Data-Doubles

Data-doubles are purely virtual objects designed to supplant and/or supplement an individual’s biological identity. Developed as an end point for data collection, through new surveillance techniques and technologies, data-doubles consist of any digital information derived from or created by observing the activity, movements, and interactions of human subjects. The data are transmitted as information flows to different databases around the world, which are subsequently reassembled into readable, scrutinized profiles. These profiles are generated continuously through progressive surveillance conducted by governments, security regimes, corporations, international organizations, and other entities across the globe. Data-doubles are thus recursively constructed and mobilized between actors and entities as more and more information is created or made available to a given surveillance regime. Due to the ubiquity of networks, surveillance, and information flows therein, data-doubles reflect virtually any individual across the world who has, at some point, interacted with the Internet, mass communication technologies, social media, police departments, borders, airports, and so on. Accordingly, the data-double raises numerous political and privacy concerns, particularly concerning the extent to which the nuances of daily life are recorded, analyzed, and traded for profit, entertainment, research, and national security purposes. This entry describes the process of constructing data-doubles, looks at the history and usage of data-doubles in the public and private sectors, and concludes with a look at the political and privacy issues that may arise from their construction and use.

Data-Double Construction

History and Usage

The rationale behind the data-double coalesces through numerous sources, forms, and intents. In Western liberal democracies, for example, the events transpiring on September 11, 2001, accelerated national security investments in ubiquitous global surveillance, and so the data-double as a concept was deemed a valuable utility in predicting, preventing, and preempting national security threats. Even prior to the 2000s, the data-double was on the political agenda of the European Union, as it provided security regimes a way of documenting and analyzing the increasing mobility of workers and migrants across the borderless Schengen Area. Moreover, and as part of the continued effort in security risk management, the United States and the United Kingdom are becoming increasingly more invested in dataveillance—utilizing any communications or information network to identify, monitor, and scrutinize individuals worldwide deemed risky to national integrity. Accordingly, Western governments build data-doubles not solely on their own accord but through aggressively piggybacking on corporate surveillance techniques. This is particularly because social media companies are innovators in data-double construction themselves. As a second example of the eclectic bases of rationale driving data-doubling around the globe, social media data mining and web analytics efforts deploy mathematical, software-driven algorithms that analyze Internet browsing behavior; doing so allows them to generate marketable ideas about consumer shopping behavior. The continued effort of acquiring and accumulating data mining and web analytics means that data-doubles are recursively constructed in the private sector—another motivator for security regimes interested in scrutinizing human behavior.

It is important to note that data-doubles are constructed through much more discrete and subliminal processes as well. For example, the digitization of paper records into a database can be accessed by numerous software systems, sources, and networks irrespective of where they are. The information can be shared between social media data mining and data analytics firms, financial institutions, police departments, and research labs across the globe. Information used to construct data-doubles assumes significant and meaningful value to different, yet inescapably overlapping, data-double construction projects. Charitable donation databases, gym membership lists, and electronics purchase histories are invariably important sources of information for law enforcement and intelligence gathering, as the information may provide details about a person’s political orientation, religious preferences, or income, among other things.

Political and Privacy Issues

Thomas N. Cooke

See also Cookies ; Data Mining and Profiling in Social Network Analysis ; Dataveillance ; Privacy ; Privacy, Internet ; Privacy, Types of

Further Readings

Bauman, Zygmunt and David Lyon. Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation. Cambridge, England: Polity Press, 2013.

Haggerty, Kevin D. and Richard. V. Ericson. “The Surveillant Assemblage.” British Journal of Sociology, v.51/4 (2000).