February 1997


Data and Information Collection on the Net

by Dirk vom Lehn

In the last couple of years the Internet has received a high degree of popularity in public discourse as well as in its actual use as communication medium: the number of reports about the net is increasing in all mass media, and more and more people buy the technical equipment and "get wired."

As social scientist, I consider this development on the one hand as technological change, and on the other hand, I discover consequences of this development on the social sphere. By looking at the social changes induced by the technical development, new modes of communication between people can be observed. Furthermore, an increase in exchanged messages and an increase in the number of people with access to communication to the (world wide) public can be observed. Some consequences of this development are the topic of the September issue 1997 of CMC Magazine.

"You never surf alone" while using the Internet. Nobody who uses the net can be sure that he is not an object of observation at the same time. Meanwhile, most users of search-engines know that the search procedures carried out by them are often saved as data on their personality and used for purposes they do not know. The same is valid for every information, someone provides publicly on the net, because it can be traced back to a real body.

Based on this insight, the Net presents on the one hand a medium to provide willingly information, and on the other hand all information available on the Net can be collected, recombinated and processed as data for reasons the original information provider has never thought of.

The September 1997 issue of CMC Magazine will focus on "Data and Information Collection on the Net". This issue is intended to publish articles coming from various viewpoints: politicians and political activists, marketing researchers and customers, social scientists and Netizens, political scientists, critical theorists, cybercops and hackers.

Among others, questions to be rised in this issue of CMC Magazine are:

  • Up to what degree of monitoring would politicians and net activists agree on? What sort of 'tracing-technology' is currently available, what can we expect in the future? Who does work on technology to trace back on people, and for whom do they work? What are the privacy issues concerning automatic data collection online? What are the ethical issues social scientists have to think of while doing research on the net?

  • Which organizations and institutions do monitor the net? For what reasons, and what technology do they use? what happens to collected information? Are huge data bases on individuals available to everybody who pays the bill?

  • Whom can a Netizen trust? How can anonymity be guaranteed? Is pseudonymity the solution? can individuals prevent the collection of information on their person? (How) can individuals get access to information on their own personality?
If you are interested in contributing to this issue, consult the CMC Magazine editorial policies and direct your rough draft or highly detailed submission proposal before July 1, 1997 to special issue editor Dirk vom Lehn (

Dirk vom Lehn is a PhD research student at the Centre for Work, Interaction and Technology at the University of Nottingham (England). He currently works on visitor behavior in museums and interaction in virtual spaces.

Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact