Profiling Machines

Profiling Machines

Mapping the Personal Information Economy

By Greg Elmer

The cultural and media studies perspectives on the technology of electronic consumer profiling.





The cultural and media studies perspectives on the technology of electronic consumer profiling.

In this book Greg Elmer brings the perspectives of cultural and media studies to the subject of consumer profiling and feedback technology in the digital economy. He examines the multiplicity of processes that monitor consumers and automatically collect, store, and cross-reference personal information. When we buy a book at or a kayak from L.L. Bean, our transactions are recorded, stored, and deployed to forecast our future behavior—thus we may receive solicitations to buy another book by the same author or the latest in kayaking gear. Elmer charts this process, explaining the technologies that make it possible and examining the social and political implications.

Elmer begins by establishing a theoretical framework for his discussion, proposing a "diagrammatic approach" that draws on but questions Foucault's theory of surveillance. In the second part of the book, he presents the historical background of the technology of consumer profiling, including such pre-electronic tools as the census and the warranty card, and describes the software and technology in use today for demographic mapping. In the third part, he looks at two case studies—a marketing event sponsored by Molson that was held in the Canadian Arctic (contrasting the attendees and the indigenous inhabitants) and the use of "cookies" to collect personal information on the World Wide Web, which (along with other similar technologies) automate the process of information collection and cross-referencing. Elmer concludes by considering the politics of profiling, arguing that we must begin to question our everyday electronic routines.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262050739 176 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • An important study of how consumers are tracked and solicited in the new information economy. Drawing on Deleuze's concept of control societies, Elmer introduces a much needed update of the literature on surveillance to account for profiling and datamining technologies, and, most crucially, maps out potential spaces of resistance.

    William C. Bogard

    Professor of Sociology, Whitman College

  • Elmer's study of profiling zeroes in on a key aspect of modern media spaces. He takes us beyond the study of texts and contexts to look at the forms of linkage and feedback that media regimes use to define and delimit the role of the consumer and the citizen. This is a great book for anybody trying to puzzle out how media, technology, power, and subjectivity function in the contemporary world.

    McKenzie Wark

    New School University

  • Greg Elmer has produced a lucid and concise analysis of the panoptic information society. Profiling Machines makes a very important contribution to what is now a critical agenda in contemporary cultural and political debate.

    Kevin Robins

    Goldsmiths College, University of London

  • In a world increasingly networked, automated, and invisibly connected, Greg Elmer's Profiling Machines is a health alert, a political prophecy, and an ethical challenge. Forget the surveillance state: data mining, cookies, and personal profiling are the tools of increasingly powerful global commercial corporations. Somehow we always thought the Web would combine anonymity with the right to become truly individual. Elmer shows how the erosion of anonymity has turned us into economic and lifestyle data sets, traded without our even knowing it. Thoroughly researched, passionately argued, this is a bracing account of the ethics, aesthetics, and likely futures of the web that should be read by everyone who has ever surfed, as well as every student of public relations and marketing.

    Sean Cubitt

    Professor of Screen and Media Studies, University of Waikato, New Zealand