Tag Archives: participatory

Crime may not pay, but perhaps watching for it might

"one nation under cctv" by BanksyAs much as things may be tough in the States right now, at least you can all get a good laugh watching the UK slide towards becoming a pseudo-totalitarian panopticon state. [image by JapanBlack]

Via Cheryl Morgan comes news of the latest iteration of our enthusiastically participatory society of snoops and spies – crowdsourced CCTV crimespotting, with fabulous monetary prizes to be won!

The cameras’ owners will pay a fee to have users watch the footage. The scheme, Internet Eyes, is being promoted as a game and is expected to go “live” next month with a test run in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Subscribers will be able to register free and will be given up to four cameras to monitor.

Eventually the consortium behind the idea hopes to have internet users around the world focused on Britain’s 4.2 million security cameras, waiting to see and report a crime in return for cash prizes.


Subscribers will try to collect points by monitoring cameras in real time. If they see anything suspicious, they will click a button to send a still picture and text message to the camera’s owner.

The owner will then send a feedback e-mail to the person reporting the incident, indicating whether there has been a crime or suspected crime.

Users will be awarded one point for spotting a suspected crime and three if they see an actual crime. They can also lose points if the camera operator decides that the alert was not a crime.

Good grief… it’s much like the crowdsourced surveillance of the US border with Mexico, only with cash incentives. And the thing is, recent research suggests that cash incentives are actually counterproductive in situations where our ethical stance plays a part [via TechDirt]:

incentives affect what our actions signal, whether we’re being self-interested or civic-minded, manipulated or trusted, and they can imply—sometimes wrongly—what motivates us. Fines or public rebukes that appeal to our moral sentiments by signaling social disapproval (think of littering) can be highly effective. But incentives go wrong when they offend or diminish our ethical sensibilities.

This does not mean it’s impossible to appeal to self-interested and ethical motivations at the same time—just that efforts to do so often fail. Ideally, policies support socially valued ends not only by harnessing self-interest but also by encouraging public-spiritedness. The small tax on plastic grocery bags enacted in Ireland in 2002 that resulted in their virtual elimination appears to have had such an effect. It punished offenders monetarily while conveying a moral message. Carrying a plastic bag joined wearing a fur coat in the gallery of antisocial anachronisms.

However, no one in the upper echelons of the business and gubernatorial spheres seems to have taken any notice of this, or of any of the other psychological research of the last few decades that has continually flagged up the same problem… I guess that a clear conscience is no suitable incentive for removing one’s own pre-existing incentives package. Go figure.