Peter Cochrane's Blog: Say cheese - your picture's on file for good

How long before we are tracked across the planet by date, location and activity?

Written by the side of a swimming pool at my hotel on the island of Jersey and dispatched to via a free wi-fi service.

Academia, the media and politicians worry about the consequences of social networking and all the online information about us. But things may look very different in the future.

As I travel the world I take lots of pictures, so just like everyone else I have a huge and growing digital image library. Many of these photos include incidental objects of information: shops, vehicles, landscapes and of course other people.

It is not that I have intentionally framed my camera image to include all this background stuff. Quite the reverse - it is just a serendipitous consequence of pointing my camera at the intended target. And I am sure I appear in the background of other people's pictures all over the world.

Incidental details
Right now I am in a shady corner with my laptop about 20 metres back from a swimming pool where a mother is clicking away with her camera, capturing her kids having fun. I certainly feature in the background. Should I object, and on what basis?

Many friends now wear miniature cameras that automatically click away recording snapshots of everyday life. A slew of creative software allows day-by-day playback and search, for instant recall of facts and scenes.

Most cameras now time and date-stamp pictures and recordings, and some even include GPS-generated co-ordinates. One way or another, all this data ends up stored on various devices, and ultimately gets connected by networks.

everything you do may be caught on camera these days

Cameras document more and more these days
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

And in an age of infinite storage, where almost nothing can ever be fully deleted, the longevity of all this material is assured.

Tracked across the planet
So what's the big deal? New search technologies. It is now possible to search databases for people, objects and scenes. How long before you and I can be tracked across the planet by time, date, location and activity?

I think we are already there. And in the future it is just going to get easier and far more comprehensive than we can probably imagine. Data about us will be used and referenced in ways that are probably impossible to predict.

Google Street View caused a stir, but what about our self-generated Scene View? We, the population of the planet with digital cameras and smartphones, are far bigger than Google, and doing it to ourselves.

It is going to make Google and Facebook et al look like hobby shops, and may or may not be even more worrying to the people who concern themselves with this aspect of our digital lives.

My recommendation? Relax and smile. You are now always on Candid Camera.