Wearable tech, the ability to share your fitness stats, suggest routes, follow them, and so on have been a growing feature of (certain) everyday lifestyles. This ability to share how the body moves, performs, and expresses itself gives many people much satisfaction.
One of the popular methods is through Strava which is primarily used by runners and cyclists to measure performance (maybe to improve), and also share that information with others publicly. There are individual privacy settings, that allow you to control what you share and do not share. All seems good and well. An individual can express their privacy settings in the app: that should be the end of the story. Yet, Strava’s temptation is to share. Otherwise we could just other wearable tech that does not have such a user-friendly sharing ability, and be done with it.
Strava has recently shared a ‘Global Heatmap‘ that allows for an amalgamation of all these different individuals sharing their exercise, their sweat, their pace, to Strava for ‘all’ to access. Hence here we have a collective (yet dividualised – in the Deleuzian sense) body that has been tracked by GPS, the sweat allowing for an expression of joy, an affective disposition to share. This sharing allows for a comparison to what a normative Strava body may be, allowing for a further generation of sweaty bodies. Yet in the generation of these sweats, security becomes entangled.
This is where privacy and security comes entangled in the mist of a fallacy of the individual. The immediate attention of Strava’s release quite literally maps to concerns over ‘secret’ locations, such as secret military bases, but also some more trivial such as how many use it around GCHQ, in the UK. This has led to calls for bans for those in military units to reduce this exposure. However, this does not address how the multiple individual choices using an app in which privacy is only one of anonymisation when this is ‘publicly’ shared by a person. This aggregated picture is ‘fuzzy’, full of traces of this dividual sweaty body. These sweaty bodies are flattened, treated as data points, then recalibrated as though all points are the same. In fact, they are not. Privacy and security are inherently collective.
So, why does this matter? If the individuals shared certain information then they are free to do so and their individual routes are still not (re)identified. Yet privacy in this concept is based on a western canon of law, where the individual is prime. There is a form of proprietary sense of ownership over our data. This is not something which I disagree with, as much in feminist studies informs us of the importance of the control over of our bodies (and therefore the affects it produces; the sweat, on our mobile devices, on Strava). Yet there has to be a simultaneous sense of the collective privacy at work. In this case, it is rather trivial (unless you run a secret military base). Yet it explodes any myths around the use of ‘big data’. Did Strava make clear it would be putting together this data, was explicit consent sought beyond the initial terms and conditions? Just because something becomes aggregated does not mean we lose our ability to deny this access.
The use of more internet-connected devices will allow for maps that gain commercial attention, but at the expense of any sense of collective privacy. Only states were able to produce this information; through a bureaucracy, yet there have been publicly, democratically-agreed steps to protect this information (whether this is effective is another question). Now we live in a world where data is seen to be utilised, to be open, freely accessible. Yet we need far more conversation that extends beyond the individual to the collective bodies that we occupy. To do one without the other is a fallacy.
My, and your, sweaty body is not there for anyone to grab.