Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life

By Helen Nissenbaum | Go to book overview

1 Keeping Track and Watching over Us

THE WORLD IS FILLED WITH DEVICES, SYSTEMS, AND DEVICES embedded in systems that have been designed to notice, watch over, and follow people; to track their actions, take in their attributes, and sometimes simply beaware of their presence. The frequency with which we are monitored and tracked by any given system can vary enormously, from one time only to episodically or continuously, as long as we are in the scope of its sensorium. Although increasingly enabled by technology, monitoring and tracking is not a new addition to the range of human social activities. Nor is it necessarily mediated, as there are countless mundane ways in which people are tracked and monitored: teachers take attendance, parents watch toddlers in a park, and coaches keep track of athletes' performance. Further, although privacy concerns accompany many contemporary monitoring and tracking practices, this does not necessarily need to be a factor, as when physicians monitor the heart rates of their patients or Olympic judges scrutinize and evaluate athletes' routines.

Yet with advances in digital media we have witnessed a dramatic rise in technically mediated monitoring, often emerging as a first-round solution to a wide range of social needs and problems. Not only is there an increase in sheer frequency of technology-mediated monitoring and tracking but a resulting shift in its nature—automated, undiscriminating, and accommodating new subjects, monitors, and motives. Following at the heels of these changes, there is growing discomfort, suspicion, and perplexity. In this chapter a variety

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