“Now you see me – now you don’t!” – Practices and purposes of hacking online surveillance

Mareile Kaufmann


This paper describes how hacking can be the act of redefining what is seen and not seen in the context of online surveillance. Based on a qualitative interview study with 22 hackers, it discusses the many practices and purposes of ‘hacking online surveillance’, with a specific focus on the techniques of disappearing from view while continuing to be online. Not only do these techniques vary in style and the expertise involved, but they all fulfill multiple functions. They are more than just a coded statement against the uneven powers of surveillance, they are tactics of the everyday life, moments of analytical creativity and reflection, instances of pleasure and play, affective encounters, identity work and forms of communication. The paper dedicates space to these sometimes overlapping and sometimes differing conceptualizations of ‘hacking online surveillance’ by using methodologies that consciously seek out the nonlinear and the multiple.


Internet, hacking, surveillance, data, obfuscation, politics, play, affect

Full Text:



boyd d. (2014). Privacy. Why do youth share so publicly? In d. boyd (Ed.), It’s complicated. The social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press: New Haven/London, pp. 54–76.

Brunton F., Nissenbaum H. (2011). Vernacular resistance to data collection and analysis: A political theory of obfuscation. First Monday, Vol. 16(5), https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v16i5.3493, 15.09.2018.

Brunton F., Nissenbaum H. (2015). Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest. MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Coleman G., Golub A. (2008). Hacker practice. Moral genres and the cultural articulation of liberalism. Anthropological Theory, Vol. 8(3), pp. 255–277.

Coleman G. (2015). Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy. The many faces of Anonymous. Verso: London/New York.

Coleman G. (2017). From internet Farming to Weapons of the Geek. Current Anthropology, Vol. 58(S15), pp. 91–102.

Davies S. (2018). Characterizing Hacking: Mundane Engagement in US Hacker and Makerspaces. Science, Technology and Human Values, Vol. 43(2), pp. 171–197.

De Certeau M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles.

Furnell S., Warren M. (1999). Computer hacking and cyber terrorism: the real threats in the new millennium? Computers & Security, Vol. 18(1), pp. 28–34.

Gilliom J., Monahan T. (2012). Everyday resistance. In K. Ball, K. Haggerty, D. Lyon (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies. Routledge: London, pp. 405–411.

Huysmans J. (2016). Democratic curiosity in times of surveillance. European Journal of International Security, Vol. 1(1), pp. 73 – 93.

Jordan T. (2017). A genealogy of hacking. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media and Technologies, Vol. 23(5), pp. 528–544.

Kaufmann M., Jeandesboz J. (2016). Politics and ‚the digital’: From singularity to specificity. European Journal of Social Theory, Vol. 20(3), pp. 373–91.

Kubitschko S. (2015). The Role of Hackers in Countering Surveillance and Promoting Democracy. Media and Communication, Vol. 3(2), pp. 77–87.

Latour B. (2000). When things strike back. A possible contribution of ‘science studies’ to social sciences. British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 51, pp. 107–24.

Law J., Singleton V. (2005). Object lessons. Organization, Vol. 12(3), pp. 331–355.

Leistert O. (2012). Resistance against Cyber-Surveillance within Social Movements and how Surveillance adapts. Surveillance & Society, Vol. 9(4), pp. 441–456.

Massumi B. (1995). The autonomy of Affect Cultural Critique, Vol. 31 (2), pp. 83–109.

Nissenbaum H. (2004). Hackers and the ontology of cyberspace. New Media & Society, Vol. 6(2), pp. 195–217.

Online Etymology Dictionary (2003). Reviewer: W. Miller, Florida Atlantic University. Choice Issue: 41(2), http://www.etymonline.com/, 7.03.2018.

Richterich A., Wenz K. (2017). Introduction. Making and Hacking. Digital Culture and Society, Vol. 3(1), pp. 5–21.

Rost J., Glass R. (2010). Hacking. In J. Rost, R. Glass (Eds), The Dark Side of Software Engineering. Wiley: Hoboken, pp. 113–156.

Schrock A. (2016). Civic hacking as data activism and advocacy: A history from publicity to open government data. New Media & Society, Vol. 18(4), pp. 581–599.

Sicart M. (2014). Play Matters. MIT Press: Cambridge.

Söderberg J., Delfanti H. (2015). Hacking Hacked! The Life Cycles of Digital Innovation. Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 40(5), pp. 793–798.

Söderberg J. (2017). Inquiring Hacking as Politics. A New Departure in Hacker Studies? Science, Technology, & Human Values, Vol. 42(5), pp. 969–980.

Squire V. (2013). Attuning to Mess. In M. Salter, C. Mutlu (Eds.), Research Methods in Critical Security Studies. An Introduction. Routledge: London, pp. 37–41.

Taylor P. (2005). From hackers to hacktivists: speed bumps on the global superhighway. New Media & Society, Vol. 7(5), pp. 625–646.

Wray S. (1998). Electronic Civil Disobedience and the World Wide Web of Hacktivism. A Mapping of Extraparliamentarian Direct Action Net Politics. Switch: New Media Journal, Vol. 4(2), http://switch.sjsu.edu/web/v4n2/stefan/index.html, 15.09.2018.

Zarzycki A. (2018). Mods, Hacks, Makers: Crowdsourced Culture and Environment. In J. Lee (Ed.), Computational Studies on Cultural Variation and Heredity. KAIST Research Series. Springer: Singapore, pp. 73–82.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17951/ms.2018.2.85-101
Data publikacji: 2019-06-26 08:58:26
Data złożenia artykułu: 2018-03-23 16:23:04


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2019 Mareile Kaufmann

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.