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The virus and the individual

Protecting the person from the collective will be a no easy battle. It will commence when Covid 19 is history.

Government always strove to accumulate information about the individual. Not that it was interested in personal details but in the power one wielded as one: if concentrated around property to be taxed or views to pose a threat to the central authority.

It seldom recorded personal trifles and labour travails, that only came about at the time of paper diaries. People recorded their routine to learn as to how one habits reflected themselves as devout Protestants — as the routine formed substituted the bell of the church before Reformation and before that, with the humanist movement — tracking of personal features and habits. With the paper diaries we learn about personal experience in times of plague, cholera epidemics.

From the public records we learn of organised processes to protect and ensure the trade of bustling centres of commerce continues to run smoothly — as well as totals of the deceased as states needed to know the loss of taxable income, ability to conscript, as well as adjust spending on food for the poor.

Today, we have the joining of both: the personal realm and its connection with the public domain. Google and Apple work to create a potential future standard to track health. Governments learn to infer personal from the public and there is no ability to flee like Bocaccio’s characters did at the time of the Genoan pestilence.

The Moscow Experience:

The Moscow Mayor office has started metropolitan tracking since 2015, borrowing heavily from Singapore and Shanghai and implementing mesh network processing capabilities to collect and aggregate data around data consumption, mobile phone connections to base-stations, WiFi sniffing and other methods. It also, by late 2019, installed over 170 000 cameras, eclipsing London — while also connecting several thousand to AI/ML network recognising faces of those wanted by the police. It piloted in-transit payments using facial recognition methods and toyed with QR for its city bike-scheme.

For several years it learned from the likes of Megvii that stands behind the Orwellian systems in China. This comes at an opportune time of the virus hitting the metropolis. Another question is whether the big brother techniques will be rolled back and how an individual can manage his actions tracked and seen either for the common good or for ill purpose of a malign individual benefit.

A future:

One can surmise individual actions are predestined as free as long as they do not infringe on actions of another where either via personal responsibility or clear rules they are moderated. Development of bio-passports and sharing of device hand-shakes can and probably will be a new normal: sharing devices ID the user interacted and sharing with those people notifications around publicly available information of known / disclosed situations. This can be a new formed and semi-enforced behavior and a new social contract with a user populating a dense civilian network.

It should not however be abused for individual aim and gain and hence data architecture and access to raw data that is collected should be carefully designed. The private side of one leaving tons of information from browser cookies to UDID roaming heat-map is already made public.

The social contract was always about the sides knowing, respecting and behaving according to its tenents. The rules apply both ways and need to be clearly communicated.

Written by

10+ years, 2 labs, 1 bank, 2 startups, 1 exit. Digital banker, wishful tinkerer, amateur father. Fintech VC @gauss_vc and co-founder of @finfitapp.

10+ years, 2 labs, 1 bank, 2 startups, 1 exit. Digital banker, wishful tinkerer, amateur father. Fintech VC @gauss_vc and co-founder of @finfitapp.

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