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Social changes caused by high level of surveilance

  1. Jan 17, 2014 #1
    I think about consequences of implementing insane amount of transparency within society. I mean not a case of merely Big Brother, but a case where practically every citizen can search for any information about other citizen. Simply a post privacy era, where:
    -except maybe in wilderness every your action is filmed (and even there you are not sure);
    -all your posts are signed with your true name;
    -all your transactions are electronic and accessible to everyone;
    -all your records (like school grades or even partially medical) are accessible to everyone;
    -one can check what thinks about you a person that dated with you (just like leaving a feedback on eBay).

    What social changes it would cause?

    -very low crime? (which would also lower transaction costs for ex. renting or loans)
    -frequent suicides because of revealing embarrassing secrets? (or maybe in long run there would be no information which would be a taboo, so no one would care about their nude photos circulating?)
    -using algorithms to filter people to flirt with?
    -being obsessively careful not to do anything improper? (or maybe oppositely discovering that actually everyone has done a few improper things in their life, and don't caring about it unless number of such incidents exceeds tolerable amount)
    -painful informal "punishments" caused by knowledge that a person tends to cheat (no problem with that, but others would behave very carefully) while simultaneously immediately trusting a stranger who is not on such black list
    -politicians that make their citizens unhappy by having no choice but being candidly honest? ("yes, sure, there will be more taxes")
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 17, 2014 #2


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    It would be very easy to silence political descent. There are thousands of different crimes, many of which people break on a regular basis (speeding, parking in the wrong place, torrenting, not having a TV licence etc). Whilst these a minor in a system with universal surveillance a document could be kept on each person. Given that the police wouldn't be able to respond to every crime and not all of them could be automatically dealt with most would just be silently kept. If a politician wants to silence someone they could have all minor crimes for that person and their relatives dealt with at once. Imagine getting banned from driving instantly for every minor speeding infringement and having several thousands of pounds worth of fines.

    Also whilst it might be the case that embarrassing secrets become the norm and people don't care so much anymore I doubt that would be the case. Rather I think a trend towards conformity would ensue. Already society at large has a hard time accepting people who are not the norm whether that means different fashions, sexualities (including fetishes) or hobbies.

    Workers in many industries might suffer too as companies track them all day and constantly rate their performance. In a recent documentary in the UK it was revealed that amazon warehouse employees have to wear tracking devices that measure how long it takes them to walk from A to B and beeb alerts when they are not fast enough. I fact these timers add up all the extra time it takes an employee to do a job versus the company goal and deducts wages because of it. Essentially micromanagement without having to have a manager.

    Lastly this type of data would be a gold mine for advertisers. Facial recognition systems throughout shops (including shop windows) could track what you look at, for how long, what faces you pull etc. Expect to be bombarded with tailored advertisements including different background music, lighting etc.

    Because of all this I expect that methods to retain privacy would develop. Nothing overt necessarily, perhaps just a fashion for masks or veils. There's a lot more to talk about on this issue but there's a few pessimistic points.
  4. Jan 17, 2014 #3


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    FYI, this forum is for asking for help on the scientific aspects of writing a science fiction novel.
  5. Jan 17, 2014 #4
    I really like Ryan_m_b's idea that people's inherent desire for privacy might manifest a culture of wearing masks even "if" in your world they're ineffective. Like a security blanket (like Michael Jackson and kids, with those masks/veils) or even as a rebellious fashion statement (London punks in the 70s wearing colourful bin liners during the dustman's strike.)

    A universal post-privacy society might have a self-stabilising mechanism in which the administrators of the surveillance are themselves publicly accountable. However, if "No animals have privacy, but some animals have less privacy than others" then your world might just follow a very familiar paradigm.

    It might be a safe assumption that the difficulty of an individual to maintain privacy is related to the recording and access of information. So to take your world to its extreme; recording is ubiquitous, access to it is universal and instantaneous resulting in individual privacy being impossible to maintain. So I would ask you;

    - In your world, what is the technology that allows unhindered (rather "unhinder-able") access to record so much information?
    - How is this information accessed by an individual?

    Socially, I can imagine, the only question you would have left to ask anyone would be; "Will you do xyz for me?" Since the only unknown would be your interaction with this person from that moment forward. A third person in this situation would probably be able to predict the immediate future actions of the first two based on their individual history (much like how marketers are using digital footprint data today.)
  6. Jan 17, 2014 #5


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    Camouflage expressed in fashion might be something to include in a SF story as it would be popular because wearing masks or obvious countermeasures only invites more surveillance from automatic systems.

  7. Jan 17, 2014 #6
    Wow, what a great find there with the cvdazzle!
  8. Jan 17, 2014 #7
    Social sciences don't count? Yes, I know they are soft.

    Post apocalyptic setting, small number of population, technology it not much better than contemporary except some low quality AI algorithms that could be used to roughly analyse big streams of video, but for anything fully conclusive still a human operator would be needed. Presumably there would be problems to store all video recordings for long.
    In such setting you would just click on my forum profile and automatically read a thorough bio of my person. If you were doing any research, looking for employees or were just bored with a few clicks would be able to search already bound together records, just to filter those who fit some features. (think facebook + gov records + plenty individual databases combined) Or just select any security camera.

    As stabilization mechanism I thought about idea that actual reading of camera recordings is in theory done by any concerned, nosy or jealous citizen who gets a reward for each law infraction found. In practice most of such market would be dominated by professional companies. (plus some small gov agency for more complicated investigations)

    Brillinat fashion! :D
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014
  9. Jan 17, 2014 #8


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    So what is the "science fiction plot"? And what technical help are you needing?
  10. Jan 22, 2014 #9
    Nice that you're interested. The story is an RPG scenario. An event (sorry, applied handwavium, accessible tech able to do that spoils any story) caused human civilization to spread out to different planets. After this event each group was able to evolve culturally and to slim extend technologically in its own direction for roughly 80 years.

    A bit too short period for me to use environmental determinism in style of Jared Diamond. I think more in line of evolution of institutions shaped by commonly shared believes, a'la Francis Fukuyama, maybe with hint of technology shaping believes like in Matt Ridley style from Rational Optimist.

    I fully understand that in case of social impact everything is not exactly provable (Think in line of relationship between printing press, protestantism and mass literacy - some connection is clear, but exact mechanism could be controversial, especially if one does not exclude existence of less visible transmission mechanism)

    So I ask about visible for other readers social consequences. (In Norway for example individual tax returns are public, and become a political issue on right vs. left; if they fight for that it seems that they expect that people reading tax statement of their neighbour would support more left wing. However, here for story deals with data access better by a magnitude)
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