Society of the Spectacle (2.0): Surveillance in the Internet of Things

I was recently asked to consider how the new surveillance is (or might) operate in the era of networked Things. It’s not a hard one to think through, but I reflected upon the role that visual surveillance has played in reshaping and refashioning physical space and thought — maybe visual surveillance doesn’t matter so much any more. Video surveillance was once all about “the man” having more power to see and reveal than those who were being watched. It was easy to grow wary of video cameras and their use, particularly by private entities whose cameras captured activity in public space, especially when there are no formal accountability protocols. I could get hopped up about that, certainly. I spent a day with the Institute for Applied Autonomy back several years ago, helping map out surveillance cameras in Manhattan as part of a wonderful exhibition that Eyebeam put on called We Love New York. It was about mapping the ways in which public space becomes a space that surveilled in a problematic way. It’s too secret, this surveillance.

Log files and Arphids are what we have to worry about, not video surveillance. In the Internet of Things, it’s a web hit in an access log that’ll send you to the big house.

[wikilike_img src=|caption=Mini CCD|url=|width=400]

So now we all know about video surveillance. Heck, we’ve learned enough to turn it to our own purpose. A cheap CCD camera the size of a quarter, a teddy bear with some of its bunting tore out, and a button replaced by some cheap optics are all we need to turn our own homes into a micro-social spectacle experiment. Want to feel like The Man? Turn a cam on your nanny or, yikes! your own spouse.

What happens when we become the man? When the architecture for surveillance becomes routine and understood? The politics may still smell a bit skunky, but we’re probably less likely to get as hopped up about it. Who’s going to blame the local Starbucks or Wal-Mart for a phalanx of cameras turned on its customers when you’ve nailed your own kid sneaking a few beers in his room using the same gear.

So, what’s next? Surveillance 2.0 — trackable, traceable, scannable Things.

I’m going to do a quick bargain basement inventory of what’s out there at the edge of the new architecture of surveillance. I haven’t figured it all out by a long stretch. But with the help of a whole bunch of others trying to think about our near future pervasively networked world, I found a few provocative artifacts that may well be just the theory objects I need to help figure this one out.

Tracking Things _ A Few Sample Artifacts

Everything is going to be geospatially tracked. Everything. Look at these units — I need a bushel of these and I’ll prove my case. I’m not talking about just tracked the way an Arphid tracks something entering or leaving a facility — that’s worthwhile figuring out on its own. I mean moment by moment logged as to its location in the physical world.

Surveillance Idiom: Finding Things

Keyphrase:Things that know where they are and where they’ve been.

Trackbacks:Peter Morville‘s on this vector, which is to our collective benefit.

Theory Object: Pet Tracker

[wikilike_img src=|caption=Pet Tracker|url=|align=thumb tleft|width=277]

Bruce Sterling sent me this one. It’s not a surprise or a stretch of the imagination. I offer it as a bit of evidence to my claim that everything will be tracked — you start with the loved ones and valuables and you’re careening toward the cliff. I bet these guys will sell a zillion of these. I mean, anything that people tend to carry around in an expensive hand bag is going to want to be tracked. It’s described as the LoJack for dogs in case they get lost. Someone else out there also has a subcutaneous version of this idea — inject your pet with its own tracker.

[wikilike_img src=|caption=Wikipedia tells us that these hot red zones are where the H5N1 is highly pathogenic. How do you track the migration of birds? They don’t pass through customs, afterall. But, they do fly under GPS satellites.|url=|align=thumb tleft|width=500]

Next Steps and Action Items I wouldn’t be surprised if the EU doesn’t acquire one of these or something like it for every single bird so as to track the H5N1, cause it’s coming.

Surveillance Idiom: Doing Something With What You’ve Found

Keyphrase: Things that aren’t where they’re supposed to be.

Trackbacks: The tenacity of change agents — Ellsberg to the Diebold whistleblowers

Theory Object: Plane Tracker

I’ve been hopped up about Flight Aware before, and I still am. I love this operation, both for the geek factor (tracking planes on the Internet? I mean, come on — it’s ModelTrains2.0) and for the “making things public” angle. Ask me what the politics of making things public are, and this is probably the first thing I’d point to as an example.

[wikilike_img src=|url=|align=thumb tcenter|width=400]

[wikilike_img src=|url=|align=thumb tcenter|width=400]

It’s not at all that we should know where all the planes are for the sake of knowing where all the planes are. It’s what happens when you do this — not just finding out if you’re plane’s going to be late, but finding out, as some serious plane watchers did, that the CIA was flying prisoners to offshore torture facilities.

Next Steps and Action Items Time to come to grips with the worrisome fact that, despite their canonical “The Man” status, even the CIA can have its agents and safe houses revealed by a little rudimentary informatics wrangling — a bit of the Google and a few legal purchases of some of that data we give away when we sign up for a credit card or answer a marketing inquiry.

Surveillance Idiom: Blogging Things

Keyphrase: Inscription and authoring physical objects to give them some Spimey power-up

Trackbacks: Ulla-Maaria Mutanen’s ThingLink project.

Theory Object: Item Tracker (AURA – Advanced User Resource Annotation system)

[wikilike_img src=|url=|caption=AURA capture/annotation device – a $50 Smart Phone!|align=thumb tcenter|width=375]

AURA has been around for a couple of years, but I only recently came across it. This is a remarkable bit of technology that does an incredibly simple thing. It links Things to databases. You scan your Thing’s “tag” — a 2D barcode, but the kit is extensible. (It’s an architecture for a usage scenario rather than a hardcoded API — a kind of Microsoft Research Theory Object. Notice it’s a “Resource” annotator, rather than a packaged goods annotator — resources can be anything that’s, well..consumed or has value of some sort. So, pretty much anything can be annotated with this gear, which is worth while thinking through.)

Next Steps and Action Items This is great stuff — a tool to author Things. Much better than having Things authored for us, by someone who doesn’t know any better..or worse, has it in for me.

Why do I blog this? If there’s a “surveillance society” or a “society of the spectacle”, I would submit that it’s about informatics, and not primarily about the visual spectacle. These artifacts above are only a few instances that indicate how Things that can perform identity surveillance, tracking, tagging and wrangle some database informatics are what matter nowadays. Google is the new surveillance

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