What Happens When Social Surveillance Goes Mainstream?

PanopticonMathew Ingram writes on GigaOM:

The 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham came up with an idea for a futuristic prison he called the “Panopticon,” a building with mirrors that would allow everyone to see what their neighbors were doing. Thanks to the growth of social tools like Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare, we now have the ingredients for a digital version of this phenomenon, and some are already using those mirrors for questionable purposes: in addition to creepy apps like “Girls Around Me,” the UK is proposing a law that would allow for monitoring of social media (as well as email and text messaging) without a warrant, U.S. universities admit that they already track what their athletes are saying — and a high-school student was recently expelled for comments he made on his personal Twitter account. At this point, advertisers tracking us online is the least of our problems.

In case you missed the furore, the “Girls Around Me” app has attracted a huge amount of negative attention for plotting the location of women on a mobile app by combining Facebook profile information and Foursquare check-in data. Foursquare has blocked the app from using its API, but the developers of the controversial service complain that they don’t do anything different than plenty of other apps such as Sonar.me — and they point out that the information they use to compile the profiles of the women they feature is from the publicly available Facebook profiles of those users…

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  • Floski

    Wasn’t the point of the Panopticon to give the prisoners the feeling of being watched whether or not anyone was actually watching them? And because of this feeling of being watched everyone in the prison was on their best behavior? It had a psychological effect.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if all the laws being passed for “big brother” surveillance are just to put that idea in the social bodies head: “I’m being watched no matter where I am.” This in hopes to improve the public’s behavior.

    It’s unlikely, though.

    • Joe Dick

      Thing is now it seems no one really wants privacy. Everyone’s behavior is that they’re on their own private reality TV show, whether or not anyone is actually watching them.

      • Nunzio X

        Yes, this.

        “Hey, look at ME!” is a disease of Western civilization.

        I guess the idea is, if 50,000 people know you exist (but don’t give a shit), that’s better than having ten people who know you exist, and care deeply for you.

  • Lionel Rudling

    People don’t necessarily want privacy. How records are used is the core concern. Heavily protect against the abuse of personal information and the nature of the panopticon changes as privacy becomes moot.

    Very different concerns, very different society.

  • Clank_glang_clong

    >The 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham came up with an idea for a futuristic prison he called the “Panopticon,

    Snore.

    This isn’t grad school. No one cares about Foucauldian analysis. We all know that Foucalt was a fraud.

    Well, those of us bold enough to read outside the syllabus and discover J.G. Merquior, who single-handedly  established that Foucault was a charlatan.

    If you don’t want people tracking you online, don’t use social media. Buy a prepaid phone that doesn’t require registration, and use a prepaid plug-in modem that gives you a new IP address each time you get online. Give up a bit of convenience to maintain your privacy. Problem solved. 

    • Fake123

      Your accademically-underground Brazilian author is underground, fagget. I bet nobody here knows who’s that Merquior and what did he say about Foucault.
      You just can’t write “derp, Merquior says Foucault is wrong, therefore Foucault is wrong”. No, YOU’re wrong, you have to explain your point first, and then you can quote your beloved Brazilian author.

      • Anon

        But surely the logically fallacious “appeal to authority” is at its most devastatingly persuasive when the “authority” in question is obscure and isolated in hir views (“single-handedly”); perhaps you are simply not bold enough to choose to swallow a pre-digested conclusion of questionable origin which lacks recourse to any rhetorical tools beyond presumptuous assertion..?