Selling Shawn Buckles’ “Data soul”

April 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Shawn Buckles, a Dutch student, has auctioned his personal data, from location records to consumer preferences, browser history and emails, by setting up a website with an online bidding system. In this way, he hoped to make a comment about privacy and the value of personal data. After 53 bids, his “data soul” was acquired by The Next Web, which plans on using it to explore the issue of privacy at an upcoming conference. The £288 they paid will be donated to Bits for Freedom, a Dutch digital rights organization.

One interesting assertion included in his pamphlet was that “People don’t seem to understand that privacy and autonomy are very much related and that privacy is a necessity for developing one’s individual character and ethics.” This reminded me of an essay by Roland Barthes entitled Toys in which he argues that all the French toys are a miniature reproduction of the adult world and contrasts them to the simple games with blocks of wood that leave room for imagination and creation. He asserts: “The fact that French toys literally prefigure the world of adult functions obviously cannot but prepare the child to accept them all, by constituting for him, even before he can think about it, the alibi of a Nature which has at all times created soldiers, postmen and Vespas.”(Roland Barthes, Mythologies, p 53) These toys are thus meant to ‘condition’ children for their future roles. As Buckles stated, computers have flawless memory. When a system records your preferences and is capable of reacting to them by spitting out a suggestion for something you might be interested to watch, it conditions what you see. A dystopic view of the future of the internet, continuing on this line, would be that in which what we see when we browse the web is pre-assigned to condition us for our role in society.

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