VPNs AND ENCRYPTION AS BOUNDARY OBJECTS OF THE INTERNET: (MIS)TRUST IN THE TRANSLATION(S)
Keywords:VPN, Encryption, Boundary Object, (mis)trust, internet communities
How do users come to trust VPNs? How do they understand end-to-end encrypted messaging technologies? This paper aims to answer these questions by considering VPNs and e2e encryption as boundary objects of the internet pertinent to study (dis)trust in the system. Our aim is to follow Star’s clarification of boundary objects as entities that people act towards (or with) in relation to their own communities of practice via a feminist approach to technology studies, which for Star, linked lived experience, technologies, and silences in ways that proved political. We add to the literature in three ways: empirically unpacking VPNs and e2e encryption as boundary objects that tack back and forth between the technical and abstract, which is novel for the literature; an exegesis of boundary objects ‘on’ the internet to consider conceptualizing objects ‘of’ the internet, which opens a fruitful reconfiguration for internet research; and shedding light on the ways that symbolic registers of technology have profound implications for socio-material practices. Our work suggests the back-and-forth ‘tacking’ of abstract to concrete does not manifest as universal and singular, but is made manifest from multiple community vantage points. This complexification shows how digital objects of the internet feed and are fed by multiple use cases and relational practices across commercial, security, rights based, and identity practices that they underpin, undercut or act upon. Users trusting the politics of one case may miss a need to police the other; we conclude by contextualizing these concerns for future research ‘of’ the internet.