On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog

This understanding of the cyberspace was born in the early 90’s but it seems this anonymity granted by the internet becomes more and more difficult to achieve nowadays. As the boundaries between private and public space become blurred the online space tends to fall more into the latter. Not only somebody can know if you are a dog, but they can know your location, browsing habits, interests, personal details and other data that can be useful for commercial, security or malicious reasons.

The problem of losing anonymity is actually two sided. While it may seem as a great loss and an infringement on our privacy we should also stop and think about the implications of absolute anonymity. Some of those implications might seem like bliss but this is not the case for all of them as misconduct and crimes can be facilitated by anonymity. If we are granted anonymity then we cannot be held accountable for our wrongdoings and that can only lead to chaos. “Cowering behind a cloak of anonymity hardly seems an auspicious basis for profound social upheavals. Anonymity seems to offer a cheap and easy way to speak out against authority and promote change; in reality it is ineffectual and may ultimately prove to be very costly.” (Davenport, 2002) Although it might not seem like the obvious solution, the choice of transparency might offer more advantages (for the honest, law abiding individuals).

Besides security and legal matters there is also the problem of content quality – which anonymity doesn’t often breed. While it might encourage free speech it also opens the door to countless ways for one to speak without thinking or to participate in anti-social behaviour. It has been noted that anonymous online comments are of a lower quality and tend to be a lot more negative than comments made through Facebook’s commenting system. (Falls, 2012) Moreover there is no such thing as true anonymity, even anonymous posters can be eventually traced and may be liable for prosecution.

Nevertheless there is a growing market for anonymous social networks and smartphone apps like Whisper, Secret, Yik Yak, Ask.fm, Social Number, Confide, Wut and Sneeky. “Lately, sharing secrets has become a lot less simple. Now, with apps like Secret and Whisper, people can anonymously share their secrets with the world — and then have anyone comment on, share, or like them publicly. In a world where everything about you is public, these social networks feel like a safe haven for you to be the real you. ” (Soskey, 2014) The ability to send or share anonymous content enables people to enjoy freedom of speech but carelessness or ill-will are often employed in these environments where anything goes. These anonymous platforms have become a paradise for cyberbullying and hate speech. There have been recorded numerous suicides linked to anonymous cyberbullying for example. With more freedom comes not only great responsibility but greater vulnerability as well.

Studies have found that people tend to hold both positive and negative attitudes about anonymity.
table
“Our results show that people from all walks of life had reason, at one time or another, to seek anonymity. A main policy tradeoff is that discouraging anonymity will discourage malicious behavior (about half of the incidents in our data) but will also discourage people from engaging in creative, helpful, and harmless online activities that they might otherwise pursue. Many people would be prevented from managing personal threat and their social boundaries because identifiability increases the bleeding of social information across time, place, and group.” (Brown, Kang, Kiesler, 2013)

While absolute anonymity is a matter of utopia and rahter undesirable that doesn’t mean we should let go of all the privacy that we have left. There must be a middle ground where freedom of speech and the right to privacy meet security and quality. Transparency and common sense will most likely take us to that ideal spot. We will probably arrive there when when we fully acknowledge cyberspace as a more public than private place and act accordingly, as if we were out on the street, where everybody can see us.

Bibliography:

Brown, S. Kang, R., Kiesler, S. (2013). Why Do People Seek Anonymity on the Internet? Informing Policy and Design. Human Computer Interaction Institute. Department of Psychology. Carnegie Mellon University

Davenport, D. (2002). Anonymity on the Internet: Why the Price May Be Too High. COMMUNICATIONS OF THE ACM. 45 (4), 33-35.

Falls, J. (2012). The case of anonymity in social media. Available: www.techrepublic.com/blog/career-management/the-case-of-anonymity-in-social-media/3874/#.. Last accessed April 2014.
P.H.. (2014). Anonymous social networking: Secrets and lies. Available: www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2014/03/anonymous-social-networking. Last accessed April 2014.

Soskey, G. (2014). The Trouble With Secret, Whisper, and Anonymous Social Networks. Available: blog.hubspot.com/marketing/anonymous-social-media-secret-whisper-fea. Last accessed April 2014.

 

 

Cyber stalker is bored. The hyper exposure of private life in social media.

Monday

Me.

Tuesday

Me.

Wednesday

Me.

Thursday

Me.

Witold Gombrowicz*

What was a brave and novel beginning of Gombrowicz’s diary in the mid twentieth century became a norm for those who use social media at present. ‘Me’, ‘I’, my thoughts, my mood, my food. The construction of social networks’ profiles fosters self-expression and encourages active participation in others’ lives. Online profiles became extended personal space where people feel intimate and as freely as at home. But Facebook or any other social media is far from being home. There are no fences, locked doors or even buzzle that would warn that someone is paying you a visit. There are ways to protect information, build virtual fences and show private content only to the trusted people but those are not common practices. In fact, the intruders are invited.

I was a professional cyber stalker. I had deadlines, word limits and my findings were reported to the supervisor. I did not hurt anyone, but I did publish personal data of people I followed on social networks supposedly against their will. They are not even aware of my archive. I was collecting the personal information in a proven way. I was starting from looking for pictures of homemade food what in most cases leads to discovering the geolocation and specifying the home address of my target. Then I was looking for personal information on Facebook, best wishes on its timeline or simply a picture of cake and balloons to discover the person’s age. Instagram pictures, LinkedIn profiles, tweets and comments tell the rest. The fact that the data was relatively easy to collect made my job boring. More intriguing was a question: Why is it so easy to be a cyber stalker?

My colleagues, offline stalkers, consider themselves lucky when they encounter a window with no curtains. For cyber stalkers it is a standard. The mass exhibitionism became prevalent with the tools given by Web 2.0 including blogs, forums, wikis, social networking. The optimistic explanation of why someone informs on Facebook about purchasing tickets to the cinema or having a hangover is that online activity emerges from individualism and consumerism where Web 2.0 users are creators of life and the online content. They are driven by their free will and belief that their thoughts, pictures and problems deserve to be exposed. However, such view is oversimplified and omits the fast development of technology destined for mass surveillance. Today people encounter the tension resulting from the possibility that they might be observed at any time without knowing it. It happens on the streets and in public buildings due to CCTV cameras, but mainly online. Everyone can become a cyber stalker as tools for surveillance became ubiquitous.

