Symp. #5: Bathing In Electromagnetic Data


I left the theatre last week with vivid imagery of electromagnetic data flowing through my body and filling rooms with blinding light. I’m not sure what these waves of data where supposed to look or feel like but immediately my skin was crawling the way it might if I thought insects were running up and down my arms but when I looked there was nothing there. I’d heard before that I wasn’t meant to leave my mobile near my head or my ovaries but that’s about as far as the thoughts had spread.

Talking about the Internet Adrian suggested that we service it, it doesn’t service us. There was a worker ant analogy thrown in there and I’ve been thinking a lot about that. The way we offer up our personal information to sites like Facebook, or to any site in fact that asks for it. Boxes come up, ‘name’, ‘D.O.B.’, ‘address’ and tap tap tap I type it in and click ‘I agree to terms and conditions”. I sometimes pause, my finger above the ‘agree’ button, but any cautiousness is blown off by a overwhelming surge of “fuck it” and I go about my day.

Me friend showed me this really interesting Ted Talk the other day. This was one of my first exposures to metadata. As far as I’m aware metadata is “data about data” but I’m not exactly sure what that means. There’s been a lot of debate in the Australian media recently about metadata and privacy. The Abbot Government supports data retention, allowing internet and phone providers to store users metadata for up to two years with out warrant. After some research I’ve learnt that metadata is more quantitative than qualitative, for example it is the duration, location and reception of my calls, rather than what was discussed within the call itself. Previously I wouldn’t have understood the extent of personal information this would relay about me, but after watching the Ted Talk I can see how simple graphs and figures about internet and phone usage can actually provide a lot of personal information.

My friend wrote an article about these proposed data retention laws and the petition that has arisen to demolish the regime called Citizens Not Suspects. According to Citizens Not Suspects proposals include:

• mandatory retention for two years of data relating to the internet and telecommunications activity of all Australians. This data could include records of your phone calls and texts, your location (if you use a mobile phone) and who you send emails to and who you receive them from. As Sir Tim Berners-Lee said when he was down under last year, retention of data on this scale “is so dangerous, you have to think of it as dynamite”.
• giving ASIO the power to ‘disrupt’ computers by adding, modifying or deleting files.
• giving ASIO the power to spy on a number of computers – including a whole computer network – under a single computer-access warrant.
• giving ASIS (Australia’s foreign intelligence agency) the power to collect intelligence on Australian citizens overseas.
• creating a new criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for revealing information about ‘special intelligence operations’. This comes with no exceptions and would apply to journalists, even if they were unaware that they were revealing information about such an operation.

It’s crazy how much information we offer up unknowing about ourselves on the Internet, and who is able to access it. Websites tell me what other articles I might also be interested in, Facebook lines my pages with Ads it thinks meet my needs/desires, iTunes recommends new bands to me and you know what, I usually like them. While this all seems relatively harmless it’s got me thinking about how much data I put out there, the form it then takes and the way it can be thrown back at me. It’s easy to see it all as beneficial, technology catering to my own personal needs, but I guess that’s how it reels me in. And I’m not exactly sure who or what I mean when I say it but I better stop short of personifying the Internet as whole and claiming it’s out to get me.

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