Facebook as a Surveillance Tool: From the Perspective of the User

  • Ekaterina Petrovna Netchitailova Sheffield Hallam University
Keywords: Facebook, privacy, capitalism, critical media and communication studies, surveillance, europe-v-facebook, protection of personal data.


With the increasing use of online social networks such as Facebook in recent years, a lot of research has been focussing on the privacy issue of the network. The main question being asked is: how do users navigate their privacy on Facebook? While this research has been very important for the understanding of the privacy issue on Facebook, it also has the tendency to focus entirely on the user and look at personal information revelation, ignoring societal aspects, such as capitalism and the changing notion of privacy in the current society.

Recently, there has been a new trend in studying privacy on Facebook - looking at Facebook as a surveillance tool and studying the privacy issue within the political economy of capitalism, led mainly by Christian Fuchs (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011). This research raises important questions as to what happens with our data and how Facebook uses its users.

This paper looks at the perspective of the user by using the critical approach, or Critical Media and Communication Studies. The privacy in the age of the Internet can be described as either social or institutional (Raynes-Goldie 2010). The social focuses on the control of personal information, while the institutional focuses on the data usage by corporations, such as Facebook. By talking to different users about privacy, I was interested to learn what they think about both aspects of privacy. From my interviews it emerged that users care about both social and institutional privacy, but while, in most cases, they are quite aware, and concerned about the surveillance aspect of Facebook's usage, the benefits of using the network at this moment are too strong to either leave Facebook or switch to an alternative medium. There is a definite feeling among users, based on my interviews, that their options are limited, and more should be done to raise the level of knowledge among users about how they can better protect both their social and institutional privacy.

We will start this paper with a short introduction and an explanation of the methodology, then, we will briefly look at the current research on privacy on Facebook, move to a more in-depth overview of Facebook as a surveillance tool and finally look at the perspective of the user, followed by a conclusion.

Author Biography

Ekaterina Petrovna Netchitailova, Sheffield Hallam University

PhD student at Sheffield Hallam University, Department of development and Society, Faculty of Sociology.

Studying Facebook by using critical studies of communication and the concept of popular culture. My research focuses both on the macro-context and the micro (the view of the user)