Destination Unknown

Big Data, the future of surveillance…

But how far away is this future exactly. Recent public uproar has out this notion into the eyes of the public as something already in play in our everyday lives. The new Facebook messenger application has come under fire due its extensive list of required permissions for the app to run. This list includes the ability to use the microphone to record and the cameras to take photos at any point in time  and can be seen in the image below.


I found a great example of this so called big data revolution on my very own iPhone. The control centre will always tell me how long it would take me to get “home”, and when I am at home it lets me know how long it will take to get to Neutral Bay – a place in which I spend a lot of time for work. How do you where “home” is? How do you know that I will be going to work today. With further research I found that the iphone data logs every place you go, every day. If you stay there for any length of time it will log this, taking note of places that you continually visit. This data logging and tracking can be seen in the screenshots below. This essentially enabled me to realise that carrying a mobile phone, whether you know it or not, is carrying not only the possibility to be tracked, but recorded, photographed and monitored.  And we don’t know where or to whom this information is being shared, stored and analysed.

IMG_7876  IMG_7911 IMG_7912

Malte Spitz (2011, TED TALKS) comments on the ability for big data to “spot business trends, prevents diseases (and) combat crime.” which correlates directly to scenario related to no borders and high surveillance. Where immediate immigration no longer poses disease and crime threats. The data sets that are now being collected from each and every indivudal are now too large and too complex to be processed by humans they need to include “capture, curations, search, sharing, transfer, analysis and visualisation. At this point strong connections can also be drawn to many “sci-fi” and “futuristic” TV shows and movies such as Person of Interest. The idea of connecting surveillance with big data is clearly seen in the opening monologue of every episode –

This idea also explored in The Simpsons: Season 21 Episode 20 – To surviel with love.

Every aspect of the town is monitored by cameras, and a speakerphone system is used to publically name and shame any misdemenors, this high surveillance results in a commune of citizens in a found “camera blind spot”.  This brings up the question of legality in the matter of surveillance, whereby in a system such as the one presented in The Simpsons, how strict is the system, are we living in fear all the time of being fined for jay-walking, arrested for minor speeding offences and so forth… where does the “big brother” draw the line.


Spitz, M. 2011, ‘Your Phone  company is watching’, Talk for TEDTalks

Hyponnen, M. 2011, ‘How the NSA betrayed the worlds trust — time to act, Talk for TEDtalks

Brooke, H. 2012, ‘My battle to expose government corruption’, Talk for TEDtalks

May, K. 2013, Joel Selanikio’s system for collecting big data on global health: A tale of two playlists, TED, 11th September 2014, <>

2014, ‘The dark side of data‘, TedTALKS playlist, 11th September 2014, <>

Shamah, D. 2014, How big data means big changers for location-based services -or at least save your battery life, ZDNet, 11th September 2014, <>

Groenig, M. 2012, ‘The Simpsons’, Season 21 Episode 20 ‘The surveil of love’ , video link

Stepney, S., ‘Big Data, Big Insights’, SDG Blog, 12th september 2014, <>

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2011, ‘Person of interest – Opening credits’, 12th September 2014, <>


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