Surveillance used to be a privilege of those in power and such idea is mirrored in Panopticon, Bentham’s building designed in XVIII century (Jurgenson, 2009). Its purpose was to enable watchman to observe inmates without them knowing when it happens. Foucault noticed that such rules became reality for the whole society that participates in the acts of surveillance with no way of escaping from being watched (Jurgenson, 2009). This architecture of surveillance leads to the violation of the self-perception.

Foucault noticed that just the likelihood of being watched creates a self, which tends to remain always visible and ‘always seeing the self as a project to be undertaken; to be like the guards’ image of an ideal prisoner’ (Jurgenson, 2009). Self emerges from social and technological tensions and as such is artificial. The need to express yourself online is not as much about egocentrism as about feeling unsecure. This answers why social media users do not show their online content only to the trustees – they might be driven by a subconscious need to present their ideal prisoner’s image to the watchman, to the whole society.

I collected such ideal images. My actions did not make anyone feel anger, aggression, helplessness, or feeling of inner distress – favourites accusations heard from cyber stalking victims (Drezing et al., 2014). It was me who felt harassed when watching people’s ways of dealing with self online. I was faced with nude pictures, little babies being fed by their mums, broken knees and bruises after falling down stairs, piercings and drunken faces. In the light of panoptic system’s idea such pictures are neither provocations nor results of egocentrism. The constrain of being visible for watchmen’s glaze forces people to show the entire private sphere. Jurgenson writes about explosion of productive individuality, where people want to share the truth about themselves (Jurgenson, 2009). A picture of legs with bruises is not only a distorted way of expressing ego and personal experience but it stems from the need to confess. The ideal prisoner has nothing to hide.

From the perspective of an experienced and recently retired cyber stalker I only wonder why surveillance is not only commonly accepted but it is also enjoyable. People watch others and remain active on social media as a way of entertainment. Are we then manipulated to the extent when we become unable to think rationally, are we even enslaved by technology? People have all the means and tools to unite against mass surveillance, but instead, they add another picture of the pasta eaten for lunch. A Polish poet Cyprian K. Norwid wrote that ‘Slaves everywhere and always will be slaves – give them wings to their arms and they will sweep streets with them’**.


* Quote from Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary written 1953-1969; translated by Lillian Vallee. 2012. Yale University Press. New Heaven & London.

** A well-known in Poland quote from letter to Michał Kleczkowski (1856) written by an acknowledged poet Cyprian K. Norwid. My own translation.


Refrerences:

Drezing, H, Bailer, J, Anders, A, Wagner, H, Gallas, C. 2014. ‘Cyberstalking in a Large Sample of Social Network Users: Prevalence, Characteristics, and Impact Upon Victims’, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 61-67. Accessed Online: online.liebertpub.com.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/toc/cyber/17/2 [25/04/2014].

Jurgenson, N. 2009. ‘Digitally Obscene: Foucault and the Cultivation of the Self Online’, Conference Papers: American Sociological Association. 2009 Annual Meeting, University of Maryland-College Park . Accessed Online: eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=466428eb-8f47-4995-9782-feae0a3b4e43%40sessionmgr4001&vid=3&hid=4113 [25/04/2014].

Scattered information tells

Looking back at the process of our project, it is interesting and thought-provoking to see how our idea and perspective towards private and public are shaping. In the first meeting among the group we simply referred to the webcams and information on Facebook as one kind of privacy, and in our final project we present more than one format of privacy: balloons, videos on pufferfish, and websites with personal profiles. The developing process of our understanding towards privacy has profoundly influenced my own perspective of privacy.

If privacy could be categorized I would divide it into two parts: public privacy and private privacy. Public privacy refers to the personal information shared by individuals. This type of information is open to chosen scale on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, and Instagram. However these information is still called privacy because individuals have control over them such as which groups of people can see them and owners receive notifications when others getting reach to their information. This kind of information is the main source in our profile gathering. With easy search we know the person’s name, birth, address, education, relationship status, family members, favorites and hobbies.

profile

By looking at the information we can see a vague but solid picture of individual’s characteristic. In most of the social websites users are provided with the function to show their information to only certain groups of people but in our project we find out that only 1 among 20 people we traced applied to the privacy settings, which means that though people consider those information as privacy because of their imagined control over them, they are actually sharing the information to everyone in every corner of the world. People choose to tell other on the internet what work they do, which university they are studying in, how they look like, who their friends are and what perspective they have towards certain events to find like-minded friends and let others know them better. However the secondary use and silent activities are inevitable on this e-commerce online society and without being fully realized the consequences of leaving personal information contributes quite a lot to online privacy leakage. In this project the information in profiles are 100 percent come from the “public privacy”.

The private privacy refers to the information required by websites for users to get access to certain information or services such as identifications for buying certain products, health care information for medical advice. People treated this kind of information much carefully and expect the websites to execute high standard protection. While these information are protected to some extent, it is still easy to get access to it with some simple software. We used the metaphor of balloons to describe this kind of privacy protection as crystal clear balloons. User’s privacy is protected in a balloon that can be easily seen right through. Your privacy is only one thin shield away from others.

DSC_0127

DSC_0131

The process of tracking people down rings warning bells to people’s misplacement of their information online. With social network taking more and more accounts in people’s social life, personal information are refreshed frequently in cater to individual’s needs to be sociable. Taking having dinner as an example, the pictures of dishes are posted on Instagram, the friends having dinner with you are tagged on Facebook, the time are showed in the timeline on Facebook as well, some quick description of having dinner are tweeted on Twitter, also the location can be showed if the geo-location function are applied. What is more, in one of the profiles I tracked, one friend of the user retweeted the diner picture and commented “Best birthday I’ve ever had”. In this way I find out her friend’s birthday. There is so many information that can be read out because every activity online is disassembled into several parts and expressed in many formats on social networks. In this way a whole picture of this activity can be seen on social networks and every people can get access to it (under the circumstance that the private settings are off).

