Privately Owned Public Spaces: the Internet and the Shaping of a New Breed of Consumers. From Participants to Users


  • Salvatore Poier College of the Atlantic


Language, Neo-Liberism, Privatization, Public Spaces, Internet and Cloud computing, Lenguaje, Neo-liberalismo, privatización, espacios públicos, internet y computación en la nube


Computers in the 1980s were seen as a way to liberate people from the constraints of physicality, to expand the horizons of knowledge, and to enhance access to information. But after a few somersaults, we are back to a market that closes rather than opens our horizons, one that monopolizes, and even de facto owns, our very information. With the adoption of the term “user” - as opposed to “participant” for example – an asymmetry of power is underlined. This linguistic choice enables Internet platforms (such as Twitter, Facebook, iCloud, GoogleDrive) to maintain shady property rights on what users might perceive as public spaces (precisely because they are built to project a public space dynamic) but are in fact spaces in which the control over users' own data (e.g. pictures, texts) is often impossible, transforming such data into a commodity and reducing users to (used) consumers.

En la década de 1980, los ordenadores se contemplaban como una forma de liberar a la gente de las limitaciones del mundo físico, ampliar los horizontes del conocimiento, y mejorar el acceso a la información. Pero después de diversos giros, volvemos a estar en un mercado que cierra nuestros horizontes en lugar de ampliarlos, que monopoliza, e incluso posee de facto, nuestra propia información. Con la adopción del término "usuario" - en lugar de "participante", por ejemplo - se pone de manifiesto la asimetría de poder existente. Esta opción lingüística permite a las plataformas de Internet (como Twitter, Facebook, iCloud, GoogleDrive) mantener derechos de propiedad poco claros sobre plataformas que los usuarios pueden percibir como espacios públicos (precisamente porque están construidas para parecer un espacio público dinámico) pero son en realidad espacios en los que es a menudo imposible controlar los propios datos de los usuarios (por ejemplo, imágenes, textos), transformando estos datos en una mercancía y convirtiendo a los usuarios en consumidores (usados).



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Author Biography

Salvatore Poier, College of the Atlantic

Salvatore Poier studied law and society, researching especially the creation of law and crime in uncharted territories (piracy, hacking/cracking). His comparative research draws on linguistics, history, social theory, anthropology, law, and legal theory in order to gain new perspectives into our common-sense everyday practices. He is currently a Visiting Researcher and Adjunct Professor at the College of the Atlantic, where he can be reached: College of the Atlantic. 105 Eden St. Bar Harbor, ME 04609. United States. ;




How to Cite

Poier, S. (2015) “Privately Owned Public Spaces: the Internet and the Shaping of a New Breed of Consumers. From Participants to Users”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 5(1), pp. 206–217. Available at: (Accessed: 23 February 2024).