With the recent NSA scandal still looming in people’s minds, and the increasingly pervasive attitude that surveillance must be a violation of privacy in some way, it’s not surprising that a concept like lifelogging might be little controversial. The term “lifelogging” refers to the continuous recording and collecting of data, namely video data, via some wearable device, to document a person’s entire day, week, vacation… or even (for the ambitions or self-absorbed) lifetime.
In the 1980s, Steve Mann began to experiment with types of wearable recording technology in an attempt to document his life, which he turned into a publically streamed feed in the 1990s. His website transmitted live video of his life 24/7. Think “The Truman Show,” but voluntary. Mann’s experimental video streaming took off, spurring a new technological phenomenon and a legion of “lifeloggers” or “lifebloggers.” Plenty of people already do this by, some might argue, over-sharing on social media sites. Does everyone need to know what kind of sandwich you’re eating? Probably not. But for those who are interested, you’re making the information available, and that’s what counts.
So what kinds of practical uses can wearable cameras and lifelogging offer? Plenty, as it turns out. Most people are familiar with the cameras cops have on their car dashboards—if you’ve ever seen an episode of “Cops,” you’ve seen dashboard footage. By documenting both police and the people they pull over, dashboard video recording ensures that all parties can be held accountable for their actions. It offers a safety net of sorts. But what about those situations when a police officer is away from the vehicle?
The police officers of Rialto, Calif., have begun wearing on-person cameras while on the job, and after just the first year, complaints against officers decreased by a staggering 88 percent. The program’s success can likely be attributed to the fact that officers know they are being watched, and that poor behavior on camera could mean trouble for them down the line. In other words, they are forced to be held personally accountable for their actions.
So, knowing someone is watching isn’t necessarily a bad thing. An auto insurance company in the U.K. has gone so far as to say that, with telematics installed in drivers’ vehicles to monitor their behavior on the road, “people tend to drive more safely, as the number of car accidents is significantly less among drivers with telematics insurance compared to those without.” If you know your insurance will remain at a low price if you drive well, the fear of hiking your expenses due to your own actions is enough of a consequence to make you 'wisen up.'
The American Civil Liberties Union responded to the on-person camera program in Rialto a few weeks back, arguing that the idea is a good one, but that society at large should be aware of the ways in which such a technology can be misused. In the organization’s position paper, the ACLU wrote, “Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers.”
This abuse of power is exactly why most motorists in Russia actually use dash-mounted cameras as a form of protection, should anything go wrong on the road (which is often the case).
If cops with on-person cameras tend to behave better and earn greater satisfaction with civilians, and Russians can prove their damage cases in accidents using dashboard footage, and U.K. drivers end up adopting safer driving habits as a result of being watched by insurance telematics, why don’t we see this idea in other applications? Big data and video recordings can be instrumental when crimes occur; after the Boston Marathon bombing, police forces scoured hundreds of hours of surveillance footage to track down the bombers, and found them.
What if surgeons filmed every procedure to provide safety for themselves and their patients regarding malpractice disputes? What if delivery men wore cameras to not only track their deliveries, but also visually document the recipients? If a person falsely accepts a package that isn’t his or hers, or the delivery person does not properly identify the recipient, the company would be able to determine it quickly and easily.
This isn’t all to say that we should be watched every minute of every day, or that people can’t hold themselves accountable without knowing they’re on camera and there are immediate consequences, but the proof is there that lifelogging can offer benefits. If it’s treated with care and safeguarded against abuse, lifelogging could really change the way we run things for the better.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi