Too Many Eyes on the Street?
There’s a certain kind of surveillance that comes with living in a small town. It’s a bit nosy, and borderline obnoxious. Pre-approved security breaches warranted by implicit altruism and the defense of militia babysitters, snow shovelers, and the return of lost dogs.
Otherwise known as being a good neighbour.
This past month, Facebook has been under fire for releasing it user’s private information to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. A corporate gossip-swap of names, birthdays, location, and “likes” which users shared with the social media site under the impression of privacy.
Mark Zuckerberg now reigns as village alpha, absorbing our secrets in exchange for vapid popularity. With over two billion users on Facebook, the world has seemingly decided to neglect the cool-girl-cavity and willingly enter the virtual vacuum.
In New York City, The NYPD has installed over 13,000 CCTV’s throughout the city over the past decade in efforts to reduce crime. The strategy works as both a research tool and preventative measure, understanding that people are less likely to do wrong if they know they’re being watched.
A social panopticon layered within our own architecture.
Already, over half of all Americans exist in police databases. Using facial recognition technology, the NYPD can synchronize databases with CCTV’s to track ex-criminals or illegal immigrants as they move about their daily lives.
Personal information has spiraled from social leverage to data currency, with us at the very centre. Neighbourly surveillance is licitly bound by the comfort of mutualism. People in close communities look out for one another and expect the same in return.
This relationship is obliterated when stretched to the city scale. We’re surveyed by everyone, yet no one is looking out for us. The more people in an environment, the less we feel responsible for each other.
Technological surveillance is even more problematic as it’s something we tend to turn a blind eye too. People willingly synchronize their digital accounts to websites and applications without fully grappling the parasitic relationship of information shared. By not asking for information in return, we power the vacuums that fuel surveillance in the first place.
Large-scale corporations have increasingly been questioned for their ethics and if they should be able to use personal data as they please. By asking organizations for information in return, we can structure a more supportive and mutually beneficial sharing of personal information. This data can be used for good, and we should feel comfortable asking for this.
As a step in the right direction, Uber has taken the initiative to make amends with city governments. In Washington DC, Uber will provide the municipality with long contested drop-off and pick-up data, which will help the city make smarter street regulations. While this information will initially only be available in DC, hopefully more cities will rise up to alpha organizations and demand mutual data sharing as well.