What does Channel 4’s reality show Hunted tell us about our digital footprints?


Channel 4’s reality show Hunted ends this week – and it has taught us a great deal about what your digital footprint reveals, says Dan Calladine, Carat’s head of media futures...

Dan Calladine digital hunted channel 4 surveillance

The point of Hunted, which was filmed in the summer, is to highlight the power of the surveillance society by challenging people to go on the run for 28 days without being tracked down.

I've always been a big fan of 'on the run' books, like The Thirty Nine Steps, Rogue Male, and Ordinary Thunderstorms, and I really enjoyed this show too.  It's been fascinating to see what your digital footprint can say about you, for example:

  • The authorities (represented by the team of hunters in the show) can track cars on motorways through number plate recognition - but not, generally speaking, on other roads.
  • A phone call gives your location away - and the contents of text messages can be read too (in one case they tapped the phones of fugitives’ friends - I'd love to see the contracts that the contestants signed).
  • You can see lots from discarded devices - one thing the hunters do is search the homes of the fugitives.  Any devices are taken and then hacked into, so that they can read messages and so on, and even clone devices once they know someone's number, so that they can follow what is happening on the handset's accounts and apps in real time.
  • Search history on sites like Trip Advisor can be deduced from regular emails - if you've been searching for information on Wales, TA will send you lots of Welsh picks in your next newsletter.


I think it's going to be interesting to see how a second series works because future fugitives will be wise to these techniques. My advice would be to use things like Snapchat where the messages are deleted after sending, and obviously to use as many non-digital channels, like writing letters to people, as possible.

It's also unclear how specific the rules are. Almost all of the hunted have been charging around the country (they can't go abroad) so is this in the rules? Surely it would be better to pick one very good hiding place (maybe in your own street) and stay there, incommunicado.

Note - not everyone likes it, and it has to be said that given that all the fugitives have a camera operator with them, there are other ways the hunters may be tracking them down…

Dan Calladine digital hunted channel 4 surveillance
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