our study is thus a micropolitics in in the Deleuzian micropolitical sense and a preliminary analysis of an atypical social struggle.

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