This project gives a glimpse of how easy nowadays to get personal information with simple search engines by peeping into several people’s “public privacy”. Though the information we gathered are rather basic privacy, they are enough for others to know part of their lives: where do they live, what do they like, who are their family members, what is his/her personality. Information scattered on social websites poses great danger to individual’s privacy and people should raise more awareness of this.

 

Hands-off: whose privacy floating in the air

Along with the widely application of internet and digital devices, people are used to living in a world full of personal data or records that seem nothing can hide anymore. Besides, thanks to the popularity of social media, internet users enjoy sharing and posting their feelings, everything happened around or whatever they interested in online, which help them left more and more data available both for themselves and the public.

Simson Garfinkel (2001), who written the book “Database Nation: The death of privacy in the 21th century”, once suggested that “we know our privacy is under attack, the problem is that we do not know how to fight back.”  Actually, there exist the majority of people that rather enjoying this privacy being attacked than being aware of fighting back.  Sherry Turkle (2006), the author of “Alone Together”, described the new status of self in information age as “tethered self”, which means when people say they are connectable, it just indicates that they are wired to the world, and sometimes, people even need to update their online personal pages like Facebook or Instagram timely to prove their existence to the followers including family members and friends.  This situation has already lead to the death of privacy online for the majority of internet users since they shared so much personal information without knowing that they may under attacked.

During the process of Hands-off project, we collected privacy-related data of people who living in Edinburgh via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and found that lots of people do sharing numerous of personal information online and everyone that can access to these social networking sites are free to grab any private stuffs they like.  Moreover, since social networking sites’ users are encouraged to associate several social pages together, we could easily draw the whole picture of a person including his or her name, appearance, occupation, education background, interests and lots of random messages like recently contacted friends, pets’ names, cycling routes and so on, and they also shared their feeling instantly if they received birthday presents, won a game or suffer with loneliness. We can easily learn about a person just by scanning his or her page, without their awareness, and then use them if we like. This sounds really dangerous to any audiences, but what they act looks like they do not care at all.

This blog post do not treat social networking sites as the one need to be blamed, for they do offer a way to prevent the privacy attack in some degree. According to what we learned from the experiment, as both twitter and Instagram have the choice of keeping tweets or photos available only to “your friends”, users seldom click on this button to narrow their audiences.  Besides, even though some people think highly of their privacy and lock their pages to few people, once their families or friends shard stuffs about them and @ their usernames, their privacy will be destroyed as well. During our research, we discovered a man’s house by the cycling routes recorded by exercising sites he connected to her twitter, we extracted the personal details of a young man who gingerly about his privacy all from his girlfriend’s page, and we even grabbed the everyday narratives of several people, seeming that we have stay with them all along.

Thanks to the social networking sites and the free publishing&free sharing online environment (Howard Rheingold, 2012), the privacy are floating everywhere in the air. Just like what we exhibited in submission 2, when people update their personal narrative online, it looks like they filled their private-related information into the clear balloons. Everyone who put their hands on the balloons can easily find out details about certain person, then, when they leave their hands off, they do no harm to the balloon and stuffs inside at all.  People who shared their personal status online seem believe in this setting. They suggested whoever can see their tweets or photos as harmless ones, they created their online world based on the dreaming semi-private environment: everyone who saw the private information are trustable and also will keep it private for me.  However, we can never assumed the world as safe ones both online and offline.

QQ图片20140425013623

In submission 2, we grabbed people’s photo from Instagram, and turn them into speak ones using an app called Photospeak, we use the private-related information selected from their pages, creating and recording dialogues for them via the nature voice free text reading software. Then we projected these videos on the Pufferfish, indicating that they were locked into the globe and forced to talking about themselves, just like their information were locked inside the clear balloon. What we have done may be offensive, while the truth is, there are chances that the bad guy who access to your information can do far more than what we have done.

QQ图片20140425013603

Just remember, there are strangers around who are holding the needle, waiting to pop your balloon. When you let your privacy floating in the air, you bear the danger for them to burst and fall to the ground.

 

Reference

Howard Rheingold, 2012, Stewards of Digital, Knowledge Quest, Vol.41, and No.1

Simson Garfinkel, 2001, Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century, Cambridge, Mass: O’Reilly

Sherry Turkle, 2006, Always-on/always-on-you: The tethered self, forthcoming in Handbook of Mobile Communication and social change, James Katz(ed), Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

 

 

A real progress. From the Street to InSpace Gallery.

Space:

Screenshot of Royal Mile web-cam feed with the team members
Screenshot of Royal Mile web-cam feed with the team members

IMG_2005 RoyalMile3

Sound Sample:

Exhibition Space:sketch

Mock-up of final exhibition (rough copy)
Mock-up of final exhibition (rough copy)

Maps:

a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/tinaescu.hh4e5424/page.html?secure=1#17/55.94771/-3.19471
a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/tinaescu.hh4ilik0/page.html?secure=1#18/55.94627/-3.18444
a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/tinaescu.hh48oac6/page.html?secure=1#13/55.9637/-3.2128

Mockup Website:

playground.eca.ed.ac.uk/~s1364942/DMSP/example.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Step

