Latest: Social Surveillance

What if public fears about CCTV cameras were irrelevant and outdated, not because of unmanned drones but because of cheap smartphones?

The Onion’s video story CIA’s ‘Facebook’ Program Dramatically Cut Agency’s Costs a year or so back highlighted how much information we voluntarily give up in sharing. Not just how much we provide to third-parties like credit bureaus, but how much we share out to social circles and publicly.

Our backgrounds, where we grew up, where we work, who we’re in relationship with (and by historical data, who we’ve been in relationships with), what kind of music we like, where we’ve been, where we are right now. There’s a huge creepiness coefficient when you start to think about what this data really looks like - and the fact that you neither own nor control this data.

Data that is voluntold

But that’s all volunteered data. If I post a photo of myself naked and hanging upside down from a fire escape (by the way this never happened, I swear) that’s my own damned fault. I owned the photo, I consented (presumably) to the photo, and hell, maybe I even tagged myself. Ultimately I consented with full knowledge to posting it publicly.

So much of what gets shared though is shared by someone else on our behalf.

Of the photos including me posted on Facebook I count exactly zero (0) to which I gave consent to share publicly (closed or not Facebook is certainly a “public” venue) and another zero (0) which I was asked for my consent. The naive concept of privacy by “untagging” might have worked ten years ago, but machine learning algorithms can identify faces once a sufficient test set is generated.

Putting aside the idea of tagging people in photos, the photo itself is still information. Even without advanced imaging and data analysis technology, these data provide a lot of information to humans, information about us that we did not volunteer. That we did not consent to provide.

Think of the children

And while it’s unfortunate that someone else is innocently documenting your life for you, at least you have the luxury of being an adult. What if you grew up into a public life narrative?

My first Anon post so that this never touches my son in the future.

That was from a post describing a child (diagnosed with autism) reacting to Mozart and expressing for the first time his synaesthesia.

It was a cute story that followed, but I like that preface most.

so that this never touches my son in the future.

Enough ink has been spilled about what teens are posting on their own social media accounts but nobody has much noticed what parents are posting about their children. It’s bad enough if a teen or young adult posts compromising photos or messages of their own volition, adding to a permanent record on the Internet.

Parents have always exercised a lot of discretion over how their children’s lives are documented. Many of us have grown up with the baby in the bathtub picture to be trotted out for significant others, photos on the walls that we adamantly did not want sit still for. But these were private. They weren’t archived forever in a photo portfolio online or chronicled on some blog.

Tin foil hats and living room curtains

The idea that Facebook or any other popular social network was born from an government agency, intelligence or otherwise, is too silly to warrant even a tin foil hat. Maybe the idea that such agencies do harvest that data - like police agencies in the UK harvest data from private CCTV cameras - is a little less laughable. It’s still probably a bit tin foil hattish though.

But it’s not the worry that some modern day Stasi with a data center is going to track what coffee shops you’ve checked in to or how many degrees you are from people who like bacon and Batman in Chicago. Rather, this is a massive shift in expectation of privacy, and a shift based largely on how other people treat information about us.

There is no opting out.

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