Search engines like Google or Bing are developed in the US-American context, but are used around the globe. Their business models are based on user-targeted advertising. They collect user data and turn it into user profiles, which are then being sold to advertising clients.
Since the NSA affair practices of user profiling are under close scrutiny, especially in Europe with its diverse data protection laws, historically shaped notions of privacy, and very different tax systems. The reform of the EU data protection law shows very clearly the underlying tensions between global search engines and European policy and value-systems. It offers us an opportunity to observe and analyze the challenging task of translating culturally framed notions like privacy, but also ideas of economic growth and future society into EU legislation.
Aims and Objectives
Accordingly, the project Glocal Search examines the following research questions: What visions and values guide ongoing processes of search engine governance on the European level? And how do European visions relate to national identities, discourses, and value-systems? The study will answer these questions by conducting a discourse analysis of European policy documents, Austrian media, and qualitative interviews with European and national stakeholders involved in the governance of search engines. A particular focus lies on the ongoing EU data protection reform. The analysis will identify “sociotechnical imaginaries” (Jasanoff and Kim 2009) guiding search engine governance on a European and national level, trace the absence and presence of “the state” in these narratives, and analyze how Austrian imaginaries and European visions challenge, contradict, and reinforce each other.
Austria is an interesting case study since it is one of the countries that aim to hold on to their strict data protection legislations; compared to more liberal countries like Great Britain fearing that a strict European data protection legislation would weaken their economic power.
Empirically, this study will offer insights in complex relations between globally operating search engines like Google and European value-systems, but also European disparities and the role nation states (can) play in European net politics. Theoretically, the project combines concepts from Science and Technology Studies, Critical Theory, and Technology Assessment. The project results will be presented to the international academic community in the form of talks and publications, and will also serve as a basis for recommendations directed at various stakeholders.
The project is supported by the Jubilee Fund of the Austrian National Bank (OeNB), project number 14702.