3 talks at SFPC (NY), MassArt and The MIT Media Lab (Boston)

I’ll be giving 3 talks this week on my short visit to New York and Boston. Tweet me if you might be around and would like to make it:

AdNauseam and Obfuscation @ SFPC

Monday, April 20th 3pm.
School For Poetic Computation – 155 Rivington St., Floor 4, New York, NY 10002

As online advertising is becoming more automatic, universal and unsanctioned, AdNauseam works to complete the cycle by automating all ad-clicks universally and blindly on behalf of the target audience. Working in coordination with your ad blocker, AdNauseam quietly clicks every blocked ad, registering a visit on the ad networks databases. As the data gathered shows an omnivorous click-stream, user profiling, targeting and surveillance becomes futile.

AdNauseam.io is a browser extension designed to obfuscate browsing data and protect users from surveillance and tracking by advertising networks. Simultaneously, AdNauseam serves as a means of amplifying users’ discontent with advertising networks that disregard privacy and facilitate bulk surveillance agendas. The talk covers both the background to the project and reviews various practices of data obfuscation.

Disinformation Visualization – How to lie with Dataviz @ MassArt

Wednesday, April 22 6pm.
MassArt, Kennedy Building, Room 406 – 621 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA

Designers, statisticians, journalists, researchers and technologists often apply visualization techniques in an attempt to get the big picture out of large quantities of data. In this rush towards informational imagery both creators and viewers are often taken by the lure of what Edward Tufte defines as “beautiful evidence”. But is information visualization indeed just another type of evidence, or is it a form of visual argument? This work was also published as an essay on Visualizing Advocacy.

How Interfaces Demand Obedience @ MIT MediaLab

Thursday, April 23 12pm1:30pm.

MIT Center for Civic Media – MIT Media Lab, 3rd floor – 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA

The internet, once associated with openness and decentralization, is increasingly understood in terms of the control exerted by government agencies (like the NSA) and advertising (targeted ads). What is less commonly discussed is how this subliminal control is embedded in interface design. In this talk Mushon Zer-Aviv argues that web interfaces demand our silent obedience with every page load and he tries to offer tactics and strategies for challenging the politics of the interface.

We follow the money, this is where we got so far…

The 2010 Carmel heights fires (Wikipedia)
The 2010 Carmel heights fires (Wikipedia)

Next week I will attend the Transparency and Accountability Initiative‘s Follow The Money workshop in Berlin. Towards this event they invited me to share our story following the money in Israel with the larger Follow The Money and Open Spending community, in English. The post chronicles our story from the fires of the Carmel Heights through the fiery debates in the Knesset’s Finance Committee to our latest hot release of oBudget.org. This is just the beginning of story, but I hope you find it interesting and relevant nevertheless.

Beautiful Evidence, Pretty Lies / Art Review

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 5.29.03 PM

Art Review’s wonderful Hettie Judah interviewed me and some of my dear colleagues for a piece about data, its visualization and their discontents. The article refers to my previous writing about Disinformation Visualization. It was just published in Art Review’s December 2014 issue:

As surveillance culture and the mass gathering of data have grown, so too has the culture of data communication. All the information swept up in the efficient, automated gluttony of the information-technology data grab needs to justify its rude acquisition – with every movement, transaction or conversation becoming potential fodder in the scramble to find meaning in the pattern of human behaviour, the less sensitive fruits of ‘big data’ are released to the public, making humanity en masse not simply the subjects of the data gathering but, increasingly, the enthusiastic consumers of it too. Given that little of the world’s population is equipped with advanced skills in statistical analysis, or even nimble numeracy, increasingly the way we consume the data made available to us is in the form of diagrams.

Continue reading at Art Review’s website

Launched: oBudget.org

We’ve just launched oBudget.org — The Budget Key (מפתח התקציב) an Israeli budget transparency site exposing, comparing and visualizing the way the budget changes and extending civil society’s ability to follow the money.

obudget.org homepage

oBudget.org budget item page

This is one of the Public Knowledge Workshop’s main initiatives. It was led by Adam Kariv (who developed it) and by myself (I designed it) with the help of a big group of volunteers. (exciting stuff)

When OPEN DATA Goes Wrong

Talk at the Open Knowledge Festival 2014. July 16th at Kulturbrauerei in Berlin. Attribution: Gregor Fischer, www.gfischer-photography.com/ 16.07.2014
Talk at the Open Knowledge Festival 2014. July 16th at Kulturbrauerei in Berlin.
Attribution: Gregor Fischer, www.gfischer-photography.com/ 16.07.2014

