The glorious organ of the American thinking classes, the New York Times, has looked up from its recreational sudoku workout to notice that all is not well in digit-land. It’s brief and to the point, and worth reading.
This is spookily timed. Or perhaps not. The trigger for the recent ripple of soul-searching appears to be the Doorbells That See All. And once you take a sober look at what they see, what they do with that data and where it could end up, it’s very hard to ignore the broader landscape, a world where close personal and mass surveillance has multiplied, either by stealth or with our willing complicity.
I won’t go through the whole subject again but instead will point you at my earlier post on the same topic.
There are few easy answers here.
Each of us generates a torrent of data wherever we go. Modern life quickly falls apart if we cut off the flow. Much of it has developed naturally and pragmatically in order to support more efficient flows of capital, labour, ideas and products.
On their own, these data stores present a detailed picture of your activities. To this we can add public infrastructures, with their extensive data storage and surveillance capability that can track where you are and who you are with.
And then there are the frills, the digital goodies that have burrowed their way into our lives and homes and offer umpteen ways to make life easier, more fun, more secure.
Try living without your apps, digital assistants, search engines and social media for a day, and you’ll quickly grasp the scale of the issue. These gadgets and frills know you better than you know yourself.
So, panic probably isn’t the most useful response. What is more useful is an appreciation of the role of civil society in a free state, and the importance of liberal democratic institutions and the checks and balances they should provide.
Shrill imprecations to go out and vote are just the beginning. Bothersome it might be, but greater civil involvement might be what’s needed to ensure your freedoms are respected, and proper boundaries observed.
“I consider it completely unimportant who … will vote, or how; but what is extraordinarily important is this — who will count the votes, and how.”Joseph Jughashvili, aka Stalin
I find it as hard as anyone to engage effectively with the trade-off between personal convenience and loss of privacy. I’m loaded down with gadgets and smart home whatnots. I don’t have much faith in corporations to respect personal boundaries. Even a firm like Apple, which to its credit has made many statements about the value it accords to customer privacy, is only as good as its own security.
I also rely on elected officials to listen to their electorates, and not the lobbyists.
It’s a defining challenge for the new century, taking place in a world where we are all sleepwalking.