Following our exhibition for the first submission we sat down to discuss possible direction we can take for the following stage of the Hands Off project. Based on the outcome we’ve had we concluded that there are some elements we would like to keep or develop as well as some troublesome aspects that need to be dealt with or avoided:
What can be further investigated:
The concept and use of CCTV cameras
Twitter content
A performative/interventional approach
Exploring working with sound
What needs to be changed, reconsidered:
The use of live feeds
Pushing our technological and experimental boundaries further
Creating an interactive experience
Better organization
The brainstorming that followed resulted in a range of options to be considered and further researched.
We all agreed on using a spherical projection device called Puffersphere www.pufferfishdisplays.co.uk/ instead of normal projectors. The reason for this decision is based both on our desire to challenge ourselves and experiment in terms of the technology we use and how this innovative projector could add meaning to our concept. We thought of using it as a portrayal of the “private sphere” as opposed to the public one or even a mix
between the two, considering how there is less and less delimitation between the two.
There is a strong tendency to keep using the local context of Edinburgh as a data source as we think it would result in an output that would make the viewers feel they can relate to.
Using Twitter is also something with like to continue doing, even if it has its limitations. Although we were not very pleased with the unpredictable character of the results we got from it we think it is still a very good source of interesting and relevant data for our project.
There was unanimous agreement that the performance/intervention done on the Royal Mile
was one of the most exciting parts of the project and thus we are considering going this on this route again. What made this part of our project so interesting was the feed-back we got from onlookers. Even if we are not going to end up up doing another performative act or public space intervention we believe we should involve the spectators in one way or another.
Even though we had some sound as part of our exhibition we think we should put more effort into exploring this aspect. A sound workshop was scheduled for this purpose.
The use of live web cam and Twitter feeds has proved to be a little cumbersome because of the unpredictable results and some unsolvable technical problems (the CCTV web cam feed timing out once every 10 minutes and the possibility of no relevant Twitter activity for a certain time frame). We decided that giving up the live element can be a good idea if we can carefully curate the content and end up with better quality data. Instead of using the live web cam feed from Royal Mile we thought of involving the public by finding a way to incorporate a web cam that captures images from the exhibition space.

We have all thought that the next stage of this project should involve more complex technological experiments, by adding interactivity for example. As the Puffersphere that we have access to doesn’t have to touch interaction system available we have to think of other ways to create an engaging interactive experience for our viewers.
This sums up our first meeting after the first submission.
The second meeting coincided with the sound design workshop and resulted in a brief discussion about new decisions and directions. We now have a much more clear idea of how are we going to incorporate sound into our project. We are still undecided on whether to use Max MSP/Jitter or Supercollider for this. Anna and Cristina have a little knowledge about Max from the Introduction to Interactive Design course we attended in the first semester so we are tempted to use it instead of Supercollider but on the other hand we were shown how Supercollider is in a way similar and what can be done with it. We have yet to decide and experiment on this aspect though. Another sound related issue would be deciding how many
speakers do we need – quadraphonic sound versus octophonic sound – and to book them along with a suitable space. We want to try adding interactivity to the sound environment as well and we think we can do that through motion detection and a combination of the prerecorded sound that matches the Royal Mile webcam footage and some generative sound experiments in Max or Supercollider.
The idea of using movement reactant sound came after considering incorporating the web cam feed from the exhibition space into the videos of the CCTV footage, using a Max Patch that creates a mash-up between two videos, superimposing one on top of another by showing the background video as a rendering of the person in front of the web cam, based on their movement.
Other ideas proposed were:
– Creating a cage-like view of the content through video editing – to suggest the impossibility to escape surveillance.
– Using carefully chosen tweets that reflect our concept to create subtitles that would be placed in the middle of the video so as to be displayed where the circumference of the sphere si the largest and the text wold be more readable.
– There are a few issues that concern us and need to be solved soon: Booking of a space and speakers.
– The possibility of installing a web camera on the ceiling.
– How to work with the Puffersphere as we did not have the chance to see it yet.
– Experimenting with Max and Supercollider.

Report on ‘Hands off!! This tweet is not yours any more’.

Weekly summaries

Exhibition

Websites

Outcomes

 



Statement

Surveillance is ubiquitous. Royal Mile CCTV camera and its feed.
Surveillance is ubiquitous. Royal Mile CCTV camera and its feed.

We start from the premise that the line between public and private space becomes increasingly blurred in today’s digital society. Privacy is an inherent human need but the  extent to which we draw the boundaries has changed in recent years. Surveillance is more and more ubiquitous and most of us are concerned about that. There is a feeling of helplessness linked to it. We might not be able to control most aspects of surveillance but we can make wiser decisions regarding how much of our private life we choose to make public ourselves.

We chose to use CCTV and Twitter as exponents of surveillance and self-inflicted privacy infringement. We participate as our own enemies in this battle against loss of privacy.

The public physical places can’t offer much privacy and we just accept that. Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything goes in terms of privacy infringement and surveillance in public spaces. Many people don’t feel comfortable with video surveillance for example.

Unfortunately it is difficult to avoid certain types of monitoring and if we want to live a normal life we’ll have to agree to the terms and conditions of 21st century urban living. If we would want to have absolute privacy and escape surveillance entirely we’d have to avoid going outside, shopping, using cash-machines, the internet, the telephone and many more things.

Being social animals also means giving up some of our privacy but sometimes it seems we are trading our privacy for the satisfaction of social acceptance. Social media is the main culprit for this behavioural shift. “Social sharing is a major behavioural shift, the most important so far of the 21st century. And the information we choose to share with friends, co-workers and even strangers, is re-defining the idea of what’s private and public before our very eyes.” (Armano, 2010)

The tendency to over-share intimate information may be a consequence of the struggle to create a virtual identity by trying to show as much as possible in order to paint a detailed picture of a person’s personality and life. Some people might be happy to embrace a fake or slightly embellished online persona but on the other end of the line hang out those who are acting “natural”, who don’t apply any auto-censorship and who just want to express themselves as they would in a live social context. The trouble comes when one can’t define the boundaries and ends up publicly sharing really intimate information or the kind that should be kept for close friends and family.
“As the privacy debate rages on, and as whatever’s left of our personal privacy silently erodes, it’s time for us to realize that whether we like it or not, our rapidly improving (and shrinking) technology is inevitably going to end the era of personal privacy.” (Eriksson 2011) Agreeing with this statement doesn’t mean we should give up. There are still things left to do in order to filter and control information and counteract the loss of privacy.

