What They could know about You?
In the site’s vocalbulary, the term ‘They’ has a specific meaning. Generally we term ‘they’ those who are owning, using or operating mass surveillance systems for any reason.
Gathering data and information about individuals is nothing new, as this phenomenon is possibly as old as human societies are. The intentions are too all the same, only the technological capabilities evolved beyond imagination.
Basically there are four groups of data and information, that are being collected, recorded and analysed. These are treated and evaluated in a coherent way, so it is more likely for a powerful entity to strive for having ALL of your available information, then it is to be pleased to know only snippets of personal data.
How your data is collected
Your data and most of the information is collected as you interact with the outside world via any (and all) means of digital communication, when you voluntarily supply such information for any reason and when a sensory equipment of a machine identify you.
What personally identifiable information is?
According to the Wikipedia entry, PII is mainly a legal term encompassing “information that can be used on its own or with other information to identify, contact, or locate a single person, or to identify an individual in context”.
Instead of using this syntax, we prefer to approach concepts by the way that data is generated.
Data that are traditionally used for identification
Such data are generated since our birth (or even before that), by filling out forms, submitting for government services, providing data for the use of commercial and financial services, etc.
These are in broad strokes the name, birth date, place of birth, gender, both physical and email addresses, etc. which are sufficient to distinguish one person from another. The scope of these raw data could vary from country to country and from person to person, based on how many such data is required in certain administrative cases and how many records a person is having.
We also share biometric data on a case-by-case basis if they are not needed or explicitly asked for. Apart from state-owned registries which might contain some biometric data (like passport registration or criminal databases of fingerprints and/or DNA samples) a number of our smart devices and other systems are actively collect biometric data.
These biometric data gathering methods are(including but not limited to) iris recognition, retinal scanning, fingerprinting, facial recognition (which could be done even at zero visibility), human gesture, posture and motion recognition, voice identification, identification trough individual heat distribution (usually by the use of infrared sensors), etc.
The list is quite incomplete, because if there is a way to ID a human and it is technically feasible, it will be researched and put into use sooner or later.
Another field where the technology is advancing by giant leaps is to pinpoint the exact location of a given individual.
It is being done in two main methods:
On one hand, assuming the device is near her/him, the location of the device is matched to the individual’s geographical position. Subsequently, a well-founded assumption is then being made that the person is also staying there. This could be circumvented if the device isn’t at the same place, but using other sensory data (like the camera’s picture, the heat sensor, the microphone, etc.) could raise the probability exponentially.
The other method is trough the use of sensors in public areas and in private areas, like security cams, CCTVS, etc. As is with the smart devices, the capabilities of such surveillance systems are evolving accross the board.
The most widely collected information about humans are related to our interactions. Our preferences of all kinds, our decisions we make on what to spend money, the keywords of our conversations with other people (inculding our loved ones, that is), our browsing habits, etc.
These somewhat incoherent patterns are combed together and then some statistical algorythms will make automated decisions about what we ‘need to’ see, hear, know, etc.
While there are psychological approaches, (like the behaviorism) the contemporary use of the analysis of behavioural data is more like statistics.
By all means, it is a systematic approach to understanding the behavior of humans, based on the assumption that most behaviors are reflexes produced by a response to certain stimuli in the environment (as opposed to a consequence of that individual’s history, which can not be weighed without accessing past records, which might or might not exist).