The body of work titled Are You Being Watched? is based on the concept of surveillance, consent and privacy. People are no longer interested in what information they give away online and unaware of what it’s being used for. The work takes the form of a photo essay (featured below) published in a publication of the same name, and as an installation.
Hypervisibility, being constantly under the gaze of others is a consistent and dominant issue, following the technological developments and advancements in 2010, which saw the likes of the Looxcie Cam (a small camera worn over the ear), Instagram and the IPad where digital imagery can be easily created, disseminated and archived online. A lot of the content created, shared and used was for the purpose of surveillance and tracking. Hito Steyerl states that ‘social media and cell phone cameras have created a zone of mutual mass surveillance which adds to the ubiquitous urban networks of control, such as CCTV, cell phone GPS tracking and face-recognition software.’ (Steyerl, 2012:167). There are roughly 4 – 5.9 million CCTV camera in the UK (Arch 24, 2013) and that we are caught on these cameras on average 70 times a day (Evening Standard, 2011), this doesn’t account for the likes of cell phone cameras and online data tracking, so it begs the question, are you being watched? And Who by?
The concept of the Panopticism (Foucault, 1975: 195) is based on the idea of the Panopticon prison designed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th Century. If the imprisoned inmates thought they were being watched all the time, they would adjust their behaviour to be socially acceptable and no longer criminal. One of the main uses of Surveillance and CCTV camera is to act as a deterrent, to discourage those who could commit a criminal act, altering their behaviour to be socially acceptable, so within today’s almost Panoptic society, constantly being watched under surveillance regardless of where we go it seems to be the norm. Although some people may suggest that the idea of constant surveillance is a good thing because it stops or deters crimes, in particular terror crimes, it’s imperative to ask, at what cost and whether it does in fact make a difference. There have been countless times where in principle intelligence and information about the offenders had been available before an incident but this knowledge was not used (Kreissl, N.D), so is the rising dominance of mass surveillance really that useful if the government hadn’t been using the technology that they already had?
Surveillance isn’t just a CCTV camera that watches you anymore, you can be monitored on your phone and tracked online too. You share your information out of habit, but there’s a lot you share without showing it, companies can tell where you’re from and what device your using without you even realising, this means that some merchandising companies could charge people different prices, for example, if you search for flights on a MacBook the companies will be able to see that data and will charge you more, compared to someone not using an apple product, because they had produced a profile that says those who own those types of products have more money.
All websites have 3rd party trackers attached to them, they collect all kinds of information, including your browsing history, to learn more about you, to sell on. The trackers drop the cookies and then collect them from websites that you have previously used in order to advertise things to you – these cookies will be collected about all the websites you have previously used, which will determine who you are and what you’ll be like in a future. When you have seen an advert on the internet, there have an instantaneous algorithm which allows them to show you adverts personalised to you, which is why when you’ve been shopping online, the same item comes up on other websites you go on after. This creates a consumer profile. When your data is retrieved by companies, it can reveal your age, gender, your personality traits, political opinion and your IQ, simply from your profile and the things you have liked. Data Brokers establish the worth of your data with the aid of algorithms, this is useful for the advertisers that want to show you targeted content. In Turn, surveillance has become an economy – you’re giving away information for companies to sell and buy.
As well as online tracking and data mining, your phone can also give away information to companies. Your mobile phone connects from cell tower to cell tower, this can be localised to within a couple of miles based just on when your mobile phone was connected to a particular tower. (Tech Radar, 2017) For example, google uses your IP address, GPS, Wi-Fi connections, cell towers to create a map of all the places you have been. You’re essentially pre-bugged. One real life case of this, is in early 2014. Protestors took to the streets of Kiev in Ukraine, just as a law prohibiting public demonstrations, the Ukrainian government detected the locations of all mobile phones proximity to street clashes between riot police officers and protesters. The mobile phones were identified in real time and received a text message saying ‘Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance’” (Goodman, 2015:182).
People are more concerned with their digital-self rather than their real self, they gain a new identity, which is never entirely truthful. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide whether a lack of privacy for more ‘protection’ is worthwhile, but it’s vital to think about how the information you share will affect other people, as the data you create is constantly being judge and compared to other people.