Out of Control – What the Web Knows about You

Yesterday I’ve attended the opening of the new Ars Electronica exhibition “Out of Control”. According to its website the exhibition aims at “demonstrating what exactly is being captured in conjunction with telecommunications data retention and all the interesting information about us that online services like Facebook and Google just happen to be amassing. Exhibition visitors will also find out what steps they can take to protect their privacy.” Concretely, visitors were presented with a range of installations, visualizations and talks about digital data, “user profiles”, privacy and techniques of digital self defense. Information to all these works could be found online.

I particularly liked the piece Surveillance Awareness Database (SAD) by the Technical University Vienna. It’s a website that allows users to upload photos and coordinates of surveillance cameras to create a digital map showing all surveillance cameras in the region. Further, the piece Handytracking was quite cool. Malte Spitz, a member of the German Green Pary and an opponent of the data retention law, forced T-Mobile to release all data stored about him from August 2009 to February 2010. The result is an impressive graphic that provides “highly detailed information about where Malte Spitz was, when and how long he was there, how often he called someone or was called by others, how many SMSs he wrote and how much time he spent online. Combined with his Tweets and blog entries, this data coalesces into a comprehensive picture of what Malte Spitz was up to.” You may watch the animated image on the Zeit.de Website.

Moreover, the pieces Faceless, Face to Facebook and the, by now well known, initiative Europe vs. Facebook are worth mentioning. Manu Luksch used surveillance cameras to produce a movie. The filming was done by surveillance cameras in London. Right after all the scenes were captured the artist claimed her right to obtain all footage in which she appeared. For the piece Face to Facebook Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico “harvested a million Facebook profiles, filtered them with facial recognition software, and then grouped them according to similarities of the data as well as the faces. Finally, the profiles reordered in this way were displayed on a dating site the duo set up, and the profiled individuals were introduced to each other via e-mail.” Finally, Max Schrems presented his Europe vs. Facebook project on a really huge screen. The law student asked Facebook to send him all his data the company holds. Thereafter he filed a number of complaints with the Irish Data Protection Commission since Facebook is running an Irish Company to benefit from tax advantages. If you’re interested in how far Max and his colleagues got so far check their really informative website.

Since my new project Glocal Search is concerned with search engines, data protection and related issues as well I got in touch with Christoph Kremer, one of the heads of Ars Electronica Center. This morning we had a very nice discussion and decided that we – me and my colleagues from ITA – will present selected projects concerned with technology and society as part of the AEC fall program. I’m very excited about this outcome and I’m already looking forward to this event. Thanks Ars Electronica for some inspiring hours in the past few days! I’ll definitely return..

(Credits for all images: Ars Electronica)

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