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The various features of new media raise a new set of issues for both producers and consumers. In terms of the former, for example, the development of global computer networks have presented problems for media industries whose products are relatively easy to copy and distribute, with no loss of quality because of digital reproduction. The development of peer-to-peer networks, for example, has led to the rise of global forms of intellectual property theft (“piracy”), to which media conglomerates have responded in a range of ways:

  • legal prosecutions of individual offenders and attempts to shut-down illegal providers, such as Napster and Megaupload.
  • the development of new economic models. “Freemium” models, for example, provide a free service, such as software or a game, but users then pay a premium for “added extras”. Popular Facebook games, such as Farmville, have successfully taken this approach..

A further issue involves the “unauthorised access to computers and networks” (“hacking”), something that involves:

  • governments: cyberwarfare, for example, involves governments engaging in the politically-motivated hacking of rival government computer networks for reasons that range from espionage to sabotage.
  • organisations: In 2010 the American government claimed the cybertheft of copyrights and patents by China remained at “unacceptable levels”.
  • individuals: viruses and malware designed to damage computers, extort money or steal information.

Specific issues for consumers have a number of dimensions, particularly those surrounding personal privacy. Social media such as Facebook make money through advertising, which can now be individualised, personalised and targeted through the sale of users’ personal data to third-parties; users, therefore, exchange “free” services for some loss of privacy. While corporations such as Facebook simply monitor how their network is used in terms of what an individual likes or dislikes, discusses or avoids in order to deliver adverts matched to these behaviours, Kosinski et al. (2013) have shown it is possible to accurately infer a wide range of personal information, such as ethnicity, IQ, sexuality, substance use and political views, from an analysis of an individual’s “likes”.

In this respect Socha and Eber-Schmid (2012) argue new media is “characterized by an astonishing and uncharted level of personal experience / exposure. Online companies and sites can track the content of personal emails and site visits in order to target advertisements on users’. There are also websites whose sole purpose is to compile and share personal data with web surfers”. A further privacy issue is the rapid spread and persistence of online data; once data is released into the wild of the web, whether in the shape of sites, blogs, tweets or tagged photos, it is difficult, if not impossible, to erase or withdraw it.

While these ideas represent one form of surveillance, more explicit forms are facilitated by new media technology; the State, for example, may monitor its citizens to identify which web sites they visit, who they email or who they talk to using Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP) such as Skype. Digital transmissions are relatively easy to intercept and read, especially if they are unencrypted, and surveillance targets, from individuals to organisations, such as environmental activists, to political parties, are unlikely to know if they are being monitored. If monitoring “from above” (surveillance) is an issue, monitoring “from below” (sousveillance) is a slightly different one arising from the rapid rise of smartphone and tablet technology to record and publish people’s everyday behaviour.

A greater willingness and ability to share information online also leaves people open to forms of surveillance that involve things like digital stalking and bulling. Neelamalar and Chitra’s (2009) study of Indian college students and their use of social networks like Facebook does, however, suggest an “awareness of the danger and risk involved in using these sites”, something they interpret as “a positive indicator Indian youth are not only techno-savvy and socially active through social networking sites but they also possess social consciousness”.

Taken from:

Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (UK)

ciebook

Cambridge International AS and A Level Sociology Coursebook (USA)

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