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When I was 14 years old, I read in the stretch of one afternoon, from cover to back, George Orwell’s premonitory masterpiece 1984. Over the years, I have always been amazed by the way we – as a society – willingly share our information so freely online. That is not to say I am not walking alongside the guilty bunch: I worked with technology my whole life, very recently in a company specialised in AI, and as a person born in the late 80s trying to hold tight to her youth, I am the proud user of every social media under the sun, you name it.

Earlier this week, while reading this article at The New York Times, I couldn’t help but think of the insecurities I’ve been carrying as a backpack since I first met Big Brother, almost twenty years ago. The article covers the story of Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data protection commissioner, that has just been given the authority to investigate and fine Facebook and other tech giants on privacy breaches. It goes in detail to explain that companies have, for years now, gotten away with violating tax and antitrust laws, secretly collecting data on users and helping hate speech propagate by not even attempting to stop it, to name a few things, and that Dixon is a woman on a mission, who despite having limited funding and a wide history of government compliance with the technology industry and its misconducts to wipe out, believes that she can use her new powers “to the fullest” in order to protect Europe’s population data.

The idea of having someone stare into your bedroom window using night goggles is a creepy one in any culture, but how much do people actually care about having their windows and doors wide open, with a bright light shining inside to help the view – a voyeur’s dream, no need for goggles or disguises – on the online version of their homes? Do people realise how much they are sharing whenever they hit the share button? – I wonder as I switch on my dog camera and leave the house to go to work.

Whilst Helen Dixon is working on trying to reinforce regulations to protect Ireland and Europe’s citizens’ privacy, China is proudly displaying in large-scale AI technology that takes CCTV footage surveillance to the next level in an attempt to watch its citizens every move very closely to “keep the streets safe”. In this BBC video, we get a glimpse into the world’s “biggest camera surveillance network”, and watch as BBC reporter John Sudworth gets spotted and taken by police officers just minutes after handing in a picture of himself in order to join the government’s citizen database and be able to have his facial features recognised by the street cameras.

It may seem like China stands world’s apart from the premise that moves Dixon’s operation when it comes to its approach to individual privacy, but the fact of the matter is that Europe has a very large CCTV network, with Britain using one surveillance camera for every 32 citizens, according to The Guardian. Contradictory? Perhaps.

Technology has been created to serve a purpose to a human need, surveillance cameras and social media are no different: the former was created in order to lower crime, the latter in an attempt to increase human connections (throwing a blind eye here to Zuckerberg’s actual first reason for creating Facebook, which, although founded on his own debatable human needs, definitely falls under the “questionable in principle from the outset” category).

What is the best outcome in this technological society, after all? Is a future with less crime and less privacy more desirable than one with anonymity and uncertainty? The answer to this question lies in every person’s mind, and it is a personal one, too. Nevertheless, I would risk saying that going back in time wouldn’t be an option for most people. However advanced technology may be, human need is still the thing that propels humanity forward and, for this very reason, the importance of designing a future in which technology solves problems, but does not compromise our integrity is so pressing. I stand believing that it is always better to run the show, given that we definitely cannot hide from it.

Rani Ghazzaoui Luke

Rani is a writer and actor based in Sydney, Australia. She is Echos Head of Content & Communications, and the Editor in Chief of The Echos Newsletter.

Before joining Echos, she worked in full-service advertising agencies as a copywriter, moved onto writing for Broadcast Media, and landed on Digital Media, working first as a Digital Producer and later as a Digital Account Manager. Most recently, she was Lead Client Solutions Manager for GumGum Inc, an ad tech company specialised in Artificial Intelligence.

Rani is a highly curious individual that believes creativity and innovation are the most important tools to propel any person or business forward.

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