give in or else


be paranoid about privacy. i am. increasingly so. but when i read that in countries such as china there will be over 560 million cameras in 2021 (that equals to one camera for every 2.5 residents, for those of you who have problems with simple division), i think i have good reasons to -especially when you know that they are connected to a facial recognition system that can match the information collected against scanned faces of suspects in a police database. spooky.

but that only happens in china, right? not our problem. think again: in the usa the projection is that there will be 85 million cameras in operation in 2021 -which means that when taking populations into account, it will have nearly the same ratio of cameras to citizens as china. even today, the roughly 420,000 closed-circuit television cameras in london equal about 48 cameras per 1,000 people, more than beijing.

if you are thinking about possible ways to dodge that kind of surveillance, something like

pulling up the top of your jumper over the bottom of your face, putting your head down and walking past [the cctv camera]

think again: anyone who declines to be scanned may be viewed as suspicious, stopped by the police, id-ed, and even fined if they refuse to comply. again, this is not in china, this is in the uk -where activists have already organized a civil liberties campaign called big brother watch to reclaim their privacy and defend freedoms at this time of enormous technological change.

and yet, these days that feels like a distant problem, one that belongs in the past -when we were living afk (away from our keyboards). these days we live in a new reality, one that takes place mostly online -where there are no cctv cameras with facial recognition technology, right? no, worry not, nothing like that online… and yet it is precisely online where we face the most threats to our privacy, i’m afraid. sorry about that.

take, for example, the unlikely alliance between apple and google during the coronavirus crisis to embed a feature in iphones and android devices to enable users to track infected people they’d come close to. this is not an app that you download -or not- and install in your mobile device. this is something that happens at the operating system (os) level. embedded. oh, yes, they say that this is opt-in, and yet it raises questions about the reach these behemoths have into individuals’ lives and society -especially when one of them is famous for keeping track of the messages you send/receive, the places you go to, or the purchases you make.

in that context, when i read about why microsoft, google and apple want you to ditch your password, i don’t think that it is to make our lives easier, a bit more comfortable, a bit more worry-free (because, granted, passwords are a nightmare). i think that it is to make us trust them with our digital lives to the point where there will be no need for passwords anymore: we will log in to our web-based services using one of those ‘sign in with apple’ (example) buttons and they will take care of everything for us. nice and easy. clean and safe. probably so, but at what cost?

that is for each one of us to decide: what big tech company we sell our soul to, and whether the price to pay is bearable. but don’t fool yourself: our options are limited. there is no such a thing as online privacy (that is an oxymoron). and sooner or later, if we haven’t already, we will have to surrender. to give in -or else.

update: shortly after writing this (yes, i usually write the content of these newsletters weeks before they get to your mailbox) i received the weekly ted newsletter suggesting kade crockford’s ted talk: what you need to know about face surveillance -that i highly recommend.

credits: photo by milad b. fakurian on unsplash