Think Privacy is an art campaign featured on posters and other merchandise created by the artist Adam Harvey. The campaign posters include bright colors and provocative quotes warning audiences to protect their privacy. The idea for these placards came when Adam Harvey saw a warning sign in an old studio that read “Think Safety” on a bright background. Obviously that sign is useful around big machinery but no longer a relevant and daily concern in the way privacy and surveillance has become in recent years. The colors are deliberate; some correspond to the color schemes of social media giants such as Facebook and Snapchat; others are simply red, yellow, or orange like those found in traditional warning signs. Some letters are loud and bold in black or in white; they command attention and stand out against their backgrounds. These letters spell out the main messages such as “Meta Data Kills” or “Fuck My Like." In smaller fonts, sandwiched in between the main words are smaller sub-quotes with provocative sayings such as “ Big data knows more about my life than I do” and “ You only live once, big data is forever." The posters are attractive, they invite attention, and demand the audience reconsiders their privacy in this modern age.
Think Privacy was created in 2013, post-Snowden, with social media already a permanent and persistent addition to most people’s daily lives. The world was only beginning to peel back the layers of this lack of online privacy and what impact it could have on society. Designed to be sold as merchandise, this series demands the viewer be warned of their privacy at every turn--when they're drinking their coffee out of a Think Privacy branded mug or doing their makeup in a mirror with large quotes warning them, "Today's selfie is tomorrow's biometric profile." Privacy invasions are not always something that happens all once like email or social media being hacked but can be slow accumulations of information willingly uploaded to the internet by the user themselves. Think Privacy implores the viewer to be cognizant and vigilant against these leaks, the warnings cannot be ignored any longer.
The saying on one of the posters, “Fuck My Like,” reflects this new reality in which likes are tracked. Often, "likes" are arbitrary, a lazy way of saying you saw something on the internet. This quote is drawing attention to this, warning data collectors that the "likes" the user may be doling out are not a reflection of the person themselves. Likes are not an accurate representation of the user's real-life desires and personality. Another quote, “Mind The Cyber Things” asks the audience to be aware of their online existence, with the knowledge that every website and app is collecting meta-data on them. Every time you load Google or visit a website, you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Paranoid possibly, but also extremely critical in a day and age where even entire elections can be tampered and swayed via social media.
Another artist looking into privacy and the information we unknowingly offer every time we like a photo or upload a selfie to Facebook are Jennifer Gradecki and Derek Curry. Together they created an interactive artwork named CSIA (Crowd-Sourced Intelligence Agency) for their PhD dissertation. This artwork allows users to perform the role of an intelligence analyst through an online interface. It is based on techniques known to be used by intelligence agencies from technical documents, Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and leaked documents. The interface allows registered users to target themselves and others as subjects of social media monitoring and provides automated evaluations from two machine-learning classifiers to show how social media posts may be treated by OSINT surveillance systems. It then rates the user on a national security threat scale and advises them on whether or not to post something on social media based on this scale.
CSIA is similar to Think Privacy in that it draws attention to online privacy and the ways in which is classified based on likes, posts, or comments although in this instance users must allow themselves to be scrutinized. It is voluntary in this instance. Adam Harvey is using the Think Privacy to warn people of invasions of privacy without consent or hidden from view, wrapped up in lengthy terms of service letters, not that which users willingly give up. CSIA uses algorithms to warn the user of when they are posing something that could be considered a national security threat; in real life the user is unaware of their threat level and the ensuing surveillance measures agencies such as the CIA or NSA may take in reaction to this information.
Another work that looks at privacy outside of the internet is My Little Piece of Privacy, a work by the artist Niklas Roy. This 2010 interactive installation consists of a big window with a small automated curtain that tries to cover an entire window from peering passers-by. A surveillance camera and an old laptop provide it with intelligence. The computer sees the pedestrians and locates them. With a motor attached, it positions the curtain exactly where the pedestrians are. When people walk past, the curtain attempts to track them and prevent them from peering into the window but it can never catch up. The curtain fails to protect the privacy of the window and even starts to attract attention once pedestrians realize it is following them.
Niklas Roy created this work as a way to illustrate the massive amounts of information people consistently upload about themselves online and the impossibility of tracking it all. In addition to social media posts, most of the information or meta-data on an individual is gathered by clicking on ads or into different websites---harmless, relatively uninvolved activity much like passing by a curtained window on the street. In the way the curtain in My Little Piece of Privacy begins to track the pedestrian even if they do not stop to look, data is still being collected even if the user does not linger on various sites or apps for very long. True privacy is elusive and every day a user lingers online, privacy becomes further and further out of reach.
Mentioned Locations where Think Privacy has been displayed:
· Victoria and Albert Museum
· New Museum Store
· Whitney Museum of Art
· Aksioma Institute for Contemporary Art