Plutonian Striptease is a series of interviews with experts, owners, users, fans and haters of social media, to map the different views on this topic, outside the existing discussions surrounding privacy.
Marc Garrett is Co-director and co-founder, with artist Ruth Catlow of the Internet arts collectives and communities – furtherfield.org, furthernoise.org, netbehaviour.org, also co-founder and co-curator/director of the gallery space HTTP Gallery in London, UK. Co-curating various contemporary Media Arts exhibitions, projects nationally and internationally.
Net artist, media artist, curator, writer, street artist, activist, educationalist and musician. Emerging in the late 80’s from the streets exploring creativity via agit-art tactics. Using unofficial, experimental platforms such as the streets, pirate radio such as the locally popular ‘Savage Yet Tender’ alternative broadcasting 1980’s group, net broadcasts, BBS systems, performance, intervention, events, pamphlets, warehouses and gallery spaces. In the early nineties, was co-sysop (systems operator) for a while with Heath Bunting on Cybercafe BBS, dedicated to arts, technology and hacking.
Social networks are often in the news, why do you think this is?
I find this quite a complex question. There are a few reasons why social networks are often reported more readily and regularly represented by traditional media news outlets. The main reason can be put down to social media’s popularity in everyday culture, connecting with people’s everyday habits and behaviours through different forms of networked, communication gadgets and tools. The massification of easy interaction, demanding hardly any thought in how to use the technologically, on-line networked and mobile interfaces, makes them perfect conduits for distributed information and communication.
There has been much media noise about activists getting recognition for their causes using social networks.
In June 2009, the Iranian government tried to halt (and succeeded in the end) on-line and off-line dissent, whilst protesters exploited every avenue of communication to get their immediate situations seen by the world outside. Many posted videos taken by mobile phones of the violence taking place, to different social networking platforms such as YouTube. Then traditional news corporations took these videos as part of their news packages and reported on the troubles occurring in Tehran, Iran. The most visited tweets for regular updates was ‘persiankiwi’, whose tweets were displayed on the official website of Mirhossein Mousavi, the former prime minister who declared that his election victory had been stolen from him. “we must go – dont know when we can get Internet – they take 1 of us, they will torture and get names – now we must move fast”, was one of the many comments posted on this Twitter site. Also many images of Iran’s street demonstrations were uploaded to the photographic network of Flickr.
The artist Deena DeNaro, created an interesting ‘short’ video piece in the style of ‘Ad-Busters’ Magazine and ‘the Yes Men’, called ‘Reversing the Wave’. As a critique of Nokia’s decision to offer Iran the technological ability to monitor its own citizens during the protests. DeNaro’s ‘Subvertisement’ film proposes a “Brand Identity Correction” by bringing “Nokia’s brand identity closer in alignment to its actions…”. DeNaro’s piece questions Nokia’s unethical stance placing “profits above privacy and basic human rights.” It was selected for the MoFilm competition for the Cannes Lions TV Advertising Festival 2010, where the brief was to produce an innovative 60 second advertisement for Nokia. In the end, it was withdrawn from the competition.
The powerful human stories told from the streets, governmental and corporate attempts to restrict their freedoms and artists and activists cultural hacks naturally draw attention to these social networks.
In what way do they differ from older forms of communication on the Internet?
With the emergence of what is now called web 2.0 we saw the dying off of user created web-pages and self-built platforms for sharing information and interacting with each other. This led to a simplification and homogenization of interfaces and in turn limited the ways in which people could communicate and collaborate with each other. Instead of creating their own social spaces they played those created by others (most commonly corporations who stand to profit from harvesting their data).
Mobile technologies are now starting to dominate the experience of networked interaction and some fear that the Internet (as an open and free public space) will be left behind. Since the iPhone the consumer class and business class has incorporated as part of their habitual everyday experience, a new form of receiving and sharing information whether it be from their social or business networks or the latest national and international news sources. At the same time information and social interactions are scaled down; more detailed and contextual information is not as accessible within these more limiting interfaces.
Let’s face it, it’s all about business and as we have learned over and over again, this is what really matters over humane, social values. How human content with deeper engagement survives this depends on the imaginations of those out there and how they challenge, critique and develop technologies in the future.
Who is ultimately responsible for what happens to the data you upload to social networks?
