Fifth Lecture – Surveillance, Privacy and Data

This meeting was on: Surveillance, Privacy and Data

We talked about predictive policying and discriminatory algorithmic bias in such systems. How to deal with survailance. In China a big survailance system is already established. Many people are aware that smartphones do a lot of tracking but still continue using them, because they are convenient and deliver a lot of benefits. The usage of alternatives like TOR (for browsing on PCs) may make one seem suspicios and actually attract attention. Different popular sites also discourage the use of tools like TOR.

In Germany and Austria politicians talk about using a ‘Bundes Trojaner’. One does not know if survailance is really happening, or if it just looks like it’s happening. What are the actual benefits for people of doing survailance? Studies show that the impact on crime detection is neglectable. One does not know for what the data will be used in the future, people and governments change. What if totalitarian governments in the past had our current technology? The storage of big amounts of data is also problematic and dangerous. How to secure the data? What about data beeing moved? As a person one does not know where one’s data moves around. There are also possibilities of misinterpretation of data. People can be stopped from traveling because of ‘joke’ tweet (there have been already reported cases). What about a future which extends more and more in our lives?

Survailance exists also outside of governments, e.g. a shopping card tracking your purchases and giving you bonuses in return. In these cases survailance is usually done for capitalistic reaons, like predictions of what a person is buying.

The biggest problem of survailance is that it is usually invisible. One does not know what processes are executed and what the results are. The public only notices incidents or big discussions. Is for instance the data agreement of Google visible and understandable enough for most people? Currently only very few people have actually read it. We asked in our group what tools for “selfprotection” do people use: Ghostery, AdBlock+, NoScript. A lot of privacy enhancing tools are not that convinient, so many people think: “I know I should, but I don’t do it usually”.

Survailance often categorizies people, objects and events. This categorization is also not visible and users are usually labeled without knowing about it. For example automatic pregnancy detection through previous purchases and based on that the creation of recommendation of products. Another example is the monitoring of women and their toilet routines by their companies in order to detect pregnancy early. This predictions can then be used to fire them before they are in motherhood protection (by officially telling the company).

There is a difference in the actions if people know they are beeing watched (Panopticonism), e.g. persecution of homosexuality. For example: A woman posts private photos on Instagram without her hijab and gets in trouble because of that. In private this is ok, but actually the photos are entering the public realm. The distinctions between public and private are not so easy to see in the digital world.

In the neutral net everybody can host everything. Net neutrality is also important for a fair market. Getting rid of neutrality would result in changes in power structures on the web. It has already happened that ISPs not only want to ‘balance’ traffic but also completely make a certain service unsuable (e.g Netflix) unless one subscribes to a higher rate.

In the future more technology will be part of our lives (e.g. Internet of Things) and in turn more survailance is possible. The responsibility of technlogy creators needs to be a greater focus of this discussions. At the same time complexity has risen so much that it’s not really possible anymore to completly understand all deployed systems. Nowadays careing about privacy becomes a competitive advantage (e.g. Apple). Having a public discussion on privacy is of great importance.


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