If we don’t like being under surveillance then we shouldn’t inflict it upon ourselves by naively opening the virtual door to our private life. If we are not aware of this we only contribute to the surveillance process by handing out information. In the case of over-sharing we are as much to blame as those who provide the context for this loss of privacy because it is our choice to make personal content public.

At the end of the day everyone defines their privacy boundaries differently but no matter how we do that we should always be aware of the outcome of our actions and be more careful about our privacy. Maybe we shouldn’t publicly share on the internet anything that we wouldn’t be willing to share in a more traditional public context. Or maybe we could embrace this new era and accept it as a form of evolution? There is no precise answer to this problem.

Privacy is dead, long live privacy!

Refrerences:

Armano, David. (2010). Why Social Sharing Is Bigger than Facebook and Twitter. Available: blogs.hbr.org/2010/04/why-social-sharing-is-bigger-than-facebook/. Last accessed 25/02/2014.

Eriksson, Jakob. IEEE Internet Computing , 01/01/2011, Vol. 15 Issue 1, p81-83, 0p, 1 Graph; DOI: 10.1109/MIC.2011.18

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WEEKLY SUMMARIES

In order to illustrate how the ideas were shaping and changing it is not enough to show a record of our minutes from the meetings. We kept having appointments with our supervisor on a weekly basis, which lasted for two hours on average. However, since a substantial part of our group interaction took place also outside the official meetings, especially on ourFacebook group ‘Hands Off!’, but also in emails and during informal meetings, it is more suitable to present the weekly summarises of our discussions, plans and achievements.

20-26.01.2014

Our first meeting on 23.02 was devoted to becoming acquainted with each other since our team happened to consist of two Design & Digital Media and two Digital Media & Culture students. It was necessary to discuss our skills and reasons why we joint this group. Shortly we realised that we share a common interest in observing the way digital technologies alter the meaning of public and private spaces. We broadly discussed the easiness with which people let strangers to explore their private lives, and the feelings of uncertainty raising from lack of control over our private information in the Internet.

In terms of ideas we wanted to explore in particular, Cristina mentioned the CCTV web-cam online feed that could be used by us in a various way, Anna was interested in exploring social networks, especially content of Twitter where most users have public, easy to identify accounts while their content is private. Xiaoxue wanted to ask people to define privacy by approaching them with camera on the street but also in private situations to see if they speak differently about privacy depending on given situation. Hongyu was interested in Google policy and collecting  by them endless information about its unconscious users. In general, we found a current Internet culture of sharing emotions and data uncanny. Should we then make people aware of the illusion of controlling the online image of themselves? If yes, how? By shock? By informational campaign? By provocation?

It became clear already in this very first meeting, that the project we will deliver for the first submission will explore the boundaries between private and public spaces. As we found this ideas extremely broad our task for the next meeting was to focus on chosen aspects of our discussion. We agreed that everyone will create the actual project ideas for the next meeting, with the special focus on the form of the exhibition (e.g. open, hidden space, website or actual gallery space).

27.01 – 2.02.2014

We discussed the organizational frames of our group cooperation. We realised the advantage of being a relatively small group where we can give each other an instant feedback. This is why we decided to share particular tasks but at the same time to provide critique on the development of particular components of the project. We set up an Facebook account that became a tool for sharing links about related projects and exchanging ideas. We discussed some reading advised by our supervisor: Panopticism by Foucalut (1997),  Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments (Mann et al, 2003). Especially inspiring was text about sousveillance, where people who are watched (in supermarkets, on streets, petrol stations etc.) are becoming those who observe others by wearing computer devices that record surrounding them surveillance environment . Here are few project ideas we considered during our meeting:

  •  opposing two screens: an online web-cam from Edinburgh Zoo’s animals with the Twitter feed conceptualising the idea that we can be as easily watched and (to some point) controlled as zoo’s animals by letting others to watch us constantly and unconsciously, not even being aware the we put ourselves to the cage.
  •  creating a community against Google Street View that would track down people visible on Google Maps (although their faces are blurred, it is still easy to recognise them by local people what breaks privacy rules),
  •  making a video based on CCTV web-cams’ feed, where social networks content (e.g. comments, tweets) would be used as subtitles. That would lead us to create a narrative.
  •  trying to track local people based on the information they share on social media and at the final stage, interact with them in order to show that sharing too much details can bring unexpected consequences,
  •  making an application that would search for information shared by person that generates all information shared by them online.

We found some of our ideas to be balancing on the border between legal and illegal rather then public and private, and others to be not feasible in the given time. We still did not make a decision what to work on for the submission, but as Cristina titled her blog post, the ideas started to take shape.
Since Anna recorded some progress with accessing Twitter feed, we decided to think how could we use this social media in our project and set up a common Twitter account, Handsoff2014. We agreed to show the project in an actuall gallery space. Our supervisor offered us to inquire about the exhibition space for our first submission.

Refrerences:

Foucault, M , 1995, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1975), NY: Vintage Books , pp. 195-228. Available at http://dm.ncl.ac.uk/courseblog/files/2011/03/michel-foucault-panopticism.pdf (Accessed: 28 February 2013).

Mann, S, Nolan, J & Wellman, B (2003), ‘Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments‘, Surveillance & Society 1(3), pp. 331-355. Available at: http://www.surveillance-and-society.org/articles1(3)/sousveillance.pdf (Accessed: 28 February 2013).

3-9.02.2014

Finally, we decided to make an exhibition where tweets from set locations would be accompanied by the live video streamed from world’s CCTV web-cams. We aimed at showing such videos from different time zones (3 to 4), so the tweets and video would be showing daily activities at different times relative to Edinburgh’s time zone. We hoped to explore shared common experience and analyse the approach towards private&public by analysing the given Twitter content. We agreed that we should narrow our interests to English-speaking countries to avoid loosing an understanding of the content.

We also agreed that each of us will search for CCTV web-cams showing people from a close distance and share links to them on Facebook (a good source of CCTV webams was found here). We hoped to explore if Twitter is a popular tool in a given country. We raised an issue about different categories, key-words and hashtags that we should use to filter the Twitter search results. We started to explore issues we discussed on our blog, where Anna wrote about the idea of home, Crisitna about the digital voyeur, Hongyu chose concept of privacy and Xiaoxue looked at how new technologies change the narrative of life.