Furtherfield has a policy where subscribers/users/collaborators are in total control of their own data, they can delete it all if they wish. We do not own their content – they do.
There are (of course) various issues relating to the uploading of data to social networks. Firstly, communication by everyday people on the Internet with blogs and popular social networks has created a social shift in that there is now less distance between work and leisure. Our sense of privacy is changing fast too. We hear of employers checking up on what their workers are saying about them on-line. I personally know of one individual who was taken to task at an interview because the interviewers noted that they had openly called their x-boss a twat on Facebook. Organizations now ask their workers to act with caution when using these platforms. Reminding them what they say or share about themselves, the company or the people they work with; can have an effect on the reputation of an organization, its public image and status.
There is a danger as people negotiate this change in public/private identity that they will become too self-conscious in sharing their own ideas and life experience. There are serious issues concerning how mentally vapid and shallow our societies will become if everyone self-censors according both to the lowest common denominator of peer-pressure and according to their career orientated sensibilities – some feel that we are already there. Self-censorship happens a lot in specialized and academic fields, and if this behaviour bleeds across into peoples’ everyday lives, it will become even harder for society to develop authentic dialogue and debate around important social and political issues.
Yes I do read them, sometimes. Most of my interaction on-line or when receiving software has a focus usually relating to my practice. There is always an inner dialogue at work asking myself what the compromise is and what I can get out of it, if agreeing with the terms put forward. Many EULA’s are so pretentious and dictatorial when they lay out their specifications, sometimes one feels that they need to be taught a lesson every now and then. It also depends on the context and whether certain EULA’s have been built or discussed, peer-created by a collaborative group or a community in the first place. It would be interesting to see some imaginative productions involving groups actively and imaginatively going against EULA’s, as a critique.
Do you think you’ve got a realistic idea about the quantity of information that is out there about you?
A rough idea.
How do you value your private information now? Do you think anything can happen that will make you value it differently in the future?
This relates to a set of really interesting philosophical questions that arose recently in an interview with Heath Bunting on Furtherfield called ‘The Status Project: Data-Mining Our Identities’. “Way back in 1995, there were already various groups and individuals … who were critiquing human relationships whilst exploiting networked technology. Creative people who were not only hacking technology but also hacking into and around everyday life, expanding their skills by changing the materiality, the physical and immaterial through their practice. It was Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) who in 1995 said “Each one of us has files that rest at the state’s fingertips. Education files, medical files, employment files, financial files, communication files, travel files, and for some, criminal files. Each strand in the trajectory of each person’s life is recorded and maintained. The total collection of records on an individual is his or her data body – a state-and-corporate-controlled doppelganger. What is most unfortunate about this development is that the data body not only claims to have ontological privilege, but actually has it. What your data body says about you is more real than what you say about yourself. The data body is the body by which you are judged in society, and the body which dictates your status in the world. What we are witnessing at this point in time is the triumph of representation over being. The electronic file has conquered self-aware consciousness.”
I have been using the Internet since the mid-nineties, have done and said so much that another identity has fully emerged. A different version of me is out there for all to observe, a ‘data body’. A life which can be observed and studied as being deeply involved in networked art, activism and digital communities. If particular individuals see this information and feel uncomfortable about it due to their own socially constructed and limited, conservative perceptions – that’s their problem, not mine. If it goes against me, so be it.
Heath’s own position on this matter is that “Technology is becoming more advanced and the administration of this technology is becoming more sophisticated and soon, every car in the street will be considered and treated as persons, with human rights. This is not a conspiracy to enslave human beings, it is a result of having to develop usable administration systems for complex relationships. Slaves were not liberated because their owners felt sorry for them, slaves were given more rights as a way to manage them more productively in a more technologically advanced society.”
Perhaps we are willing slaves for data-production.
How do you feel about trading your personal information for on-line services, and what do you think the information gathered is used for?
I always feel uneasy when giving out personal information to on-line services. The fact that content posted by people remains on the servers of Murdoch’s MySpace.com and Facebook.com, even after when one has removed the content, is disturbing. Facebook, MySpace and several other social networking websites send data to advertising companies to find consumers’ names and other personal details.
