On Fandom: Who Watches the Watchmen's Watchers?

By | Friday, March 28, 2014 Leave a Comment
Yesterday, I was looking at C2E2's increased attention to traditionally marginalized groups. In looking through the material they have on that, I also came across this description for another panel...
A Data-Driven Comic Universe
Ghostery users have a unique visibility into the data collection technologies that are spread across the web. For independent/digital comic producers, these technologies are essential tools to supporting their art; but for privacy-minded users, they can raise serious concerns. How can comics live on the web without killing reader privacy?
The presenter is the "Senior Product Strategist" for Ghostery. Who or what is Ghostery, you ask?
Ghostery is a browser tool available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, as well as a standalone app available for iOS. It scans the page for trackers - scripts, pixels, and other elements - and notifies you of the companies whose code is present on the webpage you are visiting. Usually, these trackers aren’t visible, and they are often hard to find in the page source code. Ghostery allows you to learn more about these companies and their practices, and block the page elements from loading if the user chooses.
A big part of convention panels is to help promote whatever it is you're doing, so I've got no qualms there. It's no different than any of the Marvel or DC panels in that regard. But what I find interesting is that 1) there was at least one guy who thought that data privacy was an issue/concern for comic book/pop culture fans enough to warrant pitching the panel idea, and 2) the ReedPop folks agreed.

So what does that say about the state of comic fandom?

Well, the most obvious thing is that fandom is decidedly more technological than it used to be. Back in the day, data privacy (not that the phrase was even used) meant that you were mildly concerned if you had a letter printed with your address in the back of a comic. These days, of course, even the most oblivious comic fans know that you need to supply more personal information than that to get an account with Facebook or comiXology. The issue of data privacy is much greater than that, of course, as you can tell just from reading that Ghostery description.

But there's also greater engagement with both other fans, as well as the sites you frequent. These corporations (they're usually corporations) can follow what you're doing online, but they can also help tailor your overall experience. Did you know, for example, that if you and I do a Google search on the exact same word or phrase at the same time, that we'll get different results? Because Google knows what you've searched on in the past and, more significantly, they know what you've clicked on in the past. So they present results that try to address what would best answer your specific search query, based on your historical interests.

So what that means is that you should have at least some greater sense of awareness of what's being tracked, by whom, and why. Frankly, that can be said of everyone these days, not just comic fans, but there are specific relevancies to comic fans that might warrant closer scrutiny. What's comiXology tracking? And Amazon? And, for that matter, ReedPop?

I don't know if this one panel will be useful or not, but I do find it fascinating that we're at a point in fandom's overall history where this type of thing is being discussed openly and to a broad population. In any event, I'm going to try to attend the panel, and see what I can learn. More knowledge, even if it does skew towards a single company, isn't a bad thing.
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