Accepted Paper:

Absence and presence of "the state" in sociotechnical imaginaries of search engines  


Astrid Mager (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Paper long abstract:

Search engines like Google are developed in the US-American context, but are used around the globe. Their business models are based on user-targeted advertising. They collect, profile, and sell user data to advertising clients. Not least since the NSA scandal practices of user profiling are critically discussed. This particularly applies to the European context with diverse data protection laws, a historically shaped notion of privacy, and different tax systems. The reform of the EU data protection law is an interesting site where tensions between US-based search engines and national policy, legal frameworks and cultural values can be studied. But search engines are not only governed by formal policy and law, but also by technical standards, terms of conditions, user contracts, international agreements, etc.

This poses interesting questions for STS researchers: How can big, universal search technologies be governed in Europe and what role can "the state" play in search engine governance? To answer this question I draw on qualitative interviews with Austrian stakeholders including policy makers, EU parliamentarians, data protection advocates, net activists, and experts from consumer protection. Using a discourse analytical approach I will identify "sociotechnical imaginaries" (Jasanoff and Kim 2009) guiding search engine governance, trace the absence and presence of "the state" in these narratives, and analyze how Austrian imaginaries and European visions (articulated in policy documents) challenge, contradict, and reinforce each other. I finally discuss what we can learn from this case study regarding complex relations between global search technology and national, partly European, sociopolitical cultures.

Panel D3
STS and "the state"