dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog random header image

How Much Surveillance Will We Accept?

October 17th, 2021 by dk

How do you feel about being spied on? How much surveillance are we willing to accept, in return for safety, savings and simplicity? Most of us have at least one clear line. We won’t accept a surveillance state, but what about when the surveillance isn’t connected to the state?

We accepted an extra card swipe at the grocery store because we were assured that the software was looking only for generalized patterns and receipts came with specialized coupons.

If you sell anything online in any sort of marketplace, your success is at the mercy of an invisible ranking algorithm which determines where your wares appear on potential customers’ search results. We’re becoming increasingly aware of the detailed dossiers being assembled about us, tracking all our moves online and then shaping our online experience.

But what about when we’re not staring at a screen? We tut-tut the Chinese government for using facial and gait-recognition software to track its citizens, assigning everyone a “Social Credit Score” to shape and shame behaviors. We marvel that Singapore managed its coronavirus containment with a contact-tracing phone app that was required for travelers.

We see ourselves differently — cowboys free on our range, following our bliss wherever it leads. Well, that rubber is beginning to meet that road.

Tesla announced this week that their most complete self-driving capabilities will be made available only to drivers who have earned a perfect driving score by the onboard monitoring software. Should we still call it “gamify” when it can directly affect our life and livelihood?

Tesla drivers are graded on five criteria. (To the company’s credit, this is not hidden.) Hard braking, aggressive turning, unsafe following, forward collision warnings and automatic deactivations of Autopilot each earns the driver a demerit. One sudden braking incident — even in self-defense — means you’ll have to wait longer for a software upgrade.

Let’s be clear what the company is doing here. Rather than pay professional drivers to navigate an obstacle course with the new software loaded, Tesla is sending the software to its (supposedly) safest drivers to do the beta testing for them. It’s like building a new maze but testing it only on your best cheese-sniffing rats.

Most of this isn’t new but a bit of it is. We’ve allowed banks, landlords, utility companies and car dealers to give their business only to those with the best credit rating. Our insurance rates increase if we get speeding tickets.

This new tracking is accumulated in real time and to minute detail. Tesla will use the data collected to define “safe driving.” The beta testers are “teaching” the algorithm what safe driving means. Anyone who doesn’t measure up may be denied future upgrades.

If you continue to drive a jalopy without onboard surveillance, you can still enjoy the freedom of the open road, right? Not so fast, Cowboy! It won’t take much to teach these smart cars to “tattle” on others.

This brings me back to my starting point. How much of this are we willing to accept? Developers aren’t waiting while we ponder our response.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

Tags: No Comments

Leave A Comment

Are you human? *

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.