McVeillance, coveillance, and socioveillance in the context of social business

Photographic lenses

I was a victim of McVeillance in June this year. I was walking around a shopping mall under systematic surveillance – CCTV everywhere – when I was accosted by security upon taking out my own camera to photograph the mall. (FYI, the mall itself was the subject of my photography and not its customers per se.)

Professor Steve Mann coined the expression McVeillance after he was manhandled out of a McDonalds in Paris where he was eating with his family in 2012 for no other reason than for wearing a computer vision system. McDonalds was watching him. He was watching McDonalds. And 'they' didn't like it.

I wasn't ejected from the mall as I was actually undertaking a project for the mall's owners, unbeknownst to the security personnel. I was escorted to the security office for appropriate clearance – an act which, per Mann's definitions, officially made me a surveiller.

The word surveillance originates from French, from sur- ‘over’ + veiller ‘watch’ (from Latin vigilare ‘keep watch’). It invokes an authoritative orientation where one in authority, metaphorically if not physically above, watches those below. Mann had previously coined the word sousveillance. The French for 'below' is sous, hence the neologism for watching the watchers.

In this 2013 paper, Mir Adnan Ali and Mann argue the societal value of sousveillance – The inevitability of the transition from a surveillance-society to a veillance-society: Moral and economic grounding for sousveillance (PDF).

It's with this authority oriented perspective in mind that Mann developed the eight veillances of the veillance compass:

The 8 veillances of the veillance compass


I published The Future of Organization – a video presentation on the major themes and some new provocations in May this year. I was familiar with sousveillance (although not McVeillance), so referred to it on coining the word socioveillance (slide 48, text reproduced below):


On the previous slide in the stack I describe self-organization as a process where some form of global order or coordination arises out of the local interactions between the components of an initially disordered system, and the "organized self" as being equipped with an organization agent – software representing us in finding opportunities to create mutual value with others, and helping to realise that value.

Socioveillance then is a component of organized-self. It's a personal and private service monitoring our interactions with our socios – friends and colleagues with whom we seek to create mutual value. And perhaps those one or two steps removed.

I first came across the veillance compass in an article on the H+ Magazine website earlier this month – Sousveillance and Surveillance: What kind of future do we want? The article references the paper referred to above here and its emphasis on authority-related definitions of surveillance and sousveillance. I added a comment, from which:

I’m not comfortable considering socioveillance as falling in any one of these quadrants per se, and I think this is related to the authority-based definitions. I can’t think of socioveillance in the context of functional structures / traditional hierarchy, but only in terms of decentralized and distributed authority. More sociocratic I guess.


Now 'celebrities' in my world don't look like footballers, actors or singers. Rather, they might look like this:

Steve Mann – Wearcompevolution2

[Wearcompevolution2, by AngelineStewart, CC BY-SA 3.0.]

This compilation of photos of Professor Steve Mann clearly portrays his role in the evolution of wearables, and the reason he has had my attention over the years. I can't find a photo showing exactly what he was wearing in the McDonalds incident, but I understand it was more like the eyewear shown on the right than perhaps the first or third photo here :-)

I'm already feeling uncomfortable with my use of the word celebrity, but anyway ...

Imagine my geeky delight then when the next comment in the thread at H+ Magazine was from the man himself.

Some years ago we defined a concept we called Sociveillance, or Coveillance (Side-to-side companion veillance, as when two equals watch each other). More recently we’re exploring the concept of Veillance, i.e. beyond the 20th Century “us-versus them” model of Surveillance, Sousveillance, and Sociveillance (Coveillance). Using the theory of economics in the context of a moral framework, we argue that Veillance will become balanced and this change will be inevitable.

I can find no results for "sociveillance" with Google or Bing so I'm treating it as a synonym for coveillance. Mann pointed me to this 2003 paper introducing coveillance – Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments (PDF), from which:

This condition, where peers can see both the recording and the presentation of the images, is neither "surveillance" nor "sousveillance." We term such observation that is side-to-side "coveillance," an example of which could include one citizen watching another.

