A Path from Privacy to Digital Labor

SXSW unleashed numerous demonstrations of technology that plays at the boundary of privacy. A constant trope in technology circles is the interplay between recording every moment of our lives and using computational power to organize, search and meaningfully exploit all those recorded moments. Elise Hu’s article about Narrative last month for NPR reinforces this issue. The Narrative camera clips onto your lapel and records still images constantly- but of course this ends up yielding a Big Data problem. Hu notes that organizing the pictures is quite a lot of work. The natural extensions involve machine help, but with machine help comes the question of monetization: will you pay a company a monthly fee to organize your life images for you, or will you use a free cloud service that does just as good a job, but asks you to sign an agreement giving them the rights to use that gorgeous sunset shot you took, unawares, in their advert campaigns? There was a Montessori mantra that went something like: through repetition we achieve perfection.  In fact we may have a totally different new mantra for digital non-privacy: through data aggregation we achieve third-party monetization. Okay, that sounds horrible. But the fact remains, when we collect data massively, we also free that very data for others to exploit: for all but the most technologically fluent amongst us, large data sets spill beyond our ability to personally store, search and make sense of patterns. And the new data aggregators operate on a new boundary, where monetization, ownership and identity are fluidly redefined by each new product and business innovation.

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