Surveillance in the Shadow of the Dotcom Bubble

February 17, 2016 - 3:30 pm

Data & Society
36 West 20th Street, 11th Floor
New York, NY, 10011

(CC BY 2.0-licensed image by Pascale PirateChickan.)

Data & Society’s Intelligence & Autonomy initiative is hosting a small-group conversation with Matthew Crain (Queens College, CUNY) who is researching the history of advertising and how it became welded into the business model of the Web – and all the effects that that produces in the Internet we have today:

The “new economy” of the 1990s gets a bad rap. And it should. But perhaps not for the reasons we are most familiar with. Prevailing historical interpretations of the dotcom period discount it as a flash of “irrational exuberance,” emphasizing the destruction of financial assets and ill-conceived start-up companies.

The counter-argument presented here is that the investment bubble was highly generative of contemporary practices of surveillance-based advertising. An outgrowth of broader political economic trends, the structural relationship between finance capital and internet technology was a central factor in the creation of internet advertising and the recomposition of media around consumer surveillance. These developments profoundly shaped the technical character and everyday experience of the nascent digital media and set a trajectory for advertising in the 21st century. By challenging standard histories of the internet’s commercialization we are better equipped to alter its future trajectory.

Matthew Crain is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, CUNY. He writes and teaches about the transformation of media and advertising systems in the digital age with an emphasis on the political economy of commercial surveillance. His work has been published in academic journals including the International Journal of Communication and Information, Communication & Society. His book manuscript in progress is an institutional history of the internet’s commercialization that highlights the roles of advertising, public policy, and financial speculation.