Monday 21 July 2014

Google Glass blog

I've also started a new blog on my experiences with Google Glass. This one will continue, but I thought I'd a have a separate here for all things to do with wearable media:

Hello blog

I've been away from this blog for far too long. Much has happened. Most notably Privacy and Philosophy has been published. This has been in the pipeline for some time as I got the contract at the same time as my earlier book, Creativity and Advertising. The idea behind Privacy and Philosophy is to explore what mean by privacy. 

Less about a search for the definition, my aim instead was to explore a variety ways that it might be conceived. Too often we use the word as if it had a stable meaning and that we all had a common sense of what the word refers to. If my conversations with students is anything to go by, we have quite different ways of thinking about the meaning of the word – not to mention different forms of privacy-related behaviour. So, in sum, this book is an exploration of privacy in relation to a range of philosophical world-views and the grounding of these with concrete media examples. Thanks go to Joe Turow, Mark Andrejevic, Jo Pierson and Clare Birchall for the generous reviews. Blurb and links to Chapter 1 and the appendix of "new theory" below. Do get in touch if you'd like me to come and give a talk.

What can philosophy tell us about privacy? Quite a lot as it turns out. With Privacy and Philosophy: New Media and Affective Protocol Andrew McStay draws on an array of philosophers to offer a refreshingly novel approach to privacy matters. Against the backdrop and scrutiny of Arendt, Aristotle, Bentham, Brentano, Deleuze, Engels, Heidegger, Hume, Husserl, James, Kant, Latour, Locke, Marx, Mill, Plato, Rorty, Ryle, Sartre, Skinner, Spinoza, Whitehead and Wittgenstein, among others, McStay advances a wealth of new ideas and terminology, from affective breaches to zombie media. Theorizing privacy as an affective principle of interaction between human and non-human actors, McStay progresses to make unique arguments on transparency, the publicness of subjectivity, our contemporary techno-social condition and the nature of empathic media in an age of intentional machines. 
Reconstructing our most basic assumptions about privacy, this book is a must-read for theoreticians, empirical analysts, students, those contributing to policy and anyone interested in the steering philosophical ideas that inform their own orientation and thinking about privacy.

Sample chapter 1:
Appendix of new theory:

Feel free to share within your own networks.

Monday 3 February 2014

Privacy and empathy in the living room

I wrote another piece for The Conversation on Sky, Xbox and Verizon here. Asked to comment on the significance of behavioural advertising on television that utilises the room scanning potential of the Kinect, I linked this to ideas developed in my
forthcoming book Privacy and Philosophy: New Media and Affective Protocol. In the article, I highlight that these developments are getting very close to displaying qualities of empathy, a premise discussed in depth in the book.

Monday 11 November 2013

The Conversation: Why too much privacy is bad for the economy

I wrote this opinion piece linked to for The Conversation. Reflecting on novel developments in outdoor advertising, Tesco and Alan Sugar's company Amscreen, it unpacks these in relation to the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham (without a panopticon in sight!). Hope you like it: story here.

Monday 16 September 2013

Review for Creativity and Advertising

Reviews for Creativity and Advertising are starting to come in now, not least one from Stephanie O'Donohoe from the University of Edinburgh for the International Journal of Advertising. I've wondered how this book would be received by the more empirical and industry-focused journals, and I'm very glad to read that O'Donohoe has been very generous in her review (available to those with access to academic journals here). In the review she highlights my upfront warning to practitioners, and those seeking a generalist account of creativity that repeats industry lore and and dogma, that they will not be in for an easy ride (indeed, she likens the book to a theme park ride). Moreover, she might have questioned my theoretical resources for this book, not least as there are a number of canons from the creativity/advertising field I omitted (too few words, too much I wanted to say). Instead she remarks there 'are rich nutrients in this alien soil, but they are not easily absorbed or digested by readers grounded in advertising'. She also poetically characterises the book in terms of 'being stranded in alien, erudite territory with a few tantalising signposts pointing the way home'. She concludes by framing the book in terms of both elegance and density (those who know me may not be surprised by the latter!).

