Thursday, November 4, 2010

Assuming Anonymity

One of the prime truths of science fiction is that no matter what it is you write, it will become dated somehow or another thanks to the assumptions you used. Authors whose plots rested on the existence of a twenty-first century Soviet Union are well aware of this, and instances where science marches on are as common as dandelions throughout the genre. One of the reasons this happens so often is because we're just incapable of predicting what's really here to stay - and sometimes I worry that important things will fall by the wayside as the years tick over. Like, say... anonymity.

More specifically, the basic right - and I believe this is a right, even though you won't find it in any constitution or charter - to go out without everyone you encounter knowing your name, whether they know you or not.

I got on this angle thanks to an article that was passed on to me from TorrentFreak, "Anti-Piracy Tool For Cinemas Will Recognize Emotions." The security measures it talks about aren't familiar to me: it may be that Canadian theatres are behind the curve, because I've never encountered bag inspections or metal detectors at the Cineplex. Reading the details of what's in the pipeline, though - I'll stop short of "enraged," but it did anger me. Using the foundation provided by anti-piracy systems to gather marketing data, to judge how the audience reacts to different things.

I'd be very tempted to wear heavy sunglasses to spoof the system just for the sake of it - because, really, who the hell are you to lean down over me, gleaning meaning from every move I make and jotting it down in some file "to improve the moviegoers' experience" or some such drivel? If I want you to know my opinion, I'll damn well give it to you. That sort of concealment, then, would be the only way I can think of to get around it; they wouldn't really let you opt out the ordinary way.

This dude has the right idea, whoever he may be.

The freedom of opting out is the key to ensuring that you have an equitable system. What worries me, and what this project reminded me of, is the danger of augmented reality systems being linked with sophisticated facial recognition software. It's not hard to imagine a program, always running, that tries to recognize and search down every single face you see on the street. I can think of absolutely no good reason why the average person would want this kind of program, or why the average person should have this kind of program - but there are people who'd want it anyway.

Yet names are important. Names are valuable. The prospect of someone being able to know who I am without knowing me, without having encountered me before, with no connection to me whatsoever just because they can dredge some tagged photos of me out of the internet, to me smacks as a violation of my essential personal liberty. I believe everyone should have the right to be anonymous in the crowd. How far away are we from this, really?

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