The next big thing in voluntary surveillance

A lot of people complain about how using sites like Facebook is nothing more than volunteering for your own surveillance. Indeed, Facebook has an analysis department that is collecting data about the activities of its more than one billion active users, mapping social trends and providing a previously-unimaginable picture of what people across the whole world are doing in their public and private lives. I’ve had many a conversation with political activists in their mid-twenties and older noting how as little as four or five years ago those involved in radical (and often illegal) political activities would go to quite some length to guard their privacy and make sure photos of them never appeared online. Now, a lot of activists I know upload any number of photos of themselves every week. Well, if that’s not enough, how about this: a mobile video camera, mounted on a tiny helicopter, that can follow you around 24/7. I’ve no idea what you’re supposed to do with the footage, but I suppose it might come in handy whenever you have one of those ‘you had to be there’ conversations. (Actually, the most shocking thing about the article is that Beyoncé has someone filming her sixteen hours a day!)

4 thoughts on “The next big thing in voluntary surveillance

  1. Remember my suggestion 6 months ago to set up a CPPE-cam? Well, this is just what I’ve been waiting for. Instead of simply monitoring the philosopher in his or her office, we can follow CPPE cadres’ process of creative production 24/7 — getting the drinks in at the Marquis, staggering down London Road after getting in a few too many drinks, even engaged in more wholesome types of reproductive labour. Hopefully our £5000 or whatever will stretch to one of these…

  2. I think if we put the feeds online we could make quite something back on our £5000 investment (just over a year in a business school and look how I’m thinking!).

  3. And again Facebook is trying to convince people that you can have access to this source of data through the downloading a copy of your data (here: and therefore the system is equalitarian and free for the users. But as you state in your post, no it is not! The big economic issue is about the interactional data, which is the data about the interaction between our profiles that are subject to be modelled with social network software (Pajek, SNA, SocioMetrica, to name some of them). Obviously this type of data is the most precious ‘property’ of Facebook. So now you know that Facebook, at least in terms of your Facebook interactions -that in some subject and group cases are pretty important and of high sensibility, particularly in case of radical political engagements- know more than you. And as we all know, knowledge is closely entangled with power.

    So, reflecting a little bit on that, I was wondering about those that work as Data Scientist (invited or fulltime) or within the broad area of data analytics in companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, (yes our own academic Facebook!) This is an engagement quite interesting between researchers and Facebook money.

    As a matter of example, you can read something about the power that Data Scientist and the systems that they are building give to Facebook here: Or you can read the interview to Adam Kramer who is a Facebook’s Data Scientist researching about: “emotion expression, psycholinguistics and statistical methods”. (here: So this researcher is trying to understand behaviour on Facebook and how this influences the product. At least for me, it is this assemblage between the research and money that is interesting to be looking about. Same point apply to companies like Google.

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