Sunday 9 June 2013

Open Rights Group Conference (ORG 2013)

A rich and lively time had yesterday at the yearly ORG conference – an event that should not be missed by anyone with an interest in privacy (one might say, everyone!).

After an introduction from Jim Killock, Executive Director of ORG, Tim Wu gave the opening talk based on his book 'The Master Switch'. Promoting a view of media as connection he discussed radio (in its original two-way guise) before moving to more recent networked media. Pointing to grassroots endeavor in the 1920s he remarked upon the general tendency towards centralization, homogenization, conglomerate status, loss of amateur spirit, loss of idealism and that concentration leads to censorship. Linking the experience of radio that was used for Nazism (Goebbels's interest in radio was discussed) Wu asked can we prevent the same happening to the internet, i.e. it used being as a totalitarian tool?

His wider (and slightly milder) point being that what is created in one context can be used quite differently in another was very apt for the day – not least given reports by the Washington Post and The Guardian on PRISM in the US. Where then TCP/IP protocols were once open, this is no longer guaranteed and one only has to look at PRISM to chart new levels of control.  As technologies move beyond doing what we want them to do, Wu suggests in answering the self-posed question of what we can do: 1) more consumer power to promote alternatives and non high-tech solutions; 2) defense of rights (e.g. ORG/EFF), the need for civil liberties and pressure groups more broadly. Of particularly interest to me was his discussion of non-visceral privacy, i.e. privacy breaches not as obvious as having one’s home broken into. A key idea of the book I am writing at the moment is “affective privacy” and the ways in which a visceral layer of understanding is required (indeed, privacy in affective terms may be seen positively, e.g. the sense of getting into one’s car or arriving home and closing the door). He also pointed to privacy as an attention economy, somewhat reminiscent of Dallas Smythe and later work to follow on the audience's attention-as-commodity. Back on topic of what we can do, he pointed to 3) net neutrality, and the fact that we can complain and make a noise (e.g. to MPs). Concluding he stated that we are serviced by too few products and asking whether will amateur inventors create something new to break-up and re-boot a corrupted media system?

The next event at 11am focused on the Snoopers Charter and the situation now. Peter Sommer got things underway providing the legislative background to the rise of the Communications Data Bill. The investigative journalist Duncan Campbell provided a spirited history of mass surveillance ultimately stating that the secrecy of these activities removes from society the checks and balances provided by democratic functioning. Julian Huppert (Lib-Dem MP) is also concerned about the concentration of power (the Lib-Dems have opposed the CDB). This is partly due to MPs in general not ‘getting’ the internet and that they are not malicious, they just do not understand. He also remarked on Woolwich [rightly] attacking Theresa May’s opportunism. He noted too Labour’s Alan Johnson had also voiced support for CDB. While clearly there was a little electioneering going-on, the point was well made that Lib-Dems will block the CDB and ensure to does not get passed. Bendert Zevenbergen presented the Digital Surveillance report and what should be done about CDB.

The next event I attended at 12pm was on the Data Protection Regulations and changes therein. Anna Fielder from Privacy International remarked that regulations are out of date with neither consumers or businesses happy with the state of things, and pointed out that the revisions are an evolution not a revolution. Key problems she has witnessed are: what is the data subject (anything more than an IP address?; consent as a key sticking point (see my paper on consent here), and that the word “explicit” is causing all sorts of problems (this has huge implications for how industries process data).

David Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner, pointed to the problem of reaching agreement across so many actors on legislation that is so complex. The legislation thus needs to be sensible and proportionate; balanced with freedom and expression, and has to be realistic if it is to be applied. Consent again us a key point. He also discussed the need for privacy by design and accountability by data controllers (compliance).

Kasey Chappelle, Global Privacy Counsel, from Vodafone also high made the case that Vodafone has ben having an internal discussion about privacy. She pointed out that they have had problems of permissions and consent, and the ways in which these are collected. She also acknowledged consumer and policy-maker frustration. They key problem as she sees it is that privacy has been a matter of legal compliance and that it has not been consumer driven. It has been interpreted as a set of rules to be abided by at the absolute minimum cost. It is thus a legal problem, not one of sociology (her words). What then of user experience in a lawyer-driven environment of legal compliance? Currently the situation is that companies will only go beyond the minimum if there is an economic advantage. This then is the heart of the abuse of consent as it turns into a compliance machine (one only has to look towards the behavioral economics literature [summarised in The Mood of Information]).

