What Machines Know: Surveillance Anxiety and Digitizing the World

Jacob Silverman at Full Stop:

SilvermanRecently a friend related an eminently contemporary problem. Browsing Facebook one day, he received a notification. Facebook’s facial recognition algorithm had recognized someone he knew in a photo and wanted him to approve the suggested tag. Three issues immediately presented themselves: the photo was of his newborn child, he hadn’t uploaded the photo, and he didn’t want to contribute to his infant’s data trail. Yet it seemed that Facebook already “knew” who his daughter was, both in name and face.

There was a social component to this, too. Would he have to start telling friends not to post photos of his kid? What novel matters of propriety did new parents now have to negotiate? Was he giving into an uninformed, instinctual revulsion at the latest digital technology?

These questions weren’t easily dismissed, but something more complicated was at work — overlapping concerns about visibility, identity, a parent’s responsibility, the commoditization of everyday communications, and how difficult it can be to articulate the kind of harm being done here. In his dilemma, we can also see how privacy is no longer, as one popular definition has it, the ability to control what other people know about us. Instead, in recent years privacy has split along two lines: what humans know about us and what machines know about us.

More here.