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The Orwellian Dream

Mark Zuckerberg was once famously quoted as saying that “privacy is dead”. And he has a point. Not a particularly original one, but a point nonetheless.

Given the degree to which our lives are monitored by mobile phone companies, internet service providers, the authorities, government, international bodies, utility companies, advertisers and service providers, it’s near-impossible to remain ‘off the grid’.

But that in itself is no great shake to me. As someone with nothing to hide and as someone who thinks very carefully before he enters a URL, types a status update, writes a post or uploads a photo, I accept this erosion of my privacy given the broad range of benefits that it brings. I’m not so naive, for example, to think that Google is ‘free’, as I know full-well that it monitors my actions and does its best to turn that into valuable marketing data. But the positive impact of Google on my life is not something that I take for granted, either. I’m not some mad, raving leftie-liberal, then, but neither do I believe that I’m some fool to be taken for a ride. Savvy, then – just as anyone in the digital age arguably needs to be.

So why am I so ruffled about some of the announcements about the XBox One?

Forget 'eye in the sky'; there's one in your living room

Forget ‘eye in the sky’; there’s one in your living room

Consider this: if a monolithic, multi-national corporation suddenly asked you to install an always-on, internet ready, HD webcam in your lounge, what would your response be? What if to, say, subscribe to Sky, or to possess a TV licence, you had to agree to such measures? What if to purchase a car, the same kind of device had to be installed upon the dashboard?

Suddenly the cost-benefit ratio on the battlefield that is privacy begins to tip unnaceptably in favour of the corporation as opposed to the consumer, doesn’t it? Suddenly, even a savvy consumer can’t shield themselves from an ever-present, watchful eye, can they?

We have seen over recent years how companies such as Google and Apple have ‘inadvertently’ gathered personal data from citizens; inadvertently my arse. These boys don’t make such ‘mistakes’. They, like all corporations, push the envelope, legally and ethically, and take their chances. They, like a savvy consumer, weigh-up carefully the cost-benefit ratio of such decision. Who cares if we get fined a few million, if the the potential rewards may net us tens of millions in the future?

Does anyone really believe that the wi-fi-scooping was 'accidental'?

Does anyone really believe that the wi-fi-scooping was ‘accidental’?

And so, dear Voxelites, I would ask you this: if Microsoft tell you that you can’t use your Xbox One without a) it being online or b) Kinect being plugged-in, I would think twice about how much you trust them to have a near-constant window into your home.

The Internet is an amazing place, full of wonder and discovery; the slightly worrying fact about it is that communication is two-way. If we suddenly see Microsoft (or Sony, for that matter), in the international courts in years to come, because they ‘inadvertendly’ set everyone’s Kinect cameras to ‘record’, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Privacy is dead – let’s just not shoot it in the face to be sure.

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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.

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One Comment

  1. Some internet geek will find out if the kinect was sending data to an outside source on the first day of release. Imagine being on a limited broadband and kinect did that, it would cause outrage. For these reasons, I cannot see  it being the case. That said, what if it took pictures a couple of times a day? Still doubtful, but more likely than video.

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