This leads Chappelle to advocate repositioning privacy as a branding tool and to consider its components of trust and emotion. He also suggested privacy wizards and to aim for full disclosure. She also highlighted the need for the strong European regulations that to help create consumer trust. I have remarked a number of times at various privacy events on the need address companies at the level of reputation. Dealing with privacy and technical and legal levels are key approaches, but brands matter to these companies and there is much mileage to be made by early adopters of good privacy behavior. Others will follow as better standards are set.

Caspar Bowden’s talk at 2pm was the standout event of the day. Focusing on recent PRISM events, the ex-Chief Privacy Adviser for Microsoft (MS) had much to say. His detailed slides are available here. He opened saying that he only had an inkling of PRISM while working at MS, and that he does not trust MS. He also remarked and provided evidence that allies have always spied on allies so we should not be too surprised about these events. This was a complex presentation but it generally centered on PRISM as about foreign intelligence and as US license to spy on foreign affairs of others using corporate databases to do this (e.g. Google, Facebook, Skype and MS). This is done by splitting internet traffic with deep-packet inspection and filtering to the National Security Agency (NSA). This essentially provides the NSA with a terminal to corporate data centres. What PRISM represents then is the mass surveillance of cloud computing (or cloud-veillance). This came about because of the 2008 FISA Amendment Act that allows targeting only of non-US citizens (US citizens are protected by 4th Amendment rights). This is utterly at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The 4th Amendment then is fine for one, but not for the rest of the world.

US companies have concurrently been lobbying Europe hard in cloudwashing endeavours and playing down all fears that data might be spied on are treated differently to high European standards (as per the Safe Harbor Agreement). On solutions, Bowden pointed to the need to build indigenous cloud services. He also remarked (but was later questioned on) that the soliciting of information by UK GCHQ is not the main problem here (as fairly widely reported in the press), but that we are being surveilled by a foreign state.

The last event of the day was John Perry Barlow of Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) at 4:30. He opened by pointing out the extreme liberational and sinister potential for online media. He commented that we are increasingly closing in on a situation where anyone in the world can know all there is to know about a given topic as it is possible to know. Heady stuff for human history. Taken to task later for some of these points, he remarked that we will be spared of the most sinister side of things because of governmental incompetence, and that information isn’t everything and a bigger haystack doesn’t make it easier to find needles.

He also pointed out that privacy is contextual. On what for me was the most alarming part of his talk (other delegates please correct me on this) he suggested that transparency means that people’s idiosyncrasies will come to the fore and that greater tolerance of difference will be forced. This is highly reminiscent of Richard Posner’s Economics of Justice argument. Radical transparency sounds fine in theory but it will cause may people pain where the net gain is unclear, and possibly unachievable. On how to deal with the informational industries he again pointed to the need for greater competition (like Wu at the beginning of the day). This is doubly important as despite government’s claims otherwise, the like centralization (it make surveillance much easier). We also need to ‘create tunnels though networks’. This points to the language of open conspiracies and disruption rather than attacking head-on.

Barlow was questioned by Caspar Bowden on the premise that libertarians such as Barlow are not concerned enough about the extension of 4th Amendment rights to non-US citizens. Bowden’s phrasing was ‘a gun aimed at the rest of the world’. Initially evasive, Barlow later agreed and stated that this should be extended. He was also questioned about Julian Assange. While pointing out that Wikileaks has provided a net benefit to society, he has penned himself into a corner with the Swedish rape charges (Barlow was also heckled for phrasing this as mistaken behavior).

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Lord Puttnam on Leveson at Bangor University

Lord Puttnam, now a member of the Labour bench in the House of Lords, spoke this evening at Bangor University. Pulling no punches in his assessment of the news industry Puttnam painted a highly negative picture of the UK media industry.

