Francois Bar on appropriation of mobile media in Latin America: Part 2
April 16th, 2007

I posted the second part of my report on Francois Bar’s presentation at the Annenberg Center for Communication, on the modes of technology appropriation observed via mobile phone use in Africa and Latin America.

This third form of appropriation is the most extreme in the sense that it corresponds to practices where the user chooses to engage in direct conflict with the suppliers of the technology (or at least with the power relation as embodied in the technology.) Cannibalism includes modifications of the device that place the user in direct opposition with the providers’ business model, destruction of the device. Their goal is to destroy, subvert, defeat the device or service as offered. They represent a direct and explicit confrontation with the provider. We should acknowledge from the start that we found fewer examples for this last appropriation mode than we did for the two previous ones. This was to be expected since these kinds of practices have obviously not been encouraged by those in control of the technology. Yet, we do identify a number of examples that fit here.

In a first category are cases where users hack the technology itself in ways that are meant to defeat the provider’s control and come in direct conflict with the provider’s interests.

Examples include the installation of applications that would deprive the carrier of revenues. On the milder side, an illustration of that kind of cannibalism can be found in the current tussle over the conditions under which end users might be able to install skype on mobile devices, thus appropriating the hardware for a purpose diametrically antagonistic to the purposes of the carrier (Anderson, 2007). Increasingly more antagonistic cannibalism practices include phone unlocking (to defeat the contractual restrictions associated to device subsidies), and phone cloning (to redirect all charges to another, unsuspected device). One of the more extreme is the rebuilding of cellphones into detonators that let terrorists trigger explosions from a distance with a simple phone call.

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