Every Breath You Take

Over the next few weeks I’ll be discussing surveillance; online and offline.

But first: a story.

A few years ago I went on a holiday with my family to Vietnam. A beautiful country which I would highly recommend visiting, but that’s not the point of this blog. My parents booked the entire holiday online – which is normal – but the unexpected thing that happened, was my mother noticed that our entire itinerary was put into her google calendar… except she hadn’t been the one to do it.

Because all the bookings had been confirmed via email – her gmail account – all the information had been automatically put into the calendar. And not just things like “holiday begins/holiday ends” no no, this was exact locations in Vietnam on google maps, address and all, and also the duration of the stay at each place. Google does this automatically whenever you get an email about an event – a setting which can be changed. It meant we were essentially being watched for the entirety of the trip. This was a fair few years ago now, so that was pretty much my introduction to online surveillance.

Fact is, with pretty much every device having a location tracker on it, it’s possible for people to know exactly where we (or the device) are at any point in time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, nor is it 100% a good thing – it’s just something that is. Surveillance is a part of everyday life now – from the location services on our phones being switched on – to the advertisements we are shown on Facebook which relate to our most recent google searches, everything we do is being noted down and used to cater to our needs, wants, and to help us realise the things we didn’t even know we wanted – yes I’m talking about the ASOS Sale banners that I get shown on Facebook (as if I wasn’t a broke uni student already). While you may not feel completely comfortable with being surveyed online, and having your data passed on, you pretty much signed up for it when you accepted the Terms and Conditions (at least on Facebook).