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Cookies, web bugs, webcams and cue cats: Patterns of surveillance on the world wide web

Abstract

This article addresses the question of whether personal surveillance on the world wide web is different in nature and intensity from that in the offline world. The article presents a profile of the ways in which privacy problems were framed and addressed in the 1970s and 1990s. Based on an analysis of privacy news stories from 1999–2000, it then presents a typology of the kinds of surveillance practices that have emerged as a result of Internet communications. Five practices are discussed and illustrated: surveillance by glitch, surveillance by default, surveillance by design, surveillance by possession, and surveillance by subject. The article offers some tentative conclusions about the progressive latency of tracking devices, about the complexity created by multi-sourcing, about the robustness of clickstream data, and about the erosion of the distinction between the monitor and the monitored. These trends emphasize the need to reject analysis that frames our understanding of Internet surveillance in terms of its “impact” on society. Rather the Internet should be regarded as a “form of life” whose evolving structure becomes embedded in human consciousness and social practice, and whose architecture embodies an inherent valence that is gradually shifting away from the assumptions of anonymity upon which the Internet was originally designed.

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Bennett, C.J. Cookies, web bugs, webcams and cue cats: Patterns of surveillance on the world wide web. Ethics and Information Technology 3, 195–208 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1012235815384

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Keywords

  • Information System
  • User Interface
  • Social Practice
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Technology Management