The academic field of surveillance studies has (thankfully in my view) become more crowded during the past few years in response to the increasing use of data technologies for social control. In the early 1990s, when some of us (e.g. me) were naively celebrating the liberating potential of the internet, Oscar H. Gandy, Jr. was critically examining earlier incarnations of data systems and practices that contributed to the entrenchment of existing systems of domination and social injustice. First published in 1993, his book The Panoptic Sort was a groundbreaking account of the history and rationalization of surveillance in service of institutional control and corporate profit at the expense of individual privacy and autonomy. In the a second edition, published by Oxford University press in 2021, Gandy updates his original book for the context of today’s increasingly ubiquitous technologies that collect, process, and commodify personal information for instrumental use by corporate interests.
This paper concerns the role of online analytics in facilitating the rise of today's ubiquitous programmatic advertising, referred to herein as "AdTech." Most criticism of AdTech has focused on online tracking which captures user data, and digital advertising which exploits it for commercial purposes. Almost entirely lost in the discussion is the role of analytics platforms, which process personal data and make it actionable for targeted advertising. I argue that the role of analytics is key to the rise of AdTech, and has not been given the critical attention it deserves. I wrote this paper while pursuing my research as a PhD student at the University of Illinois School of Information Sciences. It has not been peer-reviewed or published elsewhere, and I’m posting it here to invite comments, criticism, and suggestions. Please feel free to send me email at jackb at illinois dot edu, or twitter message me @ jackbrighton.