Our movements are tracked. We are being tracked right now. Very easily if you have a smartphone. Many of the apps on your phone regularly collect your location data. Sometimes you know about it (i.e. google maps) other times, it just happens in the background without your knowledge. Most of this data is ‘anonymised’ and sold on to others. The thing is, even an anonymised dataset doesn’t hide key markers. Like where I go to work each day and return back to each day. Like where I go each Monday to Friday at the beginning of school hours and at the end.
There are patterns in the data that make it easy to identify specific people. This New York Times article outline how this is done. About a third of the way through the article the “A Diary of Your Every Movement” section illustrates this very well.
Yes this a freaky. Yes it reminds of Orwell’s 1984 and Big Brother. And yes, it is all legal.
What got me thinking about this was the coronavirus, the latest deadly virus to be spreading globally. If we have the ability to track people’s phones with a staggering degree of accuracy, can we not use the same datasets for a health crisis? Could it help to understand the patterns of infected people’s behaviours while contagious? Would it help to identify people who have been exposed? It probably would, but would it ‘justify’ the surveillance that is occurring?
Yes, this doesn’t shouldn’t override the privacy debate needed. Where does the line between an individual’s right to privacy lie in relation to communal benefit? And when does it turn into surveillance? And who decides?
We are being tracked. Likely because money was to be made from it. Likely justified in the name of security too. Yes, there can be benefits to society, community, as a whole, but at what cost? And how do we debate this when a virus is spreading?