June 20, 2021

Brookings — The Deciders: Facebook, Google, and the Future of Privacy and Free Speech

The Deciders: Facebook, Google, and the Future of Privacy and Free Speech

It was 2025 when Facebook decided to post live feeds from public and private surveillance cameras, so they could be searched online. The decision hardly came as a surprise. Ever since Facebook passed the 500 million-member mark in 2010, it found increasing consumer demand for applications that allowed users to access surveillance cameras with publicly accessible IP addresses. (Initially, live feeds to cameras on Mexican beaches were especially popular.) But in the mid-2020s, popular demand for live surveillance camera feeds were joined by demands from the U.S. government that an open circuit television network would be invaluable in tracking potential terrorists. As a result, Facebook decided to link the public and private camera networks, post them live online, and store the video feeds without restrictions on distributed servers in the digital cloud.

Once the new open circuit system went live, anyone in the world could log onto the Internet, select a particular street view on Facebook maps and zoom in on a particular individual. Anyone could then back click on that individual to retrace her steps since she left the house in the morning or forward click on her to see where she was headed in the future. Using Facebook’s integrated face recognition app, users could click on a stranger walking down any street in the world, plug her image into the Facebook database to identify her by name, and then follow her movements from door-to-door. Since cameras were virtually ubiquitous in public and commercial spaces, the result was the possibility of ubiquitous identification and surveillance of all citizens virtually anywhere in the world—and by anyone. In an enthusiastic launch, Mark Zuckerberg dubbed the new 24/7 ubiquitous surveillance system “Open Planet.”

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Source: The Brookings Institution

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