About the Cover: The Gaze of the Data Collector

The cover for my book is ready. Many of the books about the FTC use the agency’s iconic horse statuary for the cover. I chose not to use the horses because the meaning of the statuary cannot be interpreted without seeing both statuaries: the version where man punishes business and the one where business bites man.

new_coverI chose instead to license an image from an unknown artist. Titled “12 Men in a Row Looking into Binoculars,” I think the image captures many of the subtleties of technology and privacy. The modern internet is similar to a one-way mirror. The user, often in physical seclusion, is being silently watched by many different kinds of people – small and large businesses, governments, law enforcement, and perhaps even some scam artists. These different roles are suggested by the various styles of suits worn by the men. The fact that the men stand together suggests that they are united in the interests to watch the subject – this unison between government and the private sector was the subject of my early career, which showed that the erosion of individuals’ privacy expectations was critical for law enforcement and marketing goals. It is practically impossible to understand exactly why the men are watching or who the watchers are. Perhaps most of us know that we are being watched, but very few can block their gaze.

The passage of powerful privacy laws in the 1990s, the rise of security breach notification laws, and the FTC’s enforcement over the past years has brought us closer to and helped us more clearly see this group of watchers. If privacy law and the FTC works, we will see the watchers as clearly as they see us. We will be able to make sense of their intentions and goals. We will be able to take choices as a society about how their gaze should be controlled.

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