Privacy Lost: Owning Our Data In Digital Culture
A Game-Based Multimedia Research Thesis
Process Documentation Video
Every time you send a text, read an email, open Facebook, or make an online purchase, you must consider who else might have access to your personal information. Often, the answer is quite alarming.
Online privacy and digital surveillance are frequently-discussed, news-worthy, front-page topics. However, the issues are typically presented and viewed in the context of legal battles, tracking policies or government whistle blowing, while the real concerns about personal privacy and data protection are underplayed or ignored. Unfortunately, amidst the confusion surrounding the critical questions about ethics and encryption, a sense of general immediacy or terror is lost or sacrificed, even when, as average web users, we are the unwitting but participatory victims of data collection.
Personal privacy and security are the critical topics discussed in Privacy Lost: Owning Our Data in Digital Culture, which employs “gamification" to cut through the layers of technical detail and legal obfuscation to focus on the basic human stories and values that are threatened by our routine surrender of data. Private Affairs and LOVEINT are two original games that place you, the player, in the role of an empowered, greedy, data mogul or an NSA Analyst. Gameplay elements put real life personal secrets at stake, and prompt us to question just how much our data are worth, as our privacy is increasingly commodified by corporations and governments.
Privacy, the protection of our personal and sometimes secret relationships, communications and behaviors is the most intimate right we possess. I hope that my games help people move beyond surface level conversations to critically engage with a challenging but essential topic - How much are your data worth?
LOVEINT: A Game of Love and Intel
Privacy Lost, my ongoing undergraduate research project, explores the meaning, history and status of digital privacy and online surveillance. These topics frame familiar headlines, legal battles, legislative debates and portentous technical considerations and decision-making. Lost in the fog of questions and concerns about ethics and encryption, is a sense of immediacy for the web user, who is the unwitting but often willing and participatory victim of digital tracking and personal data collection. Privacy, the protection of our personal and sometimes secret relationships, communications and behaviors is quite possibly the most intimate right we possess. However, at present, an understanding of our online vulnerability requires an esoteric knowledge of public key cartography, obscure intelligence databases and complex rapidly-changing legal precedents. My goal is to make these subjects accessible, relevant and meaningful to the general population. To that end, I have chosen “gamification" to present privacy issues as interactive and educational experiences, in order to cut through the layers of technical detail and legal obfuscation, while focusing instead on the basic human stories and values which are threatened by our routine surrender of data. The games attempt to invert the privacy dialogue by assigning the average player the role of an empowered, though greedy, data mogul or an NSA Analyst. Gameplay elements put real life personal secrets at stake, prompt the players to question just how much our data are worth and confront the ethical issues imposed by the increasing commoditization of our privacy.
How a Web Beacon Beacon Tracks You: Visualization of a custom Tracking Pixel that extracts information from an internet-device, parses data through third party APIs and stores record on an external database.
During the last year of researching and studying privacy and surveillance issues, I have read, tracked and codified an extensive body of research material, with my working bibliography currently at 99 sources. As part of this effort, I have examined the looming CISA legislation, studied an official NSA Xkeyscore training manual, read from the blog of the NSA’s self-proclaimed “Surveillance Socrates” and have followed Edward Snowden on twitter. The research has been extensive and compelling, and my fascination with and knowledge of the topic has grown and developed. The challenge has been to take all this research and produce a final project to demonstrate and highlight how our personal privacy is routinely compromised, and to offer ideas and suggestions about how to safeguard our data.
Screenshot of PHP Code used to produce the Tracking Beacon Visualized Above
As my research has evolved, I have focused on crucial questions relating to protecting individual privacy, by attempting to understand how privacy can survive while attacked simultaneously by government surveillance and corporate interests. Extremely topical, with all that is currently transpiring internationally, I have considered the relationship between privacy protections and security concerns, and specifically, how we protect individual rights in the face of vocal and sustained cries for increased public monitoring and security. I want to understand and communicate the meaning and value of our personal data, how governments and corporations are collecting and using our information and what we should be doing to protect ourselves against this relentless invasion of our privacy.
Drawing from my research, I have created two interactive projects to explore how privacy shapes our lives. The first, LOVEINT: A Game of Love and Intel, is an internet computer game that I designed to address the subject of government surveillance, and the second, Private Affairs, is a board game that I produced to look at corporate data collection.
Play the games, face issues of privacy, surveillance and learn how to protect your data. Enjoy!