My thanks to Tochis for the wonderful photograph above.
A full twenty-six years after the eponymous year of Orwell’s dystopian novel, we are only just getting used to the idea of Big Brother watching us. For many of us, this sense of being watched seems to have been built around physical constructs, around the usage of devices such as cameras.
For the older ones amongst us, Big Brother may be less about devices and more about people: for people like me, the concept of a surveillance society may bring forth images more akin to the Cold War and to state control: twitching curtains, informers and spies. Even Spy vs Spy spies. Especially Antonio Prohias’ Spy Vs Spy spies.
I get the impression that the post-Vietnam Space Invaders generation thinks of a surveillance society differently; they view things much more in a Star Wars kind of way, particularly in the sense of the Strategic Defense Initiative, so the attention shifts to a postmodern Military-Industrial complex. We all have our crosses to bear.
My thanks to Karf Oohlu for his fantastic creations above.
As we all know, those days are history. There’s a new game in town, where the surveillance is all digital. Where everything we do is monitored and recorded and analysed and used, ostensibly to help us. Ostensibly. A world of digital fingerprints.
My thanks to Caroline Bosher for putting the concept above together so elegantly.
We’ve gotten used to the idea of people “following” us in a digital world, subscribing to stuff we publish. Here we know that others are watching us. It is completely within our individual gift.
We’ve gotten used to the idea that when we visit somewhere, our web browsers may accept tiny little poison-pill cookies. While these beasties are capable of being used as spyware, we appear to be able to stop our browsers accepting them, we can clear them from our caches, we seem to be in control.
Some of us have even gotten used to the idea that we can keep rough track of the number of people that have accessed a particular site, what browsers they used, how they got there, where they went to, a whole pile of stats. Just take a look at an example of what StatCounter tells me about this blog:
It’s not just about where we go on the web, the metadata that attaches to our actions is pretty rich already. Take a look at what the Exif data holds for a normal Flickr photograph that I uploaded. If you’ve used flickr, you’ve probably done the same.
These are all things we’re getting used to.
But there’s stuff we’re not yet used to.
And it’s all to do with the concept of privacy. Whose privacy is it anyway?
If I upload something on to the web, and I want to know who sees it, do I have the right? Or do you have the right not to tell me you saw it?
Let’s say that what I “uploaded” is a blog post. Then it’s easy, you’re probably in your comfort zone. What happens if what you looked at is my music playlist? You’re still pretty cool about letting me know you saw it. So let’s make it a little harder. What happens if what you were looking at is my CV. Now sometimes you don’t want me to know that.
Whose privacy is it anyway?
Incidentally, sometime ago, I had to wait up for one of my children to get home. So I was idly looking at “watcher” statistics on Wikipedia, randomly trying to see what gives there. Who or what is watched the most. How do different groupings of people or things do? So here’s some of the highlights. First I name the article, then the number of watchers.
- Obama 2024. Bush Jr 1922. Bill Clinton 833. Hillary Clinton 778. Saddam 766. Churchill 760. Bin Laden 748. Palin 697. Blair 691. Cameron 248.
- Gates 901. Jobs 696. Berners-Lee 237. Zuckerberg 141. Page 94. Ellison 85.
- Gandhi 931. Lincoln 916. Martin Luther King Jr 858. JFK 747. Queen Elizabeth II 740. Mandela 603.
- Jesus 1483. Mohammed 1240. Scientology 977. God 920. Darwin 854. Hawking 715. Dawkins 599.
- Lost 1155. Simpsons 1149. Heroes 791.
- Manchester United 712. Liverpool FC 563. Chelsea 531.
- Google 1336. Microsoft 889. Facebook 766. Apple 673.
- Lady Gaga 496. Ashton Kutcher 129. Ev Williams <30.
- Abortion 697. AIDS 687. Climate change 258.
- Michael Jackson 1463. Madonna 734. Dylan 730. Lennon 724. Presley 676.
- India 2270. US 1658. China 923.
But the overall winner from about a hundred I tried?
Katrina at 2872. Even the September 11 attacks could only muster up 1337.
Many of the things we do are recorded, and we know about it. Many of the things we do are recorded, and we give permission for that recording to take place. Some of the things we do are recorded with our permission and we don’t understand enough about it.
So we need to know more about all of this. Which is something that the VRM people are working hard on.
A new kind of literacy is needed. Many are working on this, but we all need to think harder about it.
Incidentally, the millenials may be more clued up on privacy than we give them credit for. Their views are different, their values are different, they may start off naive and trusting, but they cotton on fast. So when you take the privacy settings on facebook, my gut feel would be that people under 28 would be more inclined to have sorted out their privacy settings to their satisfaction than people over 28.