Why you're no longer safe in the crowd

Obscurity is part of being human, but that is under threat with constant surveillance.

Facial recognition technology, for example, poses an immense danger to society. If its use continues to grow without the right regulations, we might lose the ability to go out in public without being recognised by the police, our neighbours and corpo
Facial recognition technology, for example, poses an immense danger to society. If its use continues to grow without the right regulations, we might lose the ability to go out in public without being recognised by the police, our neighbours and corporations.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

We are constantly exposed in public. Yet most of our actions will fade into obscurity. Do you, for example, remember the faces of strangers who stood in line with you the last time you bought medicine at a pharmacy? Probably not. Thanks to limited memory and norms against staring, they probably don't remember yours either.

This is what it means to be obscure. And our failure to collectively value this idea shows where we've gone wrong in the debates over data and surveillance.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 21, 2019, with the headline 'Why you're no longer safe in the crowd'. Subscribe