Friday, January 09, 2015

Don’t do thousands of wrong

There’s lots of technology that can track stuff and people. You can stick a dongle to something then find out where it is. You can stick the same dongle to a person and find out where they are and where they’ve been. Perhaps you’re worried about your children or your elders. This kind of technology could – in some sort of universe that isn’t a great deal like this one – help to protect those loved ones.

One thing that’s automatically wrong with attaching devices like this to people is that they aren’t the ones in control of what those devices report. Another thing that’s automatically wrong is that location and sensor data generated by these devices is going to be stored somewhere and can and will be abused by employees of that somewhere and hacked by people somewhere else.

Being responsible for someone doesn’t mean you ought to control them.  I think it means the exact opposite, in fact: if you don’t control someone but are responsible for their actions anyway, then you’re probably doing it right, even if it bites you on the arse now and then. Loved ones will make mistakes. Let them. It’s none of your fucking business.

Let me pick an example I know a little about (why not be novel?) A few years ago I worked for a project that monitored the activity of elderly people in order to alert appropriate others if something was deemed to be wrong. For example, an alert might be triggered if a person didn’t get out of bed one day or didn’t weigh herself or didn’t turn the kettle on or meet up with friends. You get the idea. The alert might go to the caretaker of sheltered accommodation. to a doctor, to relatives…

This sort of thing can be useful only if it isn’t imposed. We don’t get to decide whether the things our youngers or elders do are mistakes. Our part of the project tried to make sure that decisions about what was reported to whom and why was always in the hands of the people generating the data, but we were always fighting government departments who felt they were better able to make those decisions.

Fuck that noise. Let’s by all means build devices that can collect all kinds of data about us. And let’s build an ecosystem in which we can each share whatever data we like and change what we share from moment to moment. Let’s not impose the collection, storage and sharing of data on anyone. It ought to be their decision, not ours.

When I was a kid I took myself away across the fields for many hours at a time.  I found places I knew I could be absolutely alone.  I mostly read and slept; even then I didn’t sleep too well and lying in grass by a river was more conducive to sleep than lying in a bed. No doubt my parents thought I was up to all kinds of horribleness.They’d sure as shit have tracked me if they could.

Kids need to learn how not to be tracked, how not to be observed. They need to carry this through to old age, learning all the time. They need to know what data to give up and what it costs. Hardly any shit purporting to help supposedly vulnerable people does that. Is it news that young and old people aren’t actually all that vulnerable?