Spying on People Turns Bad First When They Discover You

I’m reading a book called “The Social Study of Information and Communication Technology”. One part of the book takes up an example that shows how a tool can be perceived very differently from a slight incident. They are unaware of the surveillance until they see it and they don’t like the spying on their every action even if they have nothing to hide.

“The case dealt with a fairly large application of Lotus Notes used for new product development within a worldwide team-based organization. Dedicated Notes applications were built to allow multidisciplinary and multinational teams to work jointly on common projects, regardless of distance between locations. Implementation of the new system was carried out according to a participative methodology, an incremental introduction of the system, and comprehensive training. Usage was immediate, ubiquitous, and successful. One day, however, a cheering message broadcasted over the network by a top marketing manager in London made every user realize that the new transparent platform could be deployed by headquarters as a powerful controlling eye, able to access any working document and local bulletin board of all the distant teams. Such a possibility made usage fall immediately and significantly. Attempts to revamp the system succeeded only when the applications were redesigned to replicate the pre-existing routines and organizational structures, thus losing much of the original innovative design, transparency, and collaboration opportunities.
This case provides evidence, among other things, about the ambiguity of new technology. Despite the careful planning and design, and the extensive training, the new groupware technology appeared to the user suddenly as an ambivalent, threatening stranger. The latent tensions between the professional dimension and the existential one exploded as a consequence of a small incident” (p. 26)

This story tells us a lot of useful things. One of the most significant ones being that the average user is very unaware of what the technique actually does and how it can be used until someone “misuses” it. The surveillance of people is normally not a problem as long as they are not aware of it.

Another issue that becomes clear through this is that people are not comfortable sharing everything with others even if they have nothing to hide. Right now there is a lot of argument about not having to be afraid of surveillance unless you have something to hide. This is clearly not the case in this example.

The third thing we learn is how little is needed to shift the usage and opinions of people. Find the right thing to say and we can change everything instantly. One wrong (or right) thing to say changes the focus of the mass from seeing a productive and efficient tool to seeing a tool for controlling and spying.

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Josef Ohlsson Collentine

A transparent and kind American/Swede who likes cultural patterns and Social Media. A creative early-adopter who sports, discusses and explores. More about me
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