Are you someone that blindly hits “I Agree” on the terms and conditions of apps? Or perhaps you get annoyed—and slightly creeped out—by those advertisements that follow you online? Did you know last May San Francisco was the first city in the US to ban the use of facial recognition technology by police and municipal agencies?
As a Faculty Fellow at Singularity University, I’ve spent time this year exploring the digital underbelly of the data economy and the growing power of the tech industry. Never before have there been private companies—let alone governments—that can shift the collective consciousness of billions across geographic boundaries with a tweak in an algorithm or the design of a product. And much of the fuel of this algorithmic decision making is based on data. And as Tactical Tech, a non-profit from Berlin, says “not just any data, but our data.”Even just two years ago, I found myself enthusiastically installing smart speakers in my home and playing around with the latest facial recognition apps on my phone—but I’ve felt a shift in myself which I believe extends to tech users and consumers in general. Do we trust these private companies with our intimate personal lives? I think asking this question is more important than ever.Exponentially enabled technologies are capturing increasingly more data about our behaviors and habits, allowing them to make judgments about us that impact the information we see, advertisements we get pushed, and what prices we pay. As these technologies become a part of our personal lives—in our pockets, our homes, and soon in our heads—it’s worth remembering that those behind these technologies tend to be for-profit enterprises that don’t have a fiduciary duty to prioritize our best interests.For these reasons and plenty of others, SU is currently hosting the Glass Room Experience, an interactive data and privacy exhibit created by the Berlin-based nonprofit Tactical Tech. The exhibit explores important and sticky issues related to the exponential rise of data, algorithmic impacts of technologies like facial recognition, and the growing influence of tech companies that build our products and shape the lives of billions.
I brought the Tactical Tech exhibit to SU because it poses thought-provoking questions related to our digital and physical wellbeing in our ever-connected world. Detox Your Data has an 8-day digital privacy guide providing digital wellness for you and your devices. See Google in a new light with The Empire, a visualization of hundreds of acquisitions and investments in the Alphabet Empire. Play Fake or Real, an interactive app that helps you see how smart you are in a world of smart devices. Explore The Internet You Don’t See to learn what’s really happening behind the screen. It’s a compelling collection with still other pieces that explore our relationship with data-driven technologies.
The Glass Room Experience will be hosted at Singularity until the end of the year on the main floor of SU’s new headquarters in Santa Clara. If you are in the Bay Area and want to take a deeper look into your digital life, Tactical Tech &Mozilla are currently hosting a large-scale San Francisco Glass Room Editionpop-up store with a twist between October 16th and November 3rd, 2019. This is an expanded eye-opening experience set in a 28,000 square-foot former retail store intended to better equip viewers to make informed choices about technology.Finally, if you are a research group, non-profit, or artist that has an exhibit idea that is aligned with our mission, please submit your concept here for an opportunity to showcase your work in our main campus. At SU, we aim to not only empower participants, but also amplify the greater community doing research, advocacy, or building ventures that help address our world’s global grand challenges. It is my hope that together we can question our mindsets and beliefs about how technology is shaping the world so we can focus our energies in an intentional way.