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Digital Civil Society Speaker Series: Luxury Surveillance

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The purpose of this talk is to explore the concept of “luxury surveillance,” a form of surveillance that people pay for and whose tracking, monitoring, and quantification features are understood by the user as benefits they are likely to celebrate. From a technical standpoint, there is little difference between an ankle monitor and wearables such as Fitbits, Apple Watches, and Oura rings. Ankle monitors, however, are imposed upon people on parole, probation, or awaiting an immigration hearing. On the other end of the spectrum, consumers of luxury surveillance see themselves as powerful and sovereign, and perhaps even immune from unwelcome monitoring and control. They see self-quantification and tracking not as disciplinary or coercive, but as a kind of care or empowerment. Whether mandated or voluntarily adopted, these technologies can be understood as mechanisms of control, but in different ways. The imposed control of the incarcerated becomes the algorithmically aided self-control of the individual. Post-Dobbs and in the midst of an AI gold rush, it’s meaningful to consider the implications for us all becoming completely legible to surveillance devices.