Slides, Interview and Stickers from The Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin #okfest14

In July 16th I participated in the Can Open Data Go Wrong session at the Open Knowledge Festival in Berlin, hosted by my friends from the Engine Room. I was one of four speakers sharing horror stories of big data and big hopes going not quite according to plans. I talked about our (Hasadna) experiences and challenges working on budget transparency projects in Israel. Towards the end I share one of the insights from my Disinformation Visualization essay calling for treating data visualization (And data in general) less as evidence and more as an integral part of the discourse. Some participants requested that I share my slides which I am happy to do here. To get some more context you can refer to the session notes recorded during the session.

Tin Geber and myself were also interviewed for the Open Knowledge Podcast where we discuss the perils of uncritical open data. Some highlights:

Interviewer: What do you think of the statement… “you open it first and then you figure out all the rest of the stuff afterwards”?
Tin: I think this statement gets people killed.

Tin Geber and myself, interviewing for Alex Fink who also took this picture
Tin Geber and myself, interviewing for Alex Fink who also took this picture

Finally, we made some stickers for the event which found their way to quite a few laptop covers. We dubbed them: “I [ambivalence] DATA”. If you want any I have extras. :)

I [ambivalence] DATA

Slides for my “Conflict of Interface” talk at Eyebeam

Originally presented at The Politics of Interface and Obfuscation a special event at Eyebeam, NYC on March 11th, 2014, together with Helen Nissenbaum (NYU) and moderated by Michael Connor (Rhizome).

The internet, once associated with openness and decentralization, is increasingly understood in terms of control exerted by government agencies (like the NSA) and advertising (targeted ads). What is less commonly discussed is how this subliminal control is embedded in interface design. In this special event Eyebeam alum Mushon Zer-Aviv will argue that web interfaces demand our silent obedience with every page load. Through a talk and a presentation of a few recent projects, Mushon will offer new approaches to challenging the politics of the interface. Mushon will be followed by Helen Nissenbaum who will discuss the tactic of obfuscation as a subversive response to surveillance interfaces; she will present some highlights from the recent Obfuscation Conference at NYU and together with Mushon present their current collaboration with Daniel Howe, the AdNauseam browser extension. The event will be moderated by Rhizome editor and curator, Michael Connor.


Disinformation Visualization: How to lie with datavis (the essay)

Following my Disinformation Visualization workshop at the Info Activism Camp, the wonderful people at the Tactical Tech Collective have invited me to publish these ideas as an essay on their site. I am cross-posting the opening here and encourage you to read the whole thing on the Visualizing Advocacy site (and get their wonderful book too)


Seeing is believing.

When working with raw data we’re often encouraged to present it differently, to give it a form, to map it or visualize it. But all maps lie. In fact, maps have to lie, otherwise they wouldn’t be useful. Some are transparent and obvious lies, such as a tree icon on a map often represents more than one tree. Others are white lies – rounding numbers and prioritising details to create a more legible representation. And then there’s the third type of lie, those lies that convey a bias, be it deliberately or subconsciously. A bias that misrepresents the data and skews it towards a certain reading.

It all sounds very sinister, and indeed sometimes it is. It’s hard to see through a lie unless you stare it right in the face, and what better way to do that than to get our minds dirty and look at some examples of creative and mischievous visual manipulation.

Over the past year I’ve had a few opportunities to run Disinformation Visualization workshops, encouraging activists, designers, statisticians, analysts, researchers, technologists and artists to visualize lies. During these sessions I have used the DIKW pyramid (Data > Information > Knowledge > Wisdom), a framework for thinking about how data gains context and meaning and becomes information. This information needs to be consumed and understood to become knowledge. And finally when knowledge influences our insights and our decision making about the future it becomes wisdom. Data visualization is one of the ways to push data up the pyramid towards wisdom in order to affect our actions and decisions. It would be wise then to look at visualizations suspiciously.

DIKW: Data Information Knowledge Wisdom

continue reading at the Visualizing Advocacy site

Audio-Spatial Storytelling


The following is a short essay I wrote for the 10th issue of Shoppinghour Magazine (UK) titled Feast on Listen. It involves what I refer to as an Audio-Spatial experience and is mainly inspired by my experience with the You Are Not Here project.

