Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences

Invisible audiences drive the success and failures of mediated social life. But before we rush to further network our private and public spaces we should consider this radical cultural shift. Some lessons can be learned from a recent ambiguous website and an old ambiguous book.

[Hebrew translation available]

Mushon Zer-Aviv (il) about getting intimate with invisible audiences from transmediale.

work by Liu Bolin

Binary Relationships

The privacy debate has been dominated by the cultural leaders of our time – software engineers. Therefore we should not be surprised that the tones of this debate have been often quite binary. Private or public, 0 or 1, all or nothing… these binary dichotomies make sense for packet switching and network protocols, but they are very different from the way we lead our social lives.

Privacy has become a selfish demand, and publicness—a public good. A public demanding the civil rights of information: “information wants to be free”. But this highly celebrated “free” information does not necessarily stand for “freedom”. Thinking that free information would necessarily lead to free societies is as misguided as the similar sentiment about free markets. Yes, technologically it is easier to set something public, “to set it free”, than to define a more limited context for it. But what does it mean for the way we’ve been communicating and contextualizing social relations since the dawn of civilization?

Continue reading “Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences”

Relationship: It’s Complicated

Ignoring my grandma… friending my enemies… WTF? Is it even reasonable to expect social media to reflect the depth of our social life? And when it fails, what do we stand to lose? (+ tips & hacks)

Facebook, in a rare instance of honesty

I have recently become more interested in the “It’s Complicated” option in Facebook’s relationship status. It has hit me that it might be the most honest aspect of the site’s interface. While every third internet user on earth holds a Facebook* profile, none of the site’s users are getting an adequate representation of their social life. This is not due to some broken code or an untested interaction design. No, it’s actually our fault.

*Facebook, is a great case-study for these questions, but they can be asked about many of the social media tools we use these days (Buzz is definitely also relevant, though we don’t use it).

Why should it be so, hmmm… “complicated”?

Why should it be so complicated? We are already busy defining our social life anyway, we are in fact putting relationships into boxes all the time. Some people we call friends, others we call family, others are our group members, others we might admire and define ourselves as their fans. Many of the people you would like to associate yourself with would probably fall somewhere along these lines. In that sense what’s so wrong about Facebook giving us a tool to manage and present this?

Sign here, here and here, now we’re friends.

The only relationship I have ever signed into an official contract, is the one with my wife, Galia. Many of our friends chose to skip marriage as they didn’t feel a need for a bureaucratic intervention into their personal relationship. Yet the same friends and even non-friends send me contracts every day requesting to officially confirm our relationship. Indeed getting a “friend request” is a very awkward thing. Continue reading “Relationship: It’s Complicated”

#BuzzOff: 10 reasons to turn Google Buzz off

Please RT! (click the image)

On February 9th Google have unvailed Google Buzz, a service that involuntarily transforms every Gmail user’s private contact list into a public social network. While Google has suffered from privacy concerns in the past, Buzz is considered by many angry users to be crossing a line. Many loyal Google users including myself have hence chosen to disable the service. I present a list of reasons why you and your contact list should do that too.

1. Choice: We never asked for it

First and foremost we have never asked for Buzz, we have never signed an agreement to enable it and we don’t necessarily want it. Even without all of the many other reasons, this should be enough. Many of us are already oversaturated with social media and Buzz just creates more noise. The fact it is coupled with Gmail makes it harder to resist the temptation to waste even more time on depressing filtering of meaningless contextless chatter.

2. Privacy: Our private and public contacts are not the same

An abused women workplace and new partner exposed to her abusive ex; doctors’ confidential client list shared with the world; journalists’ sources automatically revealed; Iranian and Chinese activists networks mapped for their governments to easily track; your own private contacts, private no more. When asked by CNBC if users should trust Google as a friend the company’s CEO Eric Schmidt answered:

“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

I don’t know if this is the excuse he was also making internally at Google in their privacy debates over Buzz which they most certainly have had before giving the green light for this bold move. Schmidt and Google are not vindicated by the fact Facebook has been compromising its own users’ privacy and that its founder Mark Zuckerberg have been making similarly miserable statements. In response to Zuckerberg social media researcher and lead thinker on the issues around the online public/private danah boyd says:

“Privacy isn’t a technological binary that you turn off and on. Privacy is about having control of a situation.It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways.”

