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1[Martyn Thayne // Digital Profiling: The Accumulation of Personal Data in the Attention Economy]
 Digital Profiling: The Accumulation of Personal Data in theAttention Economy
Martyn Thayne // University of Lincoln
Abstract
Emerging from a critique of recent celebratory studies of new media, I incorporate a Deleuzian conceptualframework to analyse the economic motivations associated with the production and consumption of usergenerated material. In particular, I examine the Deleuzian concept of control societies within the context of howdigital media databases may be associated with the re-territorialisation of global capitalism. As computeralgorithms increasingly collate personal information, ubiquitous interactive technologies not only suggest,influence and promote, they may also begin to produce and sort all aspects of networked culture. This is not todeny the significance of potential forms of empowerment which are played out in participatory cultures, but itdoes draw attention to the complex nature of user agency. I suggest that digital interactivity is being increasinglyimplemented into the monetization strategies of user-generated platforms. It is highly lucrative for commercialinterests to integrate themselves within online communities in order to extract the financial benefits from thepractice of social participation, in addition to stimulating the individual user to interact closely with relevantgoods and services. I demonstrate a number of ways that the personal information transferred within thesenetworks may be utilised in an economic context, as well as exploring the technological infrastructure used to doso.
Keywords
User generated content / Business models / Production / Consumption / Social Networks / New Media / Control /Interactivity / Database / Personal Information
Email
 
martynthayne@yahoo.co.uk // mthayne@lincoln.ac.uk
[Paper originally delivered at ESF-LiU Conference:
Paying Attention: Digital Media Cultures and Generational Responsibility 
-ScandicLinköping Vast, Linköping, Sweden,6-10 September 2010. All rights reserved]
 
 
 
2[Martyn Thayne // Digital Profiling: The Accumulation of Personal Data in the Attention Economy]
 
Digital Profiling: The Accumulation of Personal Data in the Attention Economy
The aim of this paper is to address a variety of recent socio-technological developments to digital mediatechnologies and suggest a number of areas which require closer academic scrutiny. By discussing howinformation produced within participatory networks is increasingly integrated into online monetizationpractices I demonstrate that relationships between consumers and commercial markets have becomeincreasingly intimate in the digital age. Subsequently, these interactive networks have become a valuablesource of personal data, which may not only be used to profile individual users but also influence and controlforms of consumption.In recent years, scholarly approaches to studying user generated material have tended to focus on new modesof interactive production and decentralised exhibition which challenge traditional concepts of the mediaaudience. This can be viewed from the context of the emergent Media Studies 2.0 movement as championedby David Gauntlett (2007) and William Merrin (2008). I would also argue it includes other recent theoreticalworks which celebrate new modes of cultural participation, self-expression and multimedia communication -experiences which have been aligned to a supposed digital revolution (see Tapscott, 2006; Benkler, 2006;Rosen, 2006; Jenkins; 2008; Bruns, 2008). These studies suggest that democratic participation has changed theface of media creation, distribution and consumption. Whilst participatory media technologies have indeedradically transformed these areas, there are a number of other contributing factors which must be addressed.We need to move beyond marvelling at the phenomenon of user-generated content to understanding its placein economic and socio-cultural circuits. As Terranova has noted, changes to the relationship betweenproduction and consumption are played out within a field that is always and already capitalism (2004: 79).Consequently, the social and radically novel aspect of these transformations may be persistently underminedor appropriated by commercial processes. This is not to deny the significance of potential forms of empowerment which are played out in participatory cultures, but it does draw attention to the complexnature of user agency.
Consumption as Production
One of the most significant cultural transformations in recent years has been the convergence of mediatechnology, information machines and social communication networks. Platforms which encourage and exhibituser-generated content exist in a symbiotic relationship with applications that allow users to converse inshared dialogue and connect with multiple users in online communities. As users upload, share, review, rate,embed, bookmark and discuss they contribute to the whole process, the result is a participatory culture whichallows public citizens to express themselves in new and exciting ways (Gauntlett, 2007; Jenkins, 2008; Merrin,2008). Van Dijck examines such activity on user-generated sites according to the intensity and frequency of engagement and reveals that there are several levels of participation
1
(2009: 44). Whilst new mediainteraction does not always necessarily represent the conscious contribution of data, all modes of digitalparticipation may be utilised to some extent since such activities are routinely monitored by ubiquitous,
 
 
3[Martyn Thayne // Digital Profiling: The Accumulation of Personal Data in the Attention Economy]
 
networked technologies. This paper explores the socio-cultural and economic impact of these multiple formsof digital participation as individuals relay information about themselves across new media networks bothintentionally (through weblogs, status updates, posting personal media content, etc.) and inadvertently(through browser cookies which are assigned to track users online habits and various forms of data mining,etc.).Despite the apparent empowering nature of cultural participation, the traditional values of privacy and theconstruction of self-identity must also be re-examined in greater depth by media scholars. Further qualitativeresearch is needed to address the social and political implications, as previously undisclosed, personalinformation is made public through ephemeral multimedia forms and exchanged within digital communicationnetworks. The analysis of these issues must take into account the evolution of economic systems in the digitalage as new modes of self-expression and social relations are increasingly monitored by market forces. Indeed,Zwick and Knott suggest, the ultimate objective of the deployment of modern surveillance technologies inmarketing has been the disciplining and controlling of behavioural variations (2009: 225). Therefore, as socialsoftware become increasingly embedded within the everyday experiences of the user, the computerinfrastructure of these technologies allows data to be utilised as a means of directly profiling and influencingthe consumer, often in ways which escape recognition. Since the modes of surveillance flow freely throughdomestic spaces, in telephones, televisions, computers, and even in the metering of utilities (Lyon, 2002: 2),personal data produced and transferred in digital cultures may be used to monitor and target an individualuser in a multitude of ways. A more contextualised understanding of such developments must be integratedinto a contemporary media studies discourse, one which commonly engages with concerns voiced by scholarsof the surveillance society (see Poster, 1990; Graham, 1998, 2005; Lyon, 2002; Arvidsson, 2005) by aligningsuch conceptual work to interrogate the social and economic impact of new forms of media production andexhibition.Given the increase of networked technologies that facilitate the regular production and surveillance of personal information, conversations about user generated material must be framed within a more economiccontext as this data is increasingly central to new modes of digital advertising and marketing. This is ultimatelywhere the discourse of Media Studies 2.0 becomes problematic as it largely ignores the commercial strategieswhich have emerged in relation to the technological architecture of participatory media. As Van Dijck suggests,we need to account for the multifarious roles of users in a media environment where the boundaries betweencommerce, content and information are currently being redrawn (2009: 42). As the distinctions betweenmedia producers and consumers continue to blur digital content becomes increasingly decentralised and usergenerated. Dan Tapscott has called this
 prosumption,
whereby the consumer, in part, defines the end productand content is determined as a result (1999: xxi). The proliferation of personal data transferred within thesenetworks has become central to the development of new social relations alongside innovative businessmodels. The ability to interact directly with users has become a pre-requisite for almost all corporatemarketing in the digital age, with networked technologies allowing companies to implement a two-wayrhetoric between commercial products and potential consumers.
 
Locke, et al. illustrate how the Internet hasradically reframed business approaches in the digital economy by insisting that markets are conversationsand to succeed companies must embrace the customer as an individual and allow them to be a part of the
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