For the past few decades digital storytelling have been delivered mainly through screens. The networking of the image, whether pictorial, written or moving have largely expanded the canvas of media makers and helped flatten the media horizon. The centralized audio-visual medium of television has been challenged by the proliferation of distributed networked screens, multiplying the perspectives and voices allowed to be heard. But while screens were emancipated from the single cords that fed them, the messages they convey are still trapped within the boundaries of the screen. Standard or wide, low or high-res, one-way or interactive, these screens have been cropping our horizon into predefined blocks. This limitation is surfacing more and more these days with mobile computing hitting the mainstream and bringing with it the hype around “Augmented Reality”. AR is an emerging technological trend layering perceived reality with networked channels to add, contextualize and augment our bare senses. As with digital media, the prime sense to augment has been first and foremost our sight. But the experience of augmented sight has been mostly underwhelming. It seems we are not that excited about moving in space and having to fixate our view through a 4 inch smartphone screen or even through a retina display tablet. And so, even though we’re seeing a lot of development in this field in recent years, we are yet to see an audio-visual augmented reality experience dramatically augmenting our lives.

But visuals are not the only expressive medium to undergo a revolution with the rewiring of the media space. Sound has been a huge part of the equation. Networked audio has brought the recording industry to its knees and have developed new media topologies in the forms of the iTunes store, streaming radio, Podcasting and Skype. Yet, I would argue we’ve only been scratching the surface. The potential of networked audio is still largely untapped. With sight being the most primary sense, it is understandable that when attempting to augment reality we would first turn to visuals. But when it comes to the production and dissemination of culture, sound has actually been networking for much longer and much stronger than images. After more than 100,000 years we are wired to communicate through vocal language. Oral culture has helped frame the human experience much before the invention of writing and in a much wider scope than image making. Possibly more than anything, sound is spatial, it surrounds us, it does not ask us to be its spectators, it simply absorbs us within it.

Sound is tied to location, many of us have probably experienced the phenomenon of audio/spatial Synesthesia. This is a strange experience of our brain pairing different senses together. For example, walking in a certain street, listening to a certain song can pair that song with the spatial experience of walking in that street. Listening to that song could bring up memories of that street. And vice versa, walking in that street can bring up an imaginary soundtrack in our heads, playing the memory of the song to augment our spatial experience. That is the experience I first felt when we started running the You Are Not Here project (youarenothere.org).

The streets of Tel Aviv showing through the two sided dislocative tourism map of Gaza
The streets of Tel Aviv showing through the two sided dislocative tourism map of Gaza

In the summer of 2006 I was a part of a group who designed You Are Not Here, “a dislocative tourism agency”. YANH meta-tourists used a two sided map and a telephony system to explore Baghdad walking through the streets of New York and later to explore Gaza walking through the streets of Tel Aviv. The map overlaid the paired cities encouraging the participants to for example, navigate the Baghdad/NYC map to the West Village to “visit” the Baghdad Zoo. The remote location was explored through audio tours, augmenting the city you’re in with the narrative, the audio and the (imagined) spatial experience of the remote place. Years after I could still find my way around Baghdad, walking in the streets of Williamsburg. New York has become a platform for stories of a place far away and it was that very audio-spatial experience that made the stories stick.

It is audio, not images that are a perfect fit for what could be a networked experience with a true potential to augment reality. YANH was an early experiment, back in 2006 it was using a printed map, a telephony system and stickers in the streets. Today, audio spatial experiences can be self-contained within mobile applications, taking advantage of digital mapping, audio streaming and geolocation technologies.

These days, podcasts are becoming more popular and the audiobook medium is on the rise. We’re getting more comfortable with customizing our audio fix to our current preference, we might also enjoy customizing it to our current location.

Beyond an invitation to explore this emerging creative opportunity, I would argue that when exploring the new networked media possibilities digital storytellers have mostly been looking under the streetlight. We’ve been networking the written word, networking the moving image, networking the audio recording, but each medium has for the most part been maintaining its original dynamics and characteristics. It is the merging of different media that is truly worthy of the problematic title “New Media”. Audio-spatial is a new networked approach that is based on the much older networks of oral culture and on the origins of storytelling. If you’re looking to augment reality, you might want to start there.

Janet Cardiff / FOREST WALK, 1991
Janet Cardiff / FOREST WALK, 1991