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April 29, 2014

Playing Devil’s Advocate on Surveillance Technology

Photo Credit: Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee via freedigitalphotos.net

When it comes to personal data, many people have become uncomfortable with how much information is available on the Web. The big concern isn’t how much of our data is available; it’s more how that data is used. We are a bunch of over-sharers anyway, but what really concerns us is when this data is collected by those that we haven’t give permission to do so. Doxing, for example, is always a potential thread.

So what’s the answer? We already know that we are being ‘watched’ and ‘tracked’ – all you have to do is look at your Smartphone or Smart device to know that as soon as you enable GPS tracking, if somebody wanted to, they could track your whereabouts. But is that actually a bad thing?

In a recent article on Wired, co-founder Kevin Kelly wrote about embracing surveillance, stating that, “50 years from now, ubiquitous monitoring and surveillance will be the norm.” If you didn’t already know, the Internet was designed as a tracking machine – its been doing its job for years. And the bottom line is, the amount of information we demand calls for a massive amount of tracking. Technically, we’re reaping the benefits of it either way.

What’s the Answer?

Well, if you’re talking to Kelly, he talks about a term called “coveillance” which means there is a mutual and transparent surveillance happening where we’re watching the watchers. Is there another option, though? There is, but you’ll find it far less appealing unless you don’t mind secrets and the one-way panopticon created by English social theorist Jeremy Bentham and later made famous by the philosopher Michel Foucault. In a panopticon, you can never really tell if you’re being watched or not, so you’re forced to self-regulate.

Already in Action

Both options are already happening. Google and Facebook have their trade-secret algorithms but lend a kind of ‘coveillance’ to what they do with them. Then, there’s the NSA which appears to be secret-obsessed. One thing is certain, secrets always duplicate into even more secrets and the more secrets there are to manage, the more debilitating they become.

Coveillance is the Remedy

Embrace surveillance, but be as transparent as possible about the monitoring and tracking that you do. This way it can all be regulated, corrected, and any mistakes appealed so specific boundaries can be set and enforced in this way. While world surveillance is not an option we would choose, there’s no way to negate the fact that massive surveillance is on its way. Maybe if we stopped depending so heavily on technology this wouldn’t be the case, but it is.

So instead of bucking at the thought of being surveyed, why not share your personal data within the boundaries you choose to set and embrace it. You already share so much of yourself across social media channels, what’s so different about being even more transparent with companies and governments if rules and regulations are in place to monitor the use of said data?
The big takeaway, and slight inevitability, of it all is that by moving to a world that is based around
“coveillance” it will force humans to become more social and change how we see each other and define ourselves.


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Diana Zelikman writes for Fueled.com, an award-winning mobile app design and development house based in New York, Chicago and London. At Fueled, we don't just build apps; with teams of designers, developers and strategists, we create visually stunning products that redefine the technical boundaries of today's mobile development standards. We've built award-winning iPhone, iPad and Android apps used by millions of people for clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies to up and coming startups including Barney's, Coca Cola, UrbanDaddy, JackThreads and MTV. We hold ourselves to the highest standard of usability, stability and design in every project that we touch.

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