Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who needs 1984 when we’ve got Foursquare?

Online snooping is getting worrying – but if we want to stop this, we must ask some fundamental questions about social media.

The next poster in the series says "Facebook is privacy"

When George Orwell created Nineteen Eighty-Four and Big Brother in 1948, he could scarcely have imagined the future. Not so much the nightmarish vision of the Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Plenty, Ministry of Peace and Ministry of Love, but two things he would never have guessed. Firstly, the emergence of god-awful reality TV show Big Brother (and all the other god-awful reality TV programmes it spawned), and secondly, a load of persecution complex-ridden Middle Englanders who says “It’s just like 1984” every time they get a speeding fine. I suppose some bits bear resemblance to the book, but that tends to be things like petty council officials invoking anti-terrorist laws over littering. All in all, it’s a bit of a damp squib.

But fear not, Mr. Orwell, all is not lost. Recently we have seen the arrival of a new program called RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology). This little device uses information from social networks to track the movements of individual people. It is suggested this could be used as ways of monitoring people who are about to commit a crime – cue analogies to Precrime in Minority Report – but just like its ficticious counterpart, there are serious questions of how reliable this would actually be. Certainly there’s not much enthusiasm from the Police. Which makes me think the key market might be employers. Like a retail manager who wants to know if his staff are shopping at competitors. Or a civil servant checking which pesky underlings attend opposition party meetings in the run-up to an election. This could be fantastic news – if you are a control freak with lots of money and power.