Finn Brunton

Finn Brunton is Assistant Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and the author of Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet (MIT Press).

  • Obfuscation

    Obfuscation

    A User's Guide for Privacy and Protest

    Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum

    How we can evade, protest, and sabotage today's pervasive digital surveillance by deploying more data, not less—and why we should.

    With Obfuscation, Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum mean to start a revolution. They are calling us not to the barricades but to our computers, offering us ways to fight today's pervasive digital surveillance—the collection of our data by governments, corporations, advertisers, and hackers. To the toolkit of privacy protecting techniques and projects, they propose adding obfuscation: the deliberate use of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection projects. Brunton and Nissenbaum provide tools and a rationale for evasion, noncompliance, refusal, even sabotage—especially for average users, those of us not in a position to opt out or exert control over data about ourselves. Obfuscation will teach users to push back, software developers to keep their user data safe, and policy makers to gather data without misusing it.

    Brunton and Nissenbaum present a guide to the forms and formats that obfuscation has taken and explain how to craft its implementation to suit the goal and the adversary. They describe a series of historical and contemporary examples, including radar chaff deployed by World War II pilots, Twitter bots that hobbled the social media strategy of popular protest movements, and software that can camouflage users' search queries and stymie online advertising. They go on to consider obfuscation in more general terms, discussing why obfuscation is necessary, whether it is justified, how it works, and how it can be integrated with other privacy practices and technologies.

    • Hardcover $15.95
    • Paperback $15.95
  • Spam

    Spam

    A Shadow History of the Internet

    Finn Brunton

    What spam is, how it works, and how it has shaped online communities and the Internet itself.

    The vast majority of all email sent every day is spam, a variety of idiosyncratically spelled requests to provide account information, invitations to spend money on dubious products, and pleas to send cash overseas. Most of it is caught by filters before ever reaching an in-box. Where does it come from? As Finn Brunton explains in Spam, it is produced and shaped by many different populations around the world: programmers, con artists, bots and their botmasters, pharmaceutical merchants, marketers, identity thieves, crooked bankers and their victims, cops, lawyers, network security professionals, vigilantes, and hackers. Every time we go online, we participate in the system of spam, with choices, refusals, and purchases the consequences of which we may not understand.

    This is a book about what spam is, how it works, and what it means. Brunton provides a cultural history that stretches from pranks on early computer networks to the construction of a global criminal infrastructure. The history of spam, Brunton shows us, is a shadow history of the Internet itself, with spam emerging as the mirror image of the online communities it targets. Brunton traces spam through three epochs: the 1970s to 1995, and the early, noncommercial computer networks that became the Internet; 1995 to 2003, with the dot-com boom, the rise of spam's entrepreneurs, and the first efforts at regulating spam; and 2003 to the present, with the war of algorithms—spam versus anti-spam. Spam shows us how technologies, from email to search engines, are transformed by unintended consequences and adaptations, and how online communities develop and invent governance for themselves.

    • Hardcover $32.00
    • Paperback $17.95

Contributor

  • Paid

    Paid

    Tales of Dongles, Checks, and Other Money Stuff

    Bill Maurer and Lana Swartz

    Stories about objects left in the wake of transactions, from cryptocurrencies to leaf-imprinted banknotes to records kept with knotted string.

    Museums are full of the coins, notes, beads, shells, stones, and other objects people have exchanged for millennia. But what about the debris, the things that allow a transaction to take place and are left in its wake? How would a museum go about curating our scrawls on electronic keypads, the receipts wadded in our wallets, that vast information infrastructure that runs the card networks? This book is a catalog for a museum exhibition that never happened. It offers a series of short essays, paired with striking images, on these often ephemeral, invisible, or unnoticed transactional objects—money stuff.

    Although we've been told for years that we're heading toward total cashlessness, payment is increasingly dependent on things. Consider, for example, the dongle, a clever gizmo that processes card payments by turning information from a card's magnetic stripe into audio information that can be read by a smart phone's headphone jack. Or dogecoin, a meme of a smiling, bewildered dog's interior monologue that fueled a virtual currency similar to Bitcoin. Or go further back and contemplate the paper currency printed with leaves by Benjamin Franklin to foil counterfeiters, or khipu, Incan records kept in knotted string.

    Paid's authors describe these payment-adjacent objects so engagingly that for a moment, financial leftovers seem more interesting than finance. Paid encourages us to take a moment to look at the nuts and bolts of our everyday transactions by looking at the stuff that surrounds them.

    Contributors Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo, Maria Bezaitis, Finn Brunton, Lynn H. Gamble, David Graeber, Jane I. Guyer, Keith Hart, Sarah Jeong, Alexandra Lippman, Julien Mailland, Scott Mainwaring, Bill Maurer, Taylor C. Nelms, Rachel O'Dwyer, Michael Palm, Lisa Servon, David L. Stearns, Bruce Sterling, Lana Swartz, Whitney Anne Trettien, Gary Urton

    • Hardcover $27.95
    • Paperback $17.95
  • Media Technologies

    Media Technologies

    Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society

    Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo J. Boczkowski, and Kirsten A. Foot

    Scholars from communication and media studies join those from science and technology studies to examine media technologies as complex, sociomaterial phenomena.

    In recent years, scholarship around media technologies has finally shed the assumption that these technologies are separate from and powerfully determining of social life, looking at them instead as produced by and embedded in distinct social, cultural, and political practices. Communication and media scholars have increasingly taken theoretical perspectives originating in science and technology studies (STS), while some STS scholars interested in information technologies have linked their research to media studies inquiries into the symbolic dimensions of these tools. In this volume, scholars from both fields come together to advance this view of media technologies as complex sociomaterial phenomena.

    The contributors first address the relationship between materiality and mediation, considering such topics as the lived realities of network infrastructure. The contributors then highlight media technologies as always in motion, held together through the minute, unobserved work of many, including efforts to keep these technologies alive.

    Contributors Pablo J. Boczkowski, Geoffrey C. Bowker, Finn Brunton, Gabriella Coleman, Gregory J. Downey, Kirsten A. Foot, Tarleton Gillespie, Steven J. Jackson, Christopher M. Kelty, Leah A. Lievrouw, Sonia Livingstone, Ignacio Siles, Jonathan Sterne, Lucy Suchman, Fred Turner