Our supervisor confirmed that we have an exhibition in Camera Room of Edinburgh College of Art booked for the weekdays 24-28.02 altogether with 3 projectors and 3 screens that we planned to use.

10-16.02.2014

On Monday, 10/02 we saw the exhibition space for the first time, what inspired a productive discussion. The vital decision enhanced by assessing the size, look and capacity of Camera Room was that we will situate our exhibition in a local context, by displaying tweets and CCTV web-cam feed just from Edinburgh. Following this idea, we agreed that:
– tweets will be displayed on both sides of a screen, one side showing emotional tweets searched by words like happy, love, sad, etc., another side being related to private space and relatives, e.g. ‘home’, ‘bedroom’, ‘kitchen’, ‘boyfriend’, ‘family’;
– people whose tweets will be displayed during the exhibition will be informed about it the following day. For this purpose we planned to make a database that will catch user names and their tweets;
– both web-cam and tweets will be live, but we need to pre-record at least 2 hours long backup in case we experience any technical problem with web-cams or Internet connection;
– the exhibition space will be arranged in a way to resemble home. Visitors will find there e.g. a coffee table with photo album where they can view private pictures of Edinburgh citizens shared by them online, more photos in frames on the wall, some pillows and blanket, and a table lamp.
– We will use live sound from Royal Mile web-cam in addition to sounds like clicking, receiving notifications that will resemble in the suggestive ways that tweets are written right in the moment of an exhibition;

We also started to follow people from Edinburgh on Twitter from our project’s account, but already after 240 people we followed our common account was temporarily blocked due to ‘aggressive following’ of other Twitter users. This week we also experienced some other problems with communication within group since just one person showed up for the agreed meeting. An emergency email was forwarded to group members in order to avoid similar situations in the future.

17-23.02.2014

At this stage our usual discussion was replaced by creating a bullet-point lists of final division of duties, equipment we needed to book and deliver to Camera Room, and a shopping list.

Equipment&furniture we needed:

  • Mac computers (3),
  • Projectors (3),
  • Thunder bolts to connect computers with projectors,
  • Extension cords (2),
  • Speakers and mixer,
  • Hoover or arranging cleaning of an exhibition space,
  • Electric kettle,
  • Table for macs,
  • Coffee table,
  • Sofa.

Shopping list:

  • Photo frames&photo album,
  • Tea,
  • Sugar,
  • Cups for hot content,
  • Some pillows/blanket from charity shop,
  • Black tapes for fixing the carpet in Camera room,
  • Coloured tapes for Royal Mile’s maze,
  • Nails to use for frames,
  • Printing photos, leaflets and statement.

Individual tasks:

  • Video recording + editing (Cristina)
  • The written report, preparing submission files (Anna)
  • Tweeting 250 people after exhibition & proposing the text sent to them (Hongyu)
  • Leaflets – design based on our common Twitter account’s tweets (Tina)
  • Leaflets distribution (Tina)
  • Royal Mile’s maze ( Xiaoxue, Hongyu)
  • 2 hours long back-up of the CCTV web-cam with sound (Xiaoxue)
  • Sound for the exhibition(Hongyu)
  • PHP database for Tweets (Anna)
  • Getting ready websites for the exhibition (Anna)
  • Bringing all the booked equipment to Camera Room, arranging the space on Monday 24.02 and supervising the exhibition on Wednesday and Thursday (all group)

In addition, we decided to add one more action to our exhibition. Since we planned to inform people whose tweets we will display during exhibition, we wanted to inform also people who pass by the camera on Royal Mile that they are watched.

After our official meeting, Hongyu and Xiaoxue went to Royal Mile to find the camera and assess the best place for putting notes on the pavement. Tina accompanied them with the camera. At the same time Anna kept recording the Royal Mile’s  CCTV webcam stream from Atrium, Alison House. We called each other to help identify the space the camera captures.

Screenshot of Royal Mile web-cam feed with the team members
Screenshot of Royal Mile web-cam feed with the team members

The Royal Mile streaming live web-cam is located above the jewerly shop in the front of St.Giles Catherdral, looking down the Royal Mile. Additional outcome of this action was that we realised that this CCTV Camera feed stops every few minutes, so we needed a person who keeps refreshing feed during the exhibition.

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EXHIBITION

Since we booked the exhibition room and equipment for the busy period of submissions, the weekdays 24-28 of February, we knew that it would be troublesome for many students to come and see our project. That was the reason why we decided to join the opening and reception of neighbouring exhibition in Tent Gallery, what assured us that some people might also visit our exhibition. Additionally, an email was forwarded to students of ECA a day before the exhibition, our posters were hanged in a few university buildings and the direct Facebook information was sent to students from Design, Digital Media group and Edinburgh College of Art. Unfortunately, some of our colleagues were confused about the dates and the opening hours of the exhibition, since there happened to be a mistake in the email forwarded to students.

HandsOff_DMSP_leaflet
HandsOff_DMSP_leaflet

The exhibition took place on Wednesday 26/02 (10am – 7pm) and on Thursday 27/02 (5 – 7pm). We had a limited number of visitors, but that gave us an opportunity to explain better our concept to those who came.

Exhibition Space

The Camera Room of Edinburgh College of Art (74 Lauriston Pl, Edinburgh) is a relatively small and dark space with no windows and walls covered with black material. There is a large screen in the centre of the room, where the CCTV webcam feed from Royal Mile was displayed. On both sides of the screen there were projected two websites with dynamically changing tweets.

Arranging exhibition space
Arranging exhibition space

We used 2 projectors in the corners and one in the middle of the room. We used three Mac computers, each for one projection. Two of them were located on the table with a chair for a person responisble for refreshing the video.