The same applies to Google. This time, it was even more “unexpected” as it simply happened.

3. Context: Who you interact with on different services is different for a reason

“By offering social communications, which have primarily been used for entertainment purposes, Buzz would bridge the gap between work and leisure.”
Google co-founder Sergey Brin on Google Buzz, quoted by the New York Times

Why would we want to do that? There are very good reasons for us to keep different contacts on different service. In fact, one of the most often complains people have about Facebook is that its popularity has ruined it. Once both my clients, my students, my colleagues, my kindergarten friends, my boss, my grandma and some hundred other people who claim they know me all “friend” me on Facebook the platform immidiately loses its social context. Would you invite all of your facebook friends to one party? Would you want to tell all of them the same thing in the same way? Yeah… me neither. Now ask yourself the same question about anyone you’ve ever emailed with on Gmail, including all the people you email with and you just can’t stand. E-mail gives us control over the contexts and tones of our different relationships and that’s its key feature. That’s something Buzz is ignoring by turning our email contact list to a social network.

We switch between different social networks all the time, we manage different social graphs (social structures) and manage different aspects of their identities in different ways on any of them. That’s exactly why we develop work relationship around our LinkdIn contacts and leisure relationships around our YouTube contacts. No Sergey, we don’t want you to bridge this for us and I wish I could add “…thanks for asking”, but you didn’t! Continue reading “#BuzzOff: 10 reasons to turn Google Buzz off”

Upgrade NY: We Passion Power and Control

August 06: We Passion Power and Control – the dark desires of art under surveillance

August 24th 7:30pm
540 W. 21st Street, New York, NY 10011

This time the Upgrade event will attempt to take on the dark desires beyond the basic art/privacy/surveillance discourse. Through three projects exercising different modes of surveillance we will discuss artists jealousy of authoritative powers and the desire to posses these powers themselves.

in(security) – 31Down’s Online Surveillance Drama
This is a live online theater piece that uses surveillance cameras as a playing space for actors and audience members as you become part of a security team policing the streets of New York.
devised and developed by: Ryan Holsopple and Mirit Tal.
31 Down

Little Feet
Little Feet Bureau International brings privatization to government surveillance. Four dot-matrix printers comb internet traffic. Upon finding words that threatens a client nation, the machines use the intercepted “evidence” to draft letters accusing and questioning the offenders. Obsessed with uncovering secrets, the final product of the system is a culture of paranoia. As such, the installation stands with one little foot planted in hysterical paranoia and conspiracy theory and the other in denial and the claim “it can’t happen to me”.
Little Feet are: David Nolen, Toshiaki Ozawa and Mushon Zer-Aviv.
Little Feet Bureau International

Generative Social Networking�
Taking advantage of Bluetooth security flaws in cellphones, Generative Social Networking� unlocks the hidden potential of mobile contact lists to automatically connect people. GSN� is an artistic experiment in urban hacking instigated by Christian Croft and Andrew Schneider, a critical media partnership currently researching at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. Continue reading “Upgrade NY: We Passion Power and Control”

My People, Let Pharaoh Go!

Thoughts about opt-in surveillance technologies

Unforgettable Face

I just lately came across this cool website called Riya. Riya is an image search engine that doesn’t only search the data associated with the image, but actually searches the image content itself. Riya recognizes text in the images and through it’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and human faces through it’s impressive face recognition technology. You can train Riya to know that a specific face belongs to a specific name. While image storage and managing services such as Flickr require the user to tag the images with metadata, Riya is smart, it can learn, and it can put a name to a face.

Who is this? Continue reading “My People, Let Pharaoh Go!”

Surveillance & Privacy in art

For my ‘current events’ in privacy & information I have decided to give some examples of new-media artworks / experiments that refer to the subject. This is a choice of some project which will each give its own perspective and hopefully be informative as a ‘what’s being done in the field’ kind of overview. This is of-course a very limited overview, but hopefully you’ll find it useful and inspiring. Continue reading “Surveillance & Privacy in art”