Berlin’s European privacy regulators recently declared their concerns with Google systematically collecting vast amounts of data about its users and their on-line habits. Increasing fears that Google could become a threat to consumer privacy. Although I agree with the privacy regulator’s intentions; I do worry that us humans are always termed under the ‘singular’ and limiting category of being ‘consumers’. What about if you are not a consumer, does this make you less valid for civil rights – what if you happen to be a Roma?
Anyway, this data-munching by corporations is the tip of the iceberg. A UK site I have been visiting recently called TH!NK PRIVACY, offers free down-loadable materials for individuals and organizations so that they understand the issues around such mass collection of our data more, and what to do about it. I have issues about the site, but it’s a start, “data protection and electronic communications to freedom of information and environmental regulations … independent public body set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.”
Have you ever been in a situation where sharing information on-line made you uncomfortable? If so, can you describe the situation?
Whether it is on Facebook or any other social network. I am always suspicious when asked to give details about my age or if I am married or not, and religious or political views. Not because I am worried with what they will do to me personally, but because it is none of their business.
Ironically, most of my real objections have been with situations where I have not been allowed to share relevant information on public platforms. I remember putting up information linking to some of my own earlier works of net art made from 95-96, on Wikipedia. And a certain individual kept deleting my details from the media art and net.art history section. In the end I just gave up. They did not want my information to contradict their more ‘official’, and historically accepted version of net.art. We also had difficulties creating pages about Furtherfield on Wikipedia, which in the end was resolved by various individuals on Furtherfield’s behalf continuously rewriting links and information on there. Because we are from a grass roots background, our information was deemed less valid than someone or a group who was from an institution or a corporate entity, quite frustrating really.
What is the worst case scenario, and what impact would that have on an individual?
The Internet being owned and controlled by corporate interests and the gradual eroding of self-made and community made spaces. A shift from active co-creation of social space to passive consumption of culture. Net Neutrality is under imminent threat.
One case scenario which springs to mind is the equivalent of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. “Kafka thus illustrates a human tendency to submit to authority, even when that authority is dubious. Joseph K. doesn’t question the legitimacy of the case, the courts, or the law system that he has allegedly violated. And it’s important to remember that at no time during the novel does Joseph – or the reader – learn what he is accused of. However, this detail gradually loses importance as the story progresses – a fact that should provoke outrage in both characters and readers, but which ultimately fails to do so.”
For me, it also extends to concerns linking to DNA patenting of life and everything. Fostering biopiracy of indigenous resources, turning life forms into commodities to be used for profit and destroying economic sustainability of developing nations. “We’ve been very concerned about the whole concept that companies can patent life-forms,” says Glenn Wiser of the Center for International Environmental Law. “That’s really troubling, and when it’s done without the informed prior consent of people, it’s much more troubling.”
The world we live in, including ourselves is in danger of becoming nothing more important than data-products. The plants, our land, our food, the air we breath, our ideas, our affections, our (supposed) freedoms, our names, the sky, and of course – everything we are and what we do. It’s all up for grabs…
Nowadays, most of the “reading” of what is written on-line is done by machines. Does this impact your idea of what is anonymity and privacy?
We have had a continuing relationship with machines for a long time now, and they have been extremely useful in offering different possibilities, whether we use them for supporting or killing each other. it’s not machines that worry me. It’s humans, especially those who sacrifice other people’s well being for their own greed and self-interest and imposed lame ideologies.
Can a game raise issues such as on-line privacy? And if so, what would you like to see in such a game?
Yes, I think a game can raise issues about on-line privacy. It would be great to see a game that hacks the very infrastructure of these social networks. Not just a game but an intervention. Not exploiting on-line, everyday users’ activities, but still offering them the choice to be aware of it taking place and if interested, allowed to be a part of it somehow. Imagine a game that in its activity broke down the monetary value of user-based information, giving the data less credibility, changing its ecology. Offering alternative, constructive avenues to move beyond the interface.
Deena DeNaro, Reverse The Wave.
The Status Project: Data-Mining Our Identities, an interview with Heath Bunting.
TH!NK PRIVACY – The Information Commissioner’s Office.
The Trial, by Franz Kafka: Understanding Joseph K.’s Failed Case. Maria Luisa Antonaya.
Lust for Life – ethics of bioprospecting by pharmaceutical companies. Barbara J. Fraser.