Homely indoor

In the centre of the exhibition was placed a cosy sofa with floral pattern and a coffee table with a tea, milk, sugar and cups for visitors. On the right side from entrance there were some photo frames with pictures of local people received through Instagram (from public profiles).  There was a colourful rug and clothes hanged on the hanger attached to the wall. We had to limit home-like elements since they would disturb the projections.

Private space of home
Private space of home
Comforteable sofa
Comforteable sofa

On the coffee table there was a table lamp with a yellowish light that was enabling viewing the photoalbum in the darkness. The photoalbum was also filled with photographies shared by Edinburgh citizens on their public Instagram profiles.

Photo album cover
Photo album cover
Photo album content
Photo once uploaded losses its owner

It expresses the idea that the control over the content that once was uploaded to the Internet is illusory. The mania of sharing emotions with unknown publicity is already deeply rooted in our culture – even kids post pictures of themselves in social media. Who else can use these pictures and in what way?

Sound

We used two sources of sounds. First of them was streamed from CCTV web-cam. We decided to use it because it gives a decent sound, where it is not only possible to hear traffic noises and St. Giles’ Cathedral’s bells, but sometimes even single words from the conversations people have when the pass by the camera.

The second source resemble sounds that are associated with using social websites. This background sound combines the soundtracks from Windows 8 and IOS system as well as original sounds recorded by HongyuXu (Hongyu). They include mouse clicking, laptop tapping, cellphone dailing, etc. Adobe Audition was used to remove noises and mix those sounds in order to make implication on audiences that they are people currently using social media. The sound which lasts 4 minutes was lopped throughout the exhibition.

We used speakers and Mixer: Mackie 1202.

We had to learn quickly how to use sound devices
We had to learn quickly how to use sound devices

Street Slogan

We wanted to have some interaction with people who become actors in our video stream. However, at the very beginning, we decided to print out some slogans and hold them against the camera as a statement for those people who visit our exhibition. When we decided to present tweets and CCTV web-cam stream only from Edinburgh, we considered to interact with the actual citizens who pass by the camera by informing them that they can be seen. Their reaction to the slogan pointing to the CCTV camera would add additional value to our exhibition by showing people who have just faced the fact that someone else is watching them.

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A slogan created in the front of CCTV camera on Royal Mile

We considered several ways of executing our ideas like drawing two warning lines under the web camera to define this space as ‘no-privacy zone’, or create a tragedy scene using tapes to draw a human figure and point out to the ‘dead privacy”. In the early morning of the exhibition day, Xiaoxue and Hongyu  went to Royal Mile after 7 am to make the slogan “WE ARE WATCHING YOU” and adding hashtag “#webcam” using bright orange tapes. Cristina documented this action by recording the webcam from the camera we worked nearby. People who were passing by them kept showing interests in it and were curious about where the camera is. Some students took pictures of our slogan and shared with their peers. The action was not finished yet when the owner of the shop located nearby the camera suggested that we do not have the permission to do this in a public place and suggested to remove the tapes. After rapid phone calls to the group members and our supervisor, we decided to remove tapes to avoid further troubles.

RoyalMile3

RoyalMile2

Concerns of walkers

This action showed us the importance of interaction with people who are the object of the exhibition. Xiaoxue and Hongyu upon their return to the Camera Room spontaneously created another slogan inside the Camera Room and a ‘privacy tragedy scene’ to express their feelings intuitively.

Camera Room's floor
…and people don’t want to know it

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WEBSITES

The process of reading Twitter feed became complicated since June 2013 when Twitter blocked their XML, RSS, and ATOM response formats with the retirement of API v1 (read more). Since then, JSON is new API v1.1’s only output format. Now, it is necessary to set up your own application linked to the Twitter account and request authorization codes to be able to get a JSON response. The current version of the website uses PHP, jQuery and additionally an OAuth library. The solution to gain Twitter feeds proposed by Tom Elliot and was implemented here because it gives a broad flexibility in terms of searching and using tweets (see the tutorial). The only serious limitation of the websites created are that Twitter blocks an account if user sends more than 180 requests per 15 minute window from  one application.

The final websites then are based on receiving JSON encoded data from Twitter after searching for particular hashtags and key-words. Since the public exhibition room resembles home (private space) in a gallery(public space) our tweets mirror the same division. The selection of hashtags was discussed during the meetings and on Facebook and then they were double-checked in terms of their popularity. We used websites made for searching for popular hashtags (e.g.Twubs.com) . The website that displays ‘private’ tweets searches Twitter by ‘#myroom OR #myhome OR #myhouse OR #bathroom OR #backhome OR #mystreet OR #kids OR #baby OR #children OR #husband OR #wife OR #bestfriend’ (see the actual website here) , and the public one contains responses for ‘job OR #atwork OR #uni OR #school OR #work’. The second category is more limited since the results tended to contain more advertisements (see our second website here).

Website projected on the wall
Website projected on the wall

Those websites are suitable for customization. The search not only accepts both hashtags and key-words but it also searches for tweets from a specific location, which in our case is 55.9505560,-3.1855560,10km, what means that we display tweets 10 km from the chosen CCTV camera on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Search results are set to English language, however Twitter seems to consider users’ language settings rather than the written text in tweet, since we still displayed some other languages as well. We decided not to show profile photos of tweets’ authors in order to keep minimal design for them, yet pictures would not be clear when displayed on a black wall. Each website refreshes automatically every 20 seconds, when JSON is pulling 10 tweets as a respond to every search. Three of them are shown in the website. Each website was projected to one corner of the exhibition room.

Simultanous projection of website and CCTV web-cam feed
Simultanous projection of website and CCTV web-cam feed

Since there were some safety issues with our server in terms of requesting data from ‘http’, an alternative solution to storing tweets in database was created – an auto-capture function for tweets we presented in our exhibition. The div where tweets are displayed was captured automatically every 2 minutes and stored as .png image in ‘images’ folder with randomly created name. Such pictures are more powerful in terms of highlighting our issue. Retweeted person would have seen a proof of easiness with which someone can manipulate their private tweets rather than receiving just plain and confusing information (since Twitter allows tweets of only 140 letters). During the exhibition day on 26/02 the capturing interval was set to every 2 minutes.