While many will be familiar with the narratives of a self-serving media industry ruled by the few seeking to manipulate the masses for their own ends, this tends to be a feature of critical media studies – often with a highly left wing agenda. The language employed was not what I expected from someone who has been so closely involved with the British and international media industry. To provide a sense of the terms used, all of the following received an airing: ‘self-serving media as leech’, ‘the toxic triangle’ (police, media and government),  ‘ecology of malign intent’ and ‘corrupted ecology’.

Only a step away from labelling the contemporary press industry as cancerous, concern was targeted at the privileging of the few over the many. He questioned and remarked upon the depressing, dystopian and mean-world outlook that passes for news today (employing the term ‘tabloidisation of society’). Instead he called for a return to a more decent depiction of British society to reflect the fact that despite mean-world pictures, many areas of youth crime and paedophiliac crime is less than it was one hundred years ago. This involved a slightly surreal run of VE-day footage and 'Great Britain' – as a point of nostalgic recollection of better times

In general his call to arms was that public interest be protected, that there be a public interest test, greater media plurality and a shift away from the reach of ‘invisible empires’ (Puttnam’s expression for media power).

On Leveson and all that it involves, he argued that this is a case whose facts will only come out over time – if not in our lifetimes. That said, he underlined that this entailed highly undemocratic goings-on and unhealthy interrelationships between state, police and the media. Appealing to young people, he urged ‘do not accept the relationship between media and government’ but question what you see and change the way democracy works in regard to media and state. Greater media plurality was championed as a means of addressing this centralisation of influence and power.

He had words for journalists themselves although his critique was not aimed at them, but rather their editors and proprietors. Instead, he argued that journalists have little control because it does not serve proprietors’ and owners' interest. He concluded this section by remarking, ‘Who actually has press freedom? Not the journalists, but the editors and proprietors.’

Thursday 25 April 2013

Ofcom report on privacy behaviour in UK

A recent Ofcom report highlights that UK adults are risking their online security by using identical or easy to remember passwords on the websites they visit. Summarised, they report that:

  • Over half of UK adults use the same password to access internet sites
  • One in four use birthdays or names as password
  • Older internet users are turning to social networking to stay in touch
  • Average UK adult has 237 social network friends

However the survey uncovers that 62 per cent of people will check security statues of Wi-Fi internet connections (does it have a padlock?); 75 per cent of people have a screen lock on their phones; and 50 percent of people with smartphones employ PIN protection. People then do care about privacy, they recognize that the new media environment presents new threats, but have privacy behavior worthy of study – particularly in regard to password protection.  Report in full here 

Privacy: Artificial Barriers of a different sort.

The Telegraph has an interesting article here highlighting negative implications of the Data Communications Bill not only for citizens, but also businesses. If successful, this requires any internet based company in the UK to develop and staff a system where all data on their customers is collected, stored in a standardised format, and potentially available via automated access. The business does not have any oversight of the data leaving their systems. 

In The Mood of Information and my forthcoming Deconstructing Privacy (2014) with Peter Lang I have described privacy as being negatively framed as an artificial barrier for many businesses. This derives from Richard Posner and his bald claim in the Economics of Justice that privacy is a bad thing because it inhibits economic growth (this also goes back to Bentham and his take on utilitarianism). In the case of the Data Communications Bill we see a twist to this narrative because it is governmental data gathering that may block economic growth and possibly kill-off smaller businesses unable to comply. This is a real threat here in Wales. As the article depicts, online businesses count for 8.2% of the UK's GDP and such strictures place the UK at a disadvantage as a place for internet start-ups to flourish because of the high costs and regulation placed on the nature of data collected (possibly more and of a different sort than the start-up envisaged).

Monday 15 April 2013

Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process

I have a new book out with Routledge titled Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process. This is somewhat different to my past forays into digital advertising, behavioural matters and privacy as it focuses on the centrality of creativity to advertising, and the ways in which it ‘miraculates’ it.

The impetus for it comes from my days spent studying/practicing creative advertising, working with more senior practitioners, and highly unsatisfactory definitions and accounts of creativity from both industry and academia. It also flows from working in the School of Creative Studies and Media here in Bangor (Wales, UK) that promotes inter-relationships between theory and practice. 

