6 Art Projects Prying The Lid Off Online Privacy
The simplicity of social networking often makes us forget the value of what it is we are sharing. It’s so easy to send a tweet or upload a new photo to Facebook, not to mention free of charge, that we often don’t consider what the hidden costs of this exchange might be. We’re still in an awkward transitional period where we haven’t yet learned to take into consideration the blurring lines between public and private in the online domain, and thinking about our online identities as having real, tangible, monetary value. The information we’re sharing about ourselves is essentially what we’re exchanging or transacting to “pay” for the services we think are free. Data has become the currency of our social mediated culture.
Whether Google, Twitter or Facebook, each of these websites has their own policies on privacy and data collection, and most of us could stand to get better acquainted with them, though few of us will ever read the fine print. But one group of people that seems to be investigating these policies and their implications (apart from lawyers, of course) is artists working in the digital realm.
As South Park brilliantly illustrated in their Human CentiPad episode, it’s often astonishing how little we think about what we’re agreeing to. We give ourselves away to many of these companies without even realizing it. Part of that is due to the convoluted legalese of Terms of Services but another part is the spell of ‘freeness’ that blinds us to the consequences of our engagement.
Each of the artists below have commented in a unique way on the questions of data collection, identity and privacy policies. Some are more critical than others but in all cases the artists wish to foster an awareness of how our data is being used and what that means for our privacy, and subsequently our identities.
Google Alarm – FAT Lab
A Charge For Privacy – Branger_Briz
This installation by Branger_Briz literally makes your data into currency and “charges” users for it when they decide to charge their phone at their custom charging booth. The charging booth first premiered at Art Basel this past December, capitalizing on the increased phone usage we all experience at conferences and festivals. Users pay for the service by not only uploading all of their photos to the installation, but legally relinquishing them to Branger_Briz to do whatever they want with them. It’s interesting to note that the artists use Facebook’s own Terms of Service, word for word, to establish the legal ground that enables them to do this.
Face to Facebook – Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico
The social media juggernauts we post our data to aren’t the only ones that have access to what we’re posting. Depending on our privacy settings, our photos and intimate details can be equally as exposed—available for download to just about anyone. Face to Facebook stole one million Facebook photos and, using face recognition software, posted them to a pseudo-dating site where users can be matched with a potential mate. If anyone can use our photos to their own nefarious ends, how much are we sacrificing in personal value of our identity?
fbFaces – Joern Roeder, Jonathan Pirnay
In much the same vein as Face to Facebook, fbFaces is a crawler that searches public profiles for profile pictures and copies the image, Facebook ID and name, then proceeds to do the same thing for your friends’ accounts. The artists printed out the downloaded profiles the collected and turned them into a wallpaper covering every surface of a room. Profile pictures are reduced to mere pixels, as if to make them insignificant in the simplicity of their theft. They no longer represent people but information that is easily downloaded and appropriated—mere pixels.
My Little Privacy – Niklas Roy
Perhaps as a counterpoint to even attempting to protect our information, this automated little curtain tries to cover an entire window from peering passers-by. Whenever people walk past, the curtain will race to track them but it can never catch up. When we put so much of ourselves online, it becomes practically impossible to track all of it, making true privacy elusive.
Memopol-II – Timo Toots
While the Google Alarm alerts us to when the tech giant is collecting our information, Memopol-II shows how interconnected that same information could one day be. The monolithic machine represents a rather dystopian outlook on the future where simply inserting an identification card will allow the machine to collect information about you from (inter)national databases and the Internet. The data is then visualized on a large‐scale custom display. As frightening as the possibility is, it has the positive effect of aggregating our information for us and showing where we exist online. It reflects back to us our digital identity so we are at least aware of where we have a fingerprint of sorts, empowering us with data awareness.
What other privacy-related projects have you seen around the web? What have we missed? Post your suggestions below!