My Private Life
Stroll through any neighborhood today and your body sets in motion machines of every kind, orchestrated by an algorithm in the ‘cloud’. Our old city of concrete, glass, and steel now conceals a vast underworld of computers and software. We have been accustomed to this strange new order of intuition, interconnectivity, and automation – the internet of things. However, this technological revolution has also introduced another wave of concern; the preservation of our private lives.
No one really thinks about privacy until theirs has been infringed. Most digital networking platforms are designed to facilitate seamless information extraction without your realisation and with your consent. Looking back, how many terms and conditions have we agreed to without knowing what they demand of us, or how many different applications have we given Facebook access to, or how many online monthly subscriptions have we sold our souls to. Spotify knows what everyone is listening to, and Netflix knows what everyone is watching. We track and are being tracked. Every act, every click, every tap is a brand new set of data for them to capitalise on.
Sometimes your computer seems to know exactly what your wishes are, or what you’re looking for. As a reflective experiment, I collected some first-hand data to investigate how much of my private life I am giving away through a series of mobile-diary experiments. The conditions were as follows:
Record the different applications used on your mobile in a week
Counts the number of times these applications were used
Pick the application with the highest count. Think like a criminal and list out possible information that can be drawn from its usage.
Record the different type of sponsored posts received in your Facebook
Sort relevant and non-relevant ads
We probably had no idea how much the internet shares about us. All these smart products and services inadvertently dictate our preferences and purchases. They can also be used for political advantage — China has plans to use their citizen’s public data to generate a ‘citizenship score’. This could potentially affect employment, housing or even education privileges. However, shutting ourselves out of this information economy is not the ideal way out. As creatives, we should acknowledge the aiding potential of smart technology whilst designing with consumer privacy in mind. Not everything needs to be online, not everything needs to go to on the cloud. ‘The cloud’ is in fact a pretty name for ‘someone else’s computer’. Terming it this way helps bring out the tensions involved: who does the computer being to? In what country is the computer kept? Many critics have pointed out that terms like ‘cloud’ and ‘cyberspace’ are misleading, as they make us think that the internet is a place that transcends borders and politics. But someone else’s computer is always in a particular country, and subject to that country’s particular laws on privacy and data property. And before we know it, there goes our private lives.
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