Your response to Surveillance

I honestly feel like our privacy has not been private for many years.

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The image above is a wordcloud comprising of your comments. Apart from the keyword surveillance the most highlighted words are INFORMATION and SECURITY.

Your reading for the session on surveillance, Richards, discussed how from a legal perspective modern surveillance has four distinct characteristics:

  1. No difference between what is private / public
  2. Secret surveillance is illegal
  3. Total (mass) surveillance is illegal
  4. Surveillance is harmful

In this light, it is interesting that, as one of you writes:

In today’s world everyone sees surveillance as a positive aspect towards security.

When we look at your comments they tended to focus on data collection by corporations, instead of the issue of government. You discussed the exchange of data for better service:

This kind of data collection definitely has it’s pros and cons, for instance I love being shown products that are the most relevant to me but it is kind of creepy to leave a retail website and see their ads on Facebook soon after.

You addressed surveillance as business:

For instance, the costs, both figuratively and literally are rising at a rapid rate. It is now available at the micro level, for individuals to pay for online security. Various services provide consumers with data security by using independent servers.

Only one person addressed specifically the issue of government from a personal perspective:

At least for me, i am a totally transparent person since i entered this territory. For example, i can hardly remember the road so that i have to use Google Maps almost everywhere. Hence, they could track my activities as long as i go out if they want to do that. Technically, i have no privacy in this country that boasts it is the freest one in the world.

And can we make a difference between government and corporate surveillance? Governments can surveil us because corporations have created the marketplace for it. Or, as one of you says:

After events, such as the attacks that occurred on September 11th, surveillance was proclaimed a necessity that all had to endure for the greater good of the public. If not accepting of this transition, you are looked at suspiciously or as one who is unpatriotic. This idea has slipped into the fabric of businesses such as Facebook, Google, etc. and has caused for activities that use to be personal to be activities that could one day be up for public speculation.

And, we, as individuals, allow surveillance of us, AND others:

An example of how this in turn affects my everyday life is when I download new apps on any of my devices. When initially installing an app, it always directs me to grant it access to specific pieces of information I may have on my phone such as my location, photos, my family and friends’ contact information, etc. in exchange for full access to the service it provides. Instead of being able to use these apps freely, I have reveal not only information about myself, but also others I may know to use their service.

But privacy, and surveillance, can also have unexpected effects. Although we have “nothing to hide” — what if our actions are taken out of context (the columnist in Time)? Or, what if WE need to watch everything, surveil, doubt?

There is no reason to hide my whereabouts, where I shop online, what sites I visit, etc. There is also no fear because I am not doing any illegal activities. My concern is about my thoughts, are they organic? original? or did I think of them because I read an “alternative fact.” This is how individuals or organizations can control the “watched” as mentioned in the above quote; making him/her/them/us powerless.


And yet another twist to this: How about the knowledge we get from news media — how much might be that impacted (e.g., self-censored) because of surveillance? Here’s a take on that by the Columbia Journalism Review, in reference to the recent decision by the government that Internet Service Providers can now have access to our browsing histories:

For most users—including journalists and media organizations—the ISPs’ arguments that web histories alone do not constitute “sensitive” information amount to meaningless hair-splitting, as do the assertions of companies like Cox, who helpfully affirm that they will “not disclose Personally Identifiable Information to persons outside of Cox, other than our affiliates, vendors and business partners.” And while activists have vowed to make the privacy changes an issue in the 2018 elections, media organizations and journalists need to take steps to protect the competitiveness and confidentiality of their reporting—and their readers.

I want to leave you with the idea of the Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff who has theorized about what she calls “Surveillance Capitalism”.  She writes, for instance:

Among the many interviews I’ve conducted over the past three years, the Chief Data Scientist of a much-admired Silicon Valley company that develops applications to improve students’ learning told me, “The goal of everything we do is to change people’s actual behavior at scale. When people use our app, we can capture their behaviors, identify good and bad behaviors, and develop ways to reward the good and punish the bad. We can test how actionable our cues are for them and how profitable for us”.

She talks about the villains of this phenomenon —  surveillance capitalism: Google is worse than any repressive government.

The already visible trend is that any actor with an interest in monetizing probabilistic information about our behavior and/or influencing future behavior can pay to play in a marketplace where the behavioral fortunes of individuals, groups, bodies, and things are told and sold.  This is how in our own lifetimes we observe capitalism shifting under our gaze: once profits from products and services, then profits from speculation, and now profits from surveillance. This latest mutation may help explain why the explosion of the digital has failed, so far, to decisively impact economic growth, as so many of its capabilities are diverted into a fundamentally parasitic form of profit.


Surveillance capitalism does not erode these decision rights –– along with their causes and their effects –– but rather it redistributes them. Instead of many people having some rights, these rights have been concentrated within the surveillance regime, opening up an entirely new dimension of social inequality. The full implications of this development have preoccupied me for many years now, and with each day my sense of danger intensifies.


4 thoughts on “Your response to Surveillance

      1. Please see Week 10: “By JW: Week 10 Post

        In regards to our privacy and surveillance, i honestly feel like our privacy has not been private for many years. Every time the internet becomes more advanced we as people continuously give up more pieces of our privacy due to the more information that is released to the public. I do believe that everything we do is under a constant surveillance everything we do is constantly being tracked as well as out civil liberties and everything around us. When information is taken without consent it is unfair to hold the individual accountable if though it was released by them.”


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