Audio beacon technologies, surveillance and social order

Date created: 
Audio beacons
George Orwell
Digital paradox
Entertainment surveillance
Aldous Huxley

This thesis explores audio beacon technology with the aim of elucidating the implications of this technology for the individual in contemporary society. Audio beacons are hidden inside digital devices. They emit and receive high frequency audio signals which are inaudible to the human ear, thereby generating and transmitting data without our knowledge. The motivation for this research is to raise awareness of the prevalence of audio beacon technologies and to explore their implications for contemporary society. The research takes an interdisciplinary approach involving – 1) a survey of audio beacon technology, 2) a contextualization in terms of contemporary theories of surveillance and control and 3) an interpretation in terms of 20th century dystopian literature. The hidden surveillance and privacy of this technology is examined mainly through the humanistic perspective of George Orwell’s book Nineteen Eighty-Four. The general conclusion formed is that audio beacon technologies can serve as a surveillance method enhancing authoritarian and exploitative regimes. To mitigate the negative impacts of audio beacons, this research proposes two types of solutions – 1) individual actions that will have an immediate effect and 2) governmental legislation that can improve privacy in the longer term. Both of these solutions cannot happen without a raised public awareness, towards which this research hopes to make a contribution. Finally, this research introduces the notion of a 'digital paradox' in which the dystopian worlds of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley are brought together in order to characterize surveillance and control in contemporary society.

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Niranjan Rajah
Communication, Art & Technology: School of Interactive Arts and Technology
Thesis type: 
(Thesis) M.A.