Out of Control—What the Web Knows about You

We communicate, we store and read, we watch and listen, we publish and share. Every day, we peer repeatedly into small and large screens, carry a mobile device in our pocket or wear it on our wrist, and use it to get about online. On the go with a smartphone in the bus or streetcar, at the computer in our workplace, in an internet café at the beach, or with our notebook in the privacy of our own home—the net accompanies us through life and effects how we live. And with all of our digital comings and goings, we leave behind traces, whether we do it knowingly or inadvertently.

Regardless of whether we’re engaging in interpersonal communication in social networks, inputting queries into search engines, sending/receiving SMSs and e-mails, checking out websites or uploading photos, displaying a retailer’s loyalty program card or remote-regulating our home heating system, getting hooked up in the internet of things with objects (no matter how unprepossessing) or being filmed by a game console, entering a travel destination or taking our own pulse, stepping onto the scale or keeping count of our paces—we’re surrounded by digital data, and the sources at which these data originate are becoming ever more numerous.

Big Data—huge and complex quantities of information are combed through, analyzed and combined with each other at tremendous speed. Clouds—in enormous server farms, we store our personal data in order to be able to access it from any location. Government agencies, corporations and others insinuate themselves into this surfeit of information—they know what we like, where we’re located, who we are. Surveillance cameras recognize human faces, sensors register our actions, systems crack our passwords in fractions of a second and abduct our digital self.

The internet poses quite a challenge when it comes to protecting every individual’s privacy. The artists whose works are on display in this exhibition aim to make us cognizant of what direction we’re heading in this digital world, and to point out what we perhaps haven’t considered while we’re enjoying the benefits of being linked up in a worldwide network. It’s up to us to see to it that all of this doesn’t get out of control.

An exhibition produced jointly by the Ars Electronica Center and the Department of Secure Information Systems at Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences’ Hagenberg Campus.


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„Can you hear me?“

Edward Snowden’s disclosures shined the spotlight of public attention on, among other locations, Berlin’s federal government district, revealing it to be the site of extremely intense surveillance and espionage by intelligence agencies. So this is precisely where Christoph Wachter and Mathias Jud wanted to set up a temporary installation on the subject of power and powerlessness in the Digital Age.

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For Obscurity Paolo Cirio cloned mug shots of over 15 million U.S. prison inmates from various websites and then disguised the photos. An algorithm systematically scrambled the names, while other appurtenant information such as age, race, location, and charges was kept accurate.

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Loophole for All

by Paolo Cirio
The artist Paolo Cirio thinks that everyone should have the opportunity to take advantage of exactly the same tax reduction strategies that major corporations are exploiting.

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Your Unerasable Text (TIME OUT .01)

A text message is printed and seemingly irretrievably destroyed before the eyes of visitors – but on any digital node, that the message has passed, there was the option to save a copy of it.

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Internet Timeline

An extensive timeline installed in the Ars Electronica Center elaborates on the history and development of the World Wide Web. The graphics range from a depiction of the Unix multiuser operating system developed at Bell Laboratories in 1963 to the revelations by the former CIA staffer Edward Snowden concerning the numerous surveillance programs being conducted by American and British intelligence agencies.

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Europe vs. Facebook

Austrian student Max Schrems is at the center of the “Europe versus Facebook” initiative that formed in August 2011. It demanded, pursuant to the EU’s data protection law, that Facebook reveal all information it had gathered about Max Schrems. A thorough and comprehensive analysis of all the categories in which Facebook stores data about individual users yields an extraordinarily detailed jigsaw puzzle composed of personal information that users willingly input themselves as well as what is gleaned behind the scenes by Facebook on its own.

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face to facebook

by Paolo Cirio, Alessandro Ludovico
Using a home-brew computer program, the artists harvested one million Facebook profiles, filtered them with facial recognition software, and then grouped them according to similarities of the data as well as the faces.

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Malte Spitz is a member of the national committee of Germany’s Green Party and an outspoken opponent of telecommunications data retention. To show how far these legal provisions go to implement the permanent surveillance of respectable citizens not suspected of any crime, he sued to force T-Mobile to release the data about him that it had stored for the period August 2009 to February 2010.

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