Journal article

The Internet imaginary and the problem of privacy

15 Jun 2012

In this article we argue that the legal reshaping of public and private cannot at this stage be reconciled with the expectations of online writers who seek to conceal personal identity or to address a private audience. As bloggers, social networkers and other online content creators, we may find ourselves negotiating, sometimes with frustration, a position between our expectations of the internet as a system of places centred largely around ourselves and our imagined audiences, and the architecture of the internet as a limitless space, a 'non-place'. These conflicting notions of the internet constitute an uneven and contradictory 'internet imaginary', and shape our experience online. The law, when confronted with the ambiguities and equivocations of the internet imaginary, so far prefers to fall back on the simple idea of the internet as a public space, a space that is not protected from peering eyes and ears of outside observers, a space where activities cannot be made private (at least without special technological expertise), because accidents inevitably happen. So the law will not underwrite users' expectations of privacy. For now, however, many users of the internet continue to expect from the law a guarantee of privacy in our online experience, at least in some circumstances, even contrary to the assertions of those who insist that architecturally the internet is an open space.

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