Turbulence blog reports:

New Scientist reveals that the Pentagon’s NSA in the form of ARDA (Advanced Research Development Activity) are interested in the information people post about themselves on social networking sites like MySpace and are funding research into it’s mass harvesting.

The W3C WWW2006 conference accepted a paper entitled Semantic Analytics on Social Networks,  apparently funded in part by ARDS and revealing how data from online social networks and other databases can be combined to uncover facts about people.

This adds a new dimension to online identity and online communities – government surveillance is not a new concept, the Big Brother phenomenon is well established and given great support by such legislative shifts as the Patriot Act.  In Australia we are probably not as vocal about government snooping but it undoubtably happens.

There is a disturbing trend for people’s online activities to be used against them in their offline world.  Employees sacked because their boss found a blog entry they didn’t like, job applicant screening includes a Google search; what other modes of surveillance are occuring? 

Consider this then, also from the networked_performance blog

Many players are unaware of surveillance being conducted by game administrators, often justified as a means to enhance game play and control cheating. Players within some MMOs are also tracking and recording other player’s movements, and conversely, creating methods to protect the privacy of their own digital personas. The rise of surveillance (and counter-surveillance) techniques and technologies within these virtual worlds is an extension of the pervasive monitoring of individuals in real-world environments. Many real-world technologies (such as bugging, video recording and location tracking) are being reproduced in virtual worlds and can be classified as a form simulated surveillance.

Is this scenario impossible?  You are a regular online gamer, you play RPG - and have decided to play a character who has a somewhat evil or chaotic orientation, they might be a bit of a bully, or PvP player, but they are a fictional character – you come into work one day and your boss calls you in and plays you a video (in-world video capture) of one of your gaming sessions.  Your boss then informs you that they don’t like the way the character conducted themselves and that as you were the player behind the character there is a suspicion now about your suitability for your position in customer relations.  You are dismissed on the grounds that you are prone to anti-social behaviour.

Under the new Industrial Relations guidelines in Australia, there seems to be little to stop such an event. 

Perhaps IT education in schools might have to include this type of material in its realm of core content?

Some books that might offer some insights:

Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother

Loving Big Brother: Performance, Privacy and Surveillance Space

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