1: Introduction

Adrian Castillo

Our time is marked by an extreme reliance on digital technologies and the de facto privatization of the Internet; both have brought unprecedented advances in global communication and profound new challenges that are lessening trust, democratic stability, and social cooperation (United Nations, 2009). Under those circumstances, we must critically examine how digital technologies are increasingly facilitating the massive gathering, use, and monetization of personal data. How can we assert we are “digital citizens” if we are restricted to act as mere data producers under surveillance rather than data owners who have rights? In other words, how is the 21st century reshaping the understandings of citizenship we have brought with us from the 20th century?

With that in mind, the purpose of this section is to foster democratic attitudes that go beyond the primary teaching of digital skills related to online safety and privacy. The Data commodification & surveillance section will help learners establish themselves as active digital citizens who have the power to change the laws and norms of cyberspace and to evaluate how they contribute to the common good in the age of surveillance capitalism.

Learning Objectives

After finishing this chapter, readers will be able to:

  1. Define “surveillance,” “privacy,” and “data commodification.”
  2. Compare and contrast the positive and negative aspects of surveillance in different historical contexts.
  3. Analyze the various arguments provided by groups in power to justify data commodification.
  4. Identify digital platforms that foster data commodification and use the knowledge they have gained of platform structures and of privacy-protecting practices in order to resist data harvesting.