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How far should tracking technology go? Utopia vs dystopia in Black Mirror’s “Arkangel”

September 1, 2021 by Amy Arnell

In the Netflix Black Mirror “Arkangel” episode, a mother inserts a chip into her three-year-old daughter, tracking her for “safety purposes”. Utopia? Or the exact opposite? Admittedly, Black Mirror notoriously explores the darker aspects of technology (and of the human soul itself), but is there some truth to these sinister projections? 

 

Carry on reading for more insights, and join us on October 7th for the Yes We Trust Summit, the most ambitious privacy event of 2021, where tech leaders Karim Lakhani (Harvard Business School Professor), Frédéric Rivain (CTO, Dashlane), Alexandre Nderagakura (Technical Director, IAB Europe), Fei Liu (CTO, Litentry) and Jawad Stouli (CTO, Didomi) will discuss how technology can be trustworthy, when it uses so much AI and personal data. It’s an expert panel not to be missed. 

 

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Summary 

 

 


 

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Netflix’s “Arkangel”: what if tracking was ubiquitous?

 

Some Black Mirror episodes occupy the realm of science-fiction, envisioning far-flung realities disconnected from our own. Some, such as “Arkangel” lurk worryingly close to the truth, acting as omens of the disastrous consequences of technology allowed to go “one step too far”. 

 

“Where do you draw the line?” This is the number one question “Arkangel” poses, and the number one fear factor. 

 

In the episode, a mother purchases the service or “Arkangel,” a company that inserts a chip into her three-year-old daughter’s brain, tracking her for “safety purposes”. This chip allows a parent to geographically track, see via a tablet what their child is seeing in real-time, and even pixelate certain images that might cause distress, such as blood or overtly sexual content.

 

Here’s a teaser of the episode, which only portrays some of the mind-boggling ideas that the episode explores:

 

 

An uncertain frontier between tech and ethics 

What starts as a mother’s desire to protect her child descends into uncertain moral terrain, a liminal zone between tech and ethics. 

 

The moral questions are well defined, but ambiguously answered: How far is too far when protecting your child from harm? Where does the power of a parent stop, and a child’s right to privacy and agency begin? Are images of pain formative for a child’s mind, or traumatising? 

 

Ultimately, asks “Arkangel”, would you want this for your own child? 

 

And, while formulating this question in a way that calls to the most fundamental human instinct, the desire to protect one’s child, the episode also asks, more generally, if we would want this for our own society.  


What do we mean by “this”? Tracking technology that borders on Big Brother surveillance, or “Surveillance Capitalism” as termed by Shoshana Zuboff.

 

How far should tracking technology go?

 

So, how far should tracking technology go? What constitutes “one step too far”? And, importantly, who decides? 

 

Black Mirror explores still somewhat futuristic “chips”, but the general questions surrounding tracking technologies have never been more prevalent in the realm of the everyday. Why? Because it’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to live in the modern world, both online and offline, without giving up your personal data, and having that data subjected to processing. 

 

In fact, some claim Black Mirror takes on the role of “whistleblower” in the shape of television entertainment. 

 

Perhaps waning anonymity is inevitable; tracking is virtually standard practice for web browsers and internet-connected devices. Tech facilitates Big Brother type surveillance.

 

However, it’s not the technology that cannot be trusted, it’s the way we use it, and what we use it for. So, what is the role of privacy and trust in an increasingly data- and technology-driven world ecosystem?

 

The speakers in the Yes We Trust in Technology discussion on October 7th come at this question from different angles, supporting different levels of tracking and anonymity. 

 

Companies like Didomi & Dashlane aim to give more control to internet users, empowering the data subject, and allowing them to selectively reveal as they desire and see fit. We envision this as a type of “mid-way point”, a world in which tracking does occur, but the data subject is more informed, in the driving seat of their data. 

 

As such, Didomi offers bespoke consent & preference management solutions, and Dashlane believes that a better digital future starts with secure access, simplifying password management for people and businesses. 

 

However, Litentry advocates for the right to be fully anonymous, creating a decentralized cross-chain Identity Aggregator that enables linking user identities across multiple networks. 

 

Hear experts from these companies discuss the role of privacy and tracking in a tech-driven ecosystem on October 7th. 

 

Register now

 

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An uncertain future: Do we trust in technology? 

 

What does the future hold? 

 

Do we descend into dystopia, “Surveillance Capitalism” as Black Mirror would appear to suggest? Do we find a mid-way point, attempting to put the user in the driving seat of their data, and relying on regulatory bodies and compliance solutions to enable this? Or, do we adopt a Litentry approach, heroing anonymity and privacy? 

 

The question isn’t easy, and the response depends on the individual. Check out how many tweets (such as this one below) are seeing Arkangel-style surveillance in more or less elaborate innovations from the last months:

 

 

But, some things are certain. It’s time for companies to begin building and maintaining tech stacks that drive results for business, without compromising on transparency. It’s time to start interweaving privacy into product & tech roadmaps. 

 

And, it’s time to start reflecting on the role of trust in a technology-driven ecosystem, and the business implications of this. 

 

At Didomi, we believe that trust is the single most important driver of success in business. To find out how, join us at Yes We Trust on October 7th. 

 

Register now

 

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