A Digital Shadow: Are we closer to Watch_Dogs' future than we thought?

Annalee's recent essay on NSA surveillance and passing through a technological singularity sure sounds a lot like a real world version of Ubisoft's upcoming open world dystopian adventure Watch_Dogs. But with a new metadata site put out to promote the game, there's more evidence that we might be a little too close to the fantastical 'ctOS' that powers Watch_Dogs' near future for comfort.

In Watch_Dogs, an alternate version of near-future Chicago is one of many cities across the world powered by a supercomputer ctOS (Central Operating System) which controls every piece of technology in the city, collating huge quantities of personal data from its residents in order to manage infrastructure efficiently. The game's protagonist, a hacker named Aiden Pierce, uses the power of such a system to collect information on potential targets and criminals to enact vigilante justice upon, but the scope of the data collected also allows him to monitor every resident of Chicago on a whim. A Hacked CCTV camera can recognise a stranger walking down a street from their smartphone, listing an age, name, address, employment status and even information on criminal records or their hobbies and spending habits for Aiden -and the powers that be who control the ctOS - to see.

A Digital Shadow: Are we closer to Watch_Dogs' future than we thought?

It's a scary indicator of where our ever connected society could grow to, in an age where everyone is sharing more and more of their lives through technological means, be it via instagram photos, geocached Tweets and facebook posts or whatnot - especially in the light of Edward Snowden's revelations last week that Intelligence networks such as the US NSA and the UK's GCHQ are using the power of the Internet to greater track and monitor their citizens personal lives.

But such a fantastical idea must be so far off in reality... right? Maybe, but there's already a startling amount of information on City infrastructure and social networks out there available for all to see, Aiden Pierce-level hacking skills or not.

WeAreData, Ubisoft's new promotional website for Watch_Dogs, is purportedly the first such site to collate all publicly accessible metadata for three cities - Paris, London and Berlin - in a single location. That data is then used for creating digital landscapes of each city covered in information ranging from the large scale nature of mobile phone networks or CCTV Camera networks and Traffic Light systems, to statistics such as localised power usage, average wages and crime rates, to even geolocated tweets, flickr photos and foursquare logins - all apparently running in real time. It's a surprisingly vast amount of data, even moreso considering it's all easily available to the public.

Although I question the use of such data for what is essentially a video game's Marketing campaign, in the light of the Snowden scandal, it begins to raise some important questions about what we as societies are sharing in the public vastness of digital space... and what such information could be used for in the future.

[WeAreData]