As the veillance compass has one axis for surveillance and the other for sousveillance, coveillance doesn't feature. From the paper's conclusion:

Organizational personnel responsible for surveillance generally do not accept sousveillance from the "ordinary people" performers, even when data displays reveal what the sousveillers are recording. The only instances of acceptance are ... when surveiller and sousveiller can find common ground in both doing "coveillance" work for symmetrically distant organizations.


In such a coveillance society, the actions of all may, in theory, be observable and accountable to all. The issue, however, is not about how much surveillance and sousveillance is present in a situation, but how it generates an awareness of the disempowering nature of surveillance, its overwhelming presence in western societies, and the complacency of all participants towards this presence.

Coveillance and socioveillance

Are there differences between coveillance and socioveillance, and if so, what might they be?

I think they are different, and here's my first stab at a compare and contrast, and like all first stabs will likely be subject to revision based on feedback and the passing of time to let it seep through the grey stuff.

Coveillance Socioveillance
Domain Society at large – citizen to citizen, organization to organization One's socios – friends and colleagues, and perhaps those one or two steps removed, with whom one might create mutual value
Equivalence Veillance equivalence – finding "common ground" with equivalent veillance powers Value equivalence – in pursuit of mutual understanding, mutual influence and mutual value, irrespective of veillance equivalence
Openness Open; seeking to 'cancel out' privacy concerns Negotiating data exchange with others’ socioveillance capabilities according to our respective privacy policies to enrich our mutual understanding within comfortable boundaries (ie, the individual has sole domain over these settings)
Object The "disempowering nature of surveillance" Self-organization and the effectiveness / usefulness of heterarchical (or non-hierarchical in the command-and-control sense) organization
Senses Audio and visual Any source of data and information

As we noted above, veillance is about watching. The Oxford English defines surveillance in terms of observation. However, given that ones ears are usually directed towards the focus of ones eyes, watching has for some centuries encompassed listening too (although please note I'm no etymologist). It's easy to picture a movie set in the pre-digital age in which the surveiller – hero or villain – pins a drinking glass to the wall in the next room with his ear, or tunes into signals transmitted from the miniature mic and radio disguised as a flower.

In the digital age, observation extends beyond what one may perceive with retina and eardrum. And it's for this reason that I feel the word socioveillance, with its facility to digest all variety of data and information, doesn't abuse the idea of veillance.

Social business

As for the prefix "socio", this shares its roots with sociology – of or relating to society and its organization. And socioveillance then fits perfectly into the aspirations for social business when defined with the question that concludes Attenzi - a social business story:

Do you help all the individuals associated with your organization (employees, customers, partners, suppliers, shareholders, etc.) build worthwhile relationships with each other and others, coalescing by need and desire, knowledge and capability and shared values, to create shared value?

Data revolution

I'll finish this post with a brief extract from the open letter I wrote to the United Nations Data Revolution Group earlier this month on behalf of the hi:project.

Aligning with some of the work pursued by you and your team Professor Pentland at MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, our vision moves beyond the parent-child dynamic of surveillance and sousveillance towards the adult-adult interaction we label socioveillance. Such facility is critical if we are to scale up human relationships to correspond with every other facet of organization scaled up during the 20th Century, if we are to encourage or at least accommodate emergence of self-organization, of leaner and more responsive organization.

[Main photo Bill Ebbesen CC BY 3.0]

4 thoughts on “McVeillance, coveillance, and socioveillance in the context of social business

  1. Very interesting. I have been thinking about the radical side of 'social media' which is founded on what I understand is Coveillance.
    For example, I know the recognised skills of the employees of the clearing banks from the profiles of their employees in LinkedIn. I know the common skills and the skills that distinguish one bank from another and I know the skills of ex-employees as well. This is the radical side of social media and a different, unexpected form of surveillance. Similar data can be acquired from most forms of 'social media'.
    Using bigger data sets it is also possible to identify gaps in the data. For example, the person without a profile/presence and what their profile should look like. There is no hiding place and no such thing as anonymity in a digitally active population.
    There is work to be done here.
    Kind regards
    and thank you for the heads up.

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