↑ Surveillance and tracking

Every citizen on this planet is subject to some sort of tracking/surveillance. This includes information that does not, by itself, identify individuals, but sits in various databases (datasets) until data scientists use it for some purpose. The proximate reasons for the culture of surveillance are clear:

  • Storage is cheap enough that we can keep everything.

  • Computers are fast enough to examine this information, both in real time and retrospectively.

  • Our daily activities are mediated with software that can easily be configured to record and report everything it sees upstream.

  • But to fix surveillance, we have to address the underlying reasons that it exists. These are no mystery either.

    • State surveillance is driven by fear.

    • And corporate surveillance is driven by financial gain (which is also driven by fear).

Data collection

Data can be explicit or implicit. Explicit data consists of data users provide explicitly such as ratings and comments on products. Users have a choice whether to provide it or not. Implicit data does not need any extra action from the user. Examples of implicit data are order history/return history, cart events, page views, click through, and search logs. This data set is created for every user visiting an e-commerce/online business. Behavioural data is easy to collect because it can be extracted from a log of user activities and/or bought from data brokers. Parties

Tracking is categorised into first-party and third-party tracking. The user is the second-party. In first-party tracking, the tracking is performed by the site or application with which the user is directly interacting. In third-party tracking, the tracking is performed by a third party that tracks the user’s activity over time and across different devices and (digital or analogue) locations.

For example:

  • Facebook tracks across sites via its Like button; each time a user visits a site that contains a Facebook Like button, Facebook collects this information, even if the user does not click on the button.

  • In the first-party context, behavioural tracking and profiling is used to recommend products that are likely to be of interest to users. Amazon recommends products to online users based on individuals’ past behaviours (personalised recommendation), on past behaviours of similar users (social recommendation) and on searched items (item recommendation).

  • With the rise of mobile phones, mobile applications track users’ locations and movement. Location information enables many useful services such as receiving driving directions and knowing where your kids are. And this information is also collected by marketers to improve profiling. This poses a threat to location privacy, as illustrated by iPhone and Android controversies.

  • Increasingly, consumer devices are capable of being connected online. Smart entertainment systems can monitor what users watch, smart meters can hand over information that can be used to discover what you watch, when you do your laundry and how much, what time you leave and come home, and more such behaviours.

  • Somatic surveillance is the increasingly invasive technological monitoring of and intervention into body functions. Within this type of tracking regime, bodies are recast as nodes on vast information networks, enabling corporeal control through remote network commands, automated responses, or self-management practices. Insurance companies are very, very interested.