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Self‐surveillance

Should you worry or simply embrace your personal data?
Laurie Frick

Author Affiliations

  • Laurie Frick, Artist, 1Austin, TX, USA

Have you ever wondered how much of your personal data is publicly available? What pictures are posted, what might be recorded, captured, documented, or stashed away in a database somewhere? Your internet browsing habits, travel patterns, online shopping, and credit card spending are just the most obvious information that someone else can access; what else could be knowable with a little effort, a little digging, a little data gathering? Some time last year, I began to make a list of what information about me might be available to others. In true quantified‐self fashion, I scored each entry of data collected about me on a scale of one to five based on how public or private the information might be: 1. available through Google search, 2. findable with a little effort, 3. sitting in a marketer's data base, 4. personal—held by me, and 5. the NSA can dig this up. I made the scale well before the news last year that the NSA was indeed gathering metadata on our phone calls, emails, social contacts, online searches, and even online games.

“Quantify‐Me” 96 lasercut measurement drawings hung so the viewer can experience the feel of walking through “floating data.” Approx 20 ft × 20 ft × 10 ft high. Based on sleep, weight, pulse, upset stomach, email, and daily online activity, 2012. Photograph by Rino Pizzi.

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I stopped at well over a hundred entries, and every few days I would think of something else that had been captured about me: my behavior, my financial standing, my medical records. Odd things, inconsequential things, but all things that pooled together could paint a picture of me with even more detail and richness than I might be able to recall about myself. Every movie I had watched on Netflix, every purchase on Amazon, the location of every dollar spent with a credit …

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