Push­ing the Bound­aries Be­tween the Dig­i­tal Publics and Pri­vates In the City-Sur­veil­lance Ma­trix


Session Title:

  • The Art of Software Cities

Presentation Title:

  • Push­ing the Bound­aries Be­tween the Dig­i­tal Publics and Pri­vates In the City-Sur­veil­lance Ma­trix




  • Panel: The Art of Software Cities

    Dig­i­tal and mo­bile tech­nolo­gies cre­ate a sparkling blan­ket of diodes, sil­i­con and lenses over cities, re­con­fig­ur­ing un­der­stand­ings of both phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal space. While the in­ter­faces of this di­verse set of tech­nolo­gies, from cctv cam­eras to smart phones, are lay­ered with ac­tive-ma­tri­ces that are sen­si­tive to our ac­tions and/or de­sires, they also be­come the entry points into a ma­trix of data­bases that are just as ac­tively used to re-or­ga­nize pub­lic and pri­vate life. As Chris­t­ian An­der­sen notes “pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in the city as soft­ware is mostly char­ac­ter­ized by ei­ther sur­veil­lance or con­fig­u­ra­tion”, sug­gest­ing that these con­fig­u­ra­tions can­not be ac­counted for with­out ad­dress­ing the sur­veil­lance as­pects and vice versa. Com­puter sci­en­tists, com­pa­nies and artists have tack­led this un­der­ly­ing city-sur­veil­lance ma­trix in dif­fer­ent ways. The ob­jec­tive of this talk is to ex­plore some of the dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to en­gag­ing or dis­en­gag­ing with this city-sur­veil­lance ma­trix. We will start our in­ves­ti­ga­tion with an analy­sis of the con­struc­tion of the sur­veil­lance and lo­ca­tion pri­vacy prob­lem in com­puter sci­ence. Re­searchers of pri­vacy and sur­veil­lance have dug into meth­ods for mak­ing in­di­vid­ual’s traces in the city in­vis­i­ble or anony­mous in re­sponse to the ma­trix of sur­veil­lance. In doing so, they ren­der the dig­i­tal pub­lic as a risky place full of “pow­er­ful and strate­gic ad­ver­saries”. They put their focus into cre­at­ing an in­vis­i­ble or uniden­ti­fi­able pri­vate space in the pub­lic, imag­ined as some­thing sep­a­rate from the pub­lic that this pri­vate is dis­en­tan­gled from. A sim­i­lar de­sire to cre­ate anonymity or uniden­ti­fi­a­bil­ity is seen in the work called I.-R.A.S.C. of U.R.A./FILOART, an in­fra-red DIY de­vice which pro­tects against in­fra-red cam­eras.

    As the city-sur­veil­lance ma­trix is used more and more by com­pa­nies as a one-to-one rep­re­sen­ta­tion of our ac­tions and de­sires and of mech­a­nisms of dis­ci­pline, these pri­vacy tech­nolo­gies make sense and are in­dis­pens­able. How­ever, as David Phillips un­der­lines, “lo­ca­tion pri­vacy” “may be an in­ad­e­quate frame through which to un­der­stand these is­sues and to fash­ion ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponses.” In­stead, he sees the prob­lem in the cre­ation of a dig­i­tal pub­lic which is dom­i­nated by com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity and gen­eral pri­va­ti­za­tion. The lo­ca­tion pri­vacy ap­proach fa­vors dis­en­gage­ment, leav­ing the pub­lic up for grabs. Here, Michelle Teran’s work ‘Bus­cando al Sr. Good­bar’ pro­vides an al­ter­ana­tive strat­egy to col­lec­tively nar­rate dig­i­tal cities, ques­tion­ing the use of the city-sur­veil­lance ma­trix to re-cre­ate pri­vate and pub­lic ab­solutes and to claim that the only pub­lic is the one that is com­mer­cial or pri­va­tized. Fi­nally, we will look at eye’em, a mo­bile ap­pli­ca­tion for bring­ing “to­gether mo­bile pho­tog­ra­phers from all over the world to cre­ate a stream of mu­tual in­spi­ra­tion and cre­ative ex­pres­sion”. We will look at the way in which this ap­pli­ca­tion blurs the lines be­tween the pub­lic and pri­vate. The ap­pli­ca­tion al­lows its com­mu­nity of users to col­lec­tively cre­ate a new se­man­tics, ques­tion­ing our con­cep­tion of an “event” in the city, ex­pand­ing it from its clas­si­cal de­scrip­tion as a cross­ing point of place and time. We will an­a­lyze eye’em’s con­cep­tion of par­tic­i­pa­tion, as well as its re­la­tion to labour and pri­va­ti­za­tion in the city-sur­veil­lance ma­trix.

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