Self-surveillance and memory

I often talk about the idea of surveillance and ‘dragnets’ and often I am talking about other people surveilling us. What I have been thinking about recently is our ability to self-surveil and interpret.

Something that the digital affords is memory: transactions and files are stored in a binary computer readable format that can be copied and stored indefinitely. But our human memory doesn’t work in the same way. We store prominent moments in our lives that might be tied to strong emotional pulls, but the everyday tasks and the information about those tasks soon gets forgotten. I might feel annoyed with how heavy traffic is one day, but the details of how long it took to get home will be forgotten; however, my smart phone has that journey recorded (actually it doesn’t, but it could if I let it) and it is stored in someone else’s server space.

I was sat thinking earlier “what did I ask my search engine yesterday?” and I genuinely did not know the answer. I use Duck Duck Go so that couldn’t tell me either. The fact that because we don’t value some of these small moments of these lives as all that important, it doesn’t mean that other parties feel the same way. Earlier I searched for “things to buy to improve fertility” purely for research as I was building a character for a game (funnily enough around privacy). But had I not gone to the lengths to ensure that search result and website was not going to be tattooed on my digital footprint, then that data would be extremely valuable to various other stakeholders. Need I not bring up the Target scandal over how its algorithm outed a woman’s pregnancy.

I want to be able to measure and own a copy of my data haemorrhaging. I understand that there are means to be able to do this with your browser, but I am interested beyond just my laptop-usage. I’m pretty sure that our smart phone usage is more interesting than our laptop’s these days. Once I have this kind of measurement figured and user-friendly enough, I am going to ask others to try it too. As I write this I anticipate my readership to ask ‘why?’ and the answer to that is that I am interested in different ways in which we can understand just how much data we reveal about ourselves habitually.


Don’t forget that #privacyug is still running – please join in the conversation!

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