The pros and cons of surveillance and data storage

Before I begin, I think the topic “surveillance” is misleading because it suggests being watched by cameras. I prefer the phrase “data tracking” because, in the digital world, we are surveyed and tracked by so much more than cameras. Our phones and internet track and store our location, our friends, our interests and our vices. Supermarkets and credit cards track our purchases, including what we we eat, where we holiday, sleep, buy petrol, the clothes we wear, the hobbies we enjoy and whether or not we have pets. Tax records, health records, google searches, television habits, cloud storage, music programs – all of this is data that is tracked and stored and potentially used.

Although I am not happy with this data tracking, I buy into it for the convenience of what it gives me.
• Shopping sites that allow me to re-order without fuss
• Pay wave
• Access to countless films, documentaries and music plus suggestions that open my mind to other options
• Discounts and free delivery on items I buy regularly
• The interconnectedness of programs like Facebook and Twitter
• Easy directions when I’m driving to new locations, including an estimated time of arrival so I don’t have to panic about being late
• Stored financial records so I can check on past purchases, apply for refunds and easily keep track of expenditure
• Connecting with people all over the world based on shared interests
• Free medical care
• The opportunity to look up anything I want whenever I want like how to de-grease a grease trap or what a ‘puggle’ is or where to buy good quality Dutch speculaa biscuits

I wrote in a recent Tweet that I believe I have traded my privacy for the comfort of watching Netflix on a cold day.

Much of life is a trade-off. I trade my free time for the money I get for working. I trade hard-earned money for food, clothes, digital treats, beer. I trade longer sleep-ins for the pleasure of walking my dogs of a morning. As an adult, I buy into things and pay the cost. That’s life and a lot of life is digital these days.

So what are the cons of data tracking?
• I don’t have access to view what is stored about me
• I don’t have control over how that stored data is used or by whom
• I don’t have permission to modify the data stored about me, even if it is incorrect
• I don’t have influence over those who use my data because I don’t know who they are

This is where I begin to feel uneasy about data tracking. I feel vulnerable to manipulation and mis-understanding.

A friend of mine was driven out of her business in my town because the rumour went around Facebook that she was a heroin addict. It wasn’t true and never had been true but she had no way to correct that mis-information. The thought was already in people’s heads and enough people avoided her business to make it unprofitable.

I am old enough to remember the McCarthy years in America when people’s careers and lives were ruined by accusations of communism if they simply expressed ideas different to that of the conservative government. This included many academics, artists and free thinkers, communist or not, who were exercising their right to free thought and free speech.

In the 1990’s, in Australia, homosexuals were being jailed for their sexual preference. It was assumed by many that homosexuality included sexual attraction to children. A friend of mine, a Primary teacher, went to extraordinary lengths to keep his consensual, long-term, committed homosexual ‘marriage’ secret because the Department of Education had stated that males found to be homosexual would be sacked and because he knew several teachers who had been sacked for that reason.

I still don’t know where I stand on the issue of data tracking and storage. I enjoy the conveniences and the fun of interacting with the digital world but I also feel concerned that my personal data is not my own and is being sold or given away without my permission to anyone who wants to form an opinion about it or feels they have a use for it.