That said, the book is far from being a practice-based handbook and is quite philosophically involved as I conceptualise creativity in terms of 'events', affect and process. With more than a nod to Whitehead, the general aim here is to shift away from the obsession with representation to an understanding more focused on the lived moment of interaction with creative objects. This focus on lived moments is an attempt to shift the terrain of discussion away from ontology (interested in categories and being) to ontogenesis (interested in ongoing growth, development and process).  This to me seems a more sensible of approaching things because, after all, we live our lives immanently and a key part of this involves development and interaction with all sorts 'bodies' capable of affect (whether these be ideas or material objects).

Advertising then, while closely assessed within the book by means of of a wide range of classic and of the moment campaigns, is intended to provide a gateway into a much more extended discussion of creativity that has applicability to a wide range of disciplines.  Have a look at the link here to the Routledge home page for blurb and detail.

Do also drop me a line at if you are looking at similar sorts of topics, would like to get together on a project, or would like me to come and give a talk.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Instagram: getting into advertising without trying

One for the Instagram users. The new terms of use, scheduled to go into effect Jan. 16, say that while Instagram does not own any user-uploaded content, users "hereby grant to Instagram a non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide license to use the Content that you post on or through the Service." In effect, your images might be appearing in ads aimed at you some time very soon. More from Advertising Age here.

Friday 7 December 2012

For Your Eyes Only

I’ve returned from the 2012 FYEO conference in Brussels full of fresh ideas and impetus. Lots to take away, but an overriding impression is the need for more social understanding of privacy. While we often fixate on policy, regulatory and technical solutions to privacy (and these are all useful discussion and endeavours), I was more struck by the ways in which privacy is embedded in everyday life and the ways in which the “personal is political”, to borrow the feminist adage.

Day 1 saw a number of ethnographic and qualitative approaches that totally skewed public/private divisions by means of highlighting the ways in which may be surveilled in the domestic sphere, yet enjoy anonymity in public. My own panel on commodification (along with Rob Heyman, Claudia Diaz, Vincent Toubiana, and ably chaired by Jo Pierson and summarised by Ike Picone) accounted for changes in advertising. My own presentation (slides on the right-hand-side) focused on changes in the character of advertising,). This was a philosophical discussion on how the function of advertising has developed from attempts to fix the “being” of things (items, objects, experience and social processes). The latter part of my talk addressed the move away from representation in critical theory to political economy approaches (audience-as-commodity), progressing to posit a Whiteheadian and ‘event’-based take on advertising that sees fleeting arrangements, aggregation, disaggregation and advertising that is of a temporary character as we negotiate the heterogeneous web.

Day 2 saw some fascinating talks beginning with computer scientists and tech folk. What surprised me was their call for a broader and more holistic approach to privacy. This theme continued into the second panel that clearly laid out the need for a social constructionist account of privacy, particularly in relation to social over institutional/paternalistic norms. This progressed to think about privacy in terms of power and what struck me most were the clear connections to classical media and cultural studies, and the need to better understand the ‘micropolitics’ of everyday life. This situates privacy, commodification of users’ traces and sociality within a wider much field that historically has included power, gender, race and mainstays of cultural studies. I think it’s time to dust off some of those undergrad cultural studies books!

And, finally, a comedy moment: I'm on the train heading out of Manchester Piccadilly at 1am writing up this post along with other ideas from the conference. Lots of jolly very worse for wear folk wondering what I’m dong typing so fervently: “You writing the next 50 Shades of Grey?” “Well, I am typing up notes for a book?” “What’s the book about?” “Privacy.” (Cue raucous laughter!)

Increase in tracking cookies

Interesting study from the University of Berkeley pointing out that the number of cookies dropped by websites is growing (see here).

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I am director of the Media and Persuasive Communication (MPC) network at Bangor University where I also lecture on political-economy of the media. I am currently working on a book provisionally titled Deconstructing Privacy for Peter Lang and leading two empirical projects in connection with privacy perception and the use of new media for smoking cessation. I am author of Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process (Routledge, 2013); The Mood of Information: A Critique of Behavioural Advertising (Continuum, 2011); and Digital Advertising (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009). Please contact me at if you are interested in Ph.D supervision or consultancy services.