How much 'lifelogging' could you tolerate?

LJ Rich explains the growing phenomenon of lifelogging and its implications

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With new devices allowing two photos a minute to be taken automatically, critics warn that over-sharing could be mean people become unwitting subjects of surveillance.

"People are using more and more technology and hardware devices to track their lives," says Martin Kallstrom, co-founder and CEO of Memoto.

His company has produced a device which clips onto clothing and automatically takes geotagged photos two times a minute, producing around four gigabytes over an active 24-hour period.

Man wearing Memoto Cameras barely noticeable are capable of taking two photos a minute, storing and geotagging them

If worn for 12 hours each day, that is 10,000 photos a week.

"Lifelogging", as it is known, means that entire lives are becoming not just a series of memories but a series of photos, videos, tweets and status updates.

Though people share some strange things online.

"Um serious question! I'm doing my taxes how do I claim my cat as a dependent?!?!?!?!?! I need to know by tonight!"

Photographic memory

The phrase "information overload" has been overloaded into articles fearing the worst - about the death of privacy, of personal security, of remaining anonymous or even being able to find anything worth viewing.

But some businesses are capitalising on the fact that people now want every special moment to be recorded so it will never be lost.

Sergey Brin from Google Google's idea offers the chance to live stream your life straight to the internet for public consumption

Microsoft is already selling a device called SenseCam which takes photos every 30 seconds in a similar way.

The list goes on with Google Glass for video that can be streamed along with photos, Twitter for instant written updates and a large number of others for nearly everything that could be thought of.

But the small size of Memoto has caught the imagination even before its launch.

Promoted as a "searchable and shareable photographic memory", it raised money using the crowdfunding site Kickstarter.

Start Quote

We're now at a moment where mass observation is a global phenomenon”

End Quote Henry Jenkins, Media scholar, University of Southern California

In a bid for $50,000, they raised $550,000 (£360,000). It seems like having an "always-on" attitude to photography intrigues a large number of people.

Could it be that too much information for some is just enough for others?

"Memoto is something on the frontier right now and it will take a couple of years before there is any mainstream potential for it," says Mr Kallstrom.

"People will find what is the appropriate level for themselves. Some people take a large number of photos and keep them for family and close friends. Some want to share it with everyone."

The photo is taken, stored online and only shared when the user chooses the photos to make more public, reducing the risk of anything regrettable appearing online.

TMI?

Attitudes towards sharing have definitely shifted since the advent of social media. But what is so bad about being public if it just your friends reading it?

A serious side of photographic memory

Microsoft SenseCam

Start Quote

I have almost no memory of my adult life beyond maybe 18 or 20 and nothing about my family. I use it for particular events. I look back at them and have times when I sit back at home and look through them ”

End Quote Claire Robertson A person who suffered memory loss after encephalitis and who uses Microsoft SenseCam

"We're now at a moment where mass observation is a global phenomenon," says Henry Jenkins, a media scholar at the University of Southern California.

"We are recording aspects of our lives for each other, and God knows what the next generation of historians would be able to do with the sheer number of pieces of data we've collected through lifelogging and these other phenomena.

"We've seen our culture become more exhibitionistic but we've also seen people become more uncomfortable with too much information. That's the tension that we're going to see playing out over the next decade."

If on Facebook you share posts with friends of friends, an average of over 150,000 people can read it, according to Pew Research Center.

Around 25% of people on Facebook do not make use of the privacy settings at all.

"You can choose to broadcast your life but the bystanders around you don't choose," says Sarah Downey, analyst at the online privacy group Abine.

"The disconnect is that you're wearing these sorts of technology, you end up being a vector for surveillance. Everyone around you is your unwitting subject."

Start Quote

Everybody wants to live forever. You can do that very easily now through data”

End Quote Sarah Downey Abine

Continuing with the theme of overload, rarely a new way to share content launches without some reference to the principles of George Orwell's Big Brother.

As a proof of how prevalent and how easy it is to be Big Brother now, I searched for an 18-year-old picked at random from a Twitter search.

Within an hour, using only information in the public domain, I had his home phone number, postcode, school he attended, views on gender discrimination, his approach to casual homophobia - even golf handicap and the club at which he plays.

Nearly half of teenagers questioned in a BBC survey said they had or knew someone who shared something online they later regretted. Of those "oversharing", one third thought it damaged their reputation.

But there are a number of positives of recording what is happening around you.

"When someone in a position of power can select certain material from a surveillance camera, the selection they make can be incriminating but you can still be innocent," says Mr Kallstrom.

Lady taking a photo using a phone, photographed by Memoto The pictures taken with tiny cameras are difficult to differentiate from those taken on a smart phone

"There is a movement called 'sousveillance', which instead of government watching from above, people are watching from below."

This means offering a personal viewpoint instead of just what people are shown by traditional sources. This is shown from recent big events where thousands of photos were recorded.

What this could mean though, privacy advocates believe, is that what is recorded changes because people know they are being watched.

"You can live forever through your digital records and through your online footprint," says Ms Downey.

"Everybody wants to live forever. You can do that very easily now through data.

"Without privacy, you can't live a full explorative, uncensored life, the kind of life you should be able to live. People act differently when they know they're being watched. You check and censor yourself."

But it is the moment that would have been lost that Memoto are hoping people will cherish the most.

It's the thing you didn't realise at the time was important that could become the most significant.

"Months after it happened, you realise you met a person some time ago, you can look it up and remember it," says Kallstrom.

"It might be someone you met and maybe now in a relationship with. These photos would never be taken otherwise."

For more technology features, visit the BBC Click website.

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