When Edward Snowden revealed to the world the nature of the operations being conducted by the NSA through his leaked files, we came to understand that our privacy is not as guaranteed as we once expected. Through the wormhole looked at the many technological and social elements affecting privacy in our life in its second episode, and this two-part recap summarizes the show’s findings for you.

The positives of global surveillance

No technology is inherently good or evil, it comes down to the users and how they apply that technology. Books like George Orwell’s 1984 warned us of an authoritarian government that keeps a close eye on all our actions and modifies our behavior in a subservient manner.

Nick Bostrom, head of the Future of humanities Institute at Oxford University, believes that global surveillance has many valid application, a few of which can greatly enhance our lives and help us improve our standard of living.

He discusses the application of an intensive security system that is easily able to track down patient zeros of various communicable diseases, thereby saving the lives of hundreds of people in the process. He even envisions a new form of transaction, where cameras are able to instantly scan and record all our purchases at various stores, thereby negating the need to pay for any product at the time of purchase. He also explores the implication of this level of transparency on the society at large, comparing it to a period many centuries ago when people lived in small groups and tribes.

He believes that we will revert back to an older way of life thanks to absolute transparency, with people being better acclimatized with one another and the social dynamic becoming smaller and more engaging.

An experiment in zero privacy

We have always believed that a person’s behavior changes drastically when they are being watched, and that is certainly true, but only to an extent.

A cognitive scientist from Finland proved that human beings are capable of normalcy even under hyper-surveillance by asking a group of Finns to consent to constant monitoring.

He noticed that the group did behave with a bit of discomfort at the start of the experiment, but over time, they had gotten completely used to the idea of being watched.

They found ways to retain privacy even with the cameras around, and even stopped wondering about who was watching the camera feed after a few months. This experiment proves that human being are capable of adapting to nearly every condition in the world, and that surveillance will only have a limited impact if any.

How much do the corporations already know?

The amount of information being generated on a daily basis thanks to the internet and the ample availability of cameras on all our devices is tremendous. 'Through the wormhole' tried to determine how much information corporations have already amassed about the general public without our consent with the help of Alessandro Acquisti and his team.

They have been working on an app that simply requires a photograph in order to generate some very specific and personal information about any person in the world. The app scans the photograph and processes it using various data banks and social media channels to generate information such as your name, interests and even your social security number. Alessandro created this app only to warm people about the many misapplications of free-flowing information online. He claims that large corporations can easily ascertain enormous information about each individual customer, and use that information to modify and influence your purchasing patterns.

There are many fascinating layers to the concepts of privacy and surveillance, including exploring the reasons why we share so much online and how we can determine the level of surveillance being enforced upon us at all times. All this and much more in the second part of this recap which will be out soon.