An example of private tweets auto-capture
An example of private tweets auto-capture

Styling

The process of styling tweets was altering during the time, however, from the beginning we wanted them to resemble movie subtitles, where live web-cams feed would become a picture of the movie and consequently, where tweets would become a narration of that places. We displayed 3 tweets from each websites into projecting wall in Camera Room. Tweets were displayed in white font colour with black background to make them visible on the black walls. We also left the typical Twitter’s blue colour for links to user names to keep the source recognisable.

The gallery shows a few styling we considered (the user names are censored).

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OUTCOMES

The tweets we received and showed during the exhibition varied. Some  were funny, other abusive or racist, philosophical or simply informing about current activities. Even the ones related to public sphere were informal and emotional.  Although we considered pre-recording tweets to avoid showing advertisements, we decided to keep projections live (the number of adds was not overwhelming). We had a chance to show an uninterrupted and fluent picture of the city in the digital era. 

We encountered some difficulties when trying to observe others rather than simply being watched. First of all, Twitter regulations make difficult the mechanism of gaining advanced Twiiter searches, aiming access to them for developers. Furthermore, rules of not sending no more than 180 requests per 15 minutes minimize a chance to receive a full content for our requests. Then we couldn’t store all the tweets we got due to safety issues with the server. We were also stopped from following too many Edinburgh citizens through our projectTwitter account.  Once we followed 240 people during one hour, our public account was suspended due to the aggresive following. Finally, we resigned from our plan to retweet people whose tweets we showed during the exhibition. In order to tweet on someone’s wall you need to be followed back by the person you aimed at contacting. Considering we showed 6 different tweets every 20 second, only after one hour we would have to follow 1080 people hoping they will follow us back – and this is how we come back to the problem of agressive following. (More about Twitter policy here and here).

Apart from Twitter policy, Edinburgh citizens themselves stopped our effort to point the location of the camera in Royal Mile. Although people showed interest in the action, they were more interested in knowing if we applied for a permission to use the tape on Royal Mile’s pavement. The same people who did never give permission to be shown on CCTV web-cam stream available to anyone who has an access to the Internet.

To summarize, we explored the boundaries of private and public and realised that these two spaces mingle in the digital era. We realised that people still experience private moments even if they keep record of them online. At the same time, they loose control over their data once it encounters CCTV camera or the social media space.  We experienced many obstacles created by the sourveilling system which stopped us from interacting with people who unconciously agreed to its rules. Both the public space of Royal Mile and the digital public space of Twitter are under limitations of various policies. It is by no means easy to divert the relation with this system and become a part of sousveillance.

We hope to use our experience in the following project, hoping to further deepen our understanding of private and public.


Statement

We start from the premise that the line between public and private space becomes increasingly blurred in today’s digital society. Privacy is an inherent human need but the  extent to which we draw the boundaries has changed in recent years. Surveillance is more and more ubiquitous and most of us are concerned about that. There is a feeling of helplessness linked to it. We might not be able to control most aspects of surveillance but we can make wiser decisions regarding how much of our private life we choose to make public ourselves.
We chose to use CCTV and Twitter as exponents of surveillance and self-inflicted privacy infringement. We participate as our own enemies in this battle against loss of privacy.
The public physical places can’t offer much privacy and we just accept that. Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything goes in terms of privacy infringement and surveillance in public spaces. Many people don’t feel comfortable with video surveillance for example.
Unfortunately it is difficult to avoid certain types of monitoring and if we want to live a normal life we’ll have to agree to the terms and conditions of 21st century urban living. If we would want to have absolute privacy and escape surveillance entirely we’d have to avoid going outside, shopping, using cash-machines, the internet, the telephone and many more things.

Being social animals also means giving up some of our privacy but sometimes it seems we are trading our privacy for the satisfaction of social acceptance. Social media is the main culprit for this behavioural shift. “Social sharing is a major behavioural shift, the most important so far of the 21st century. And the information we choose to share with friends, co-workers and even strangers, is re-defining the idea of what’s private and public before our very eyes.” (Armano, 2010)

The tendency to over-share intimate information may be a consequence of the struggle to create a virtual identity by trying to show as much as possible in order to paint a detailed picture of a person’s personality and life. Some people might be happy to embrace a fake or slightly embellished online persona but on the other end of the line hang out those who are acting “natural”, who don’t apply any auto-censorship and who just want to express themselves as they would in a live social context. The trouble comes when one can’t define the boundaries and ends up publicly sharing really intimate information or the kind that should be kept for close friends and family. “As the privacy debate rages on, and as whatever’s left of our personal privacy silently erodes, it’s time for us to realize that whether we like it or not, our rapidly improving (and shrinking) technology is inevitably going to end the era of personal privacy.” (Eriksson 2011) Agreeing with this statement doesn’t mean we should give up. There are still things left to do in order to filter and control information and counteract the loss of privacy. If we don’t like being under surveillance then we shouldn’t inflict it upon ourselves by naively opening the virtual door to our private life. If we are not aware of this we only contribute to the surveillance process by handing out information. In the case of over-sharing we are as much to blame as those who provide the context for this loss of privacy because it is our choice to make personal content public.At the end of the day everyone defines their privacy boundaries differently but no matter how we do that we should always be aware of the outcome of our actions and be more careful about our privacy. Maybe we shouldn’t publicly share on the internet anything that we wouldn’t be willing to share in a more traditional public context. Or maybe we could embrace this new era and accept it as a form of evolution? There is no precise answer to this problem.
Privacy is dead, long live privacy!

Armano, David. (2010). Why Social Sharing Is Bigger than Facebook and Twitter. Available: blogs.hbr.org/2010/04/why-social-sharing-is-bigger-than-facebook/. Last accessed 25/02/2014.

Eriksson, Jakob. IEEE Internet Computing , 01/01/2011, Vol. 15 Issue 1, p81-83, 0p, 1 Graph; DOI: 10.1109/MIC.2011.18