by Davis Erin Anderson
A series of exhibits called Privacy in Public opened across New York City libraries last Saturday. This exhibit examines our relationship with data, privacy, security, and the ways in which we give — or don’t give — consent for our personal data to be harvested as we go about our day-to-day business.
Much like the internet itself, the exhibit is decentralized. Through the NYC Digital Safety project, we collaborated closely with nine public libraries. Each of library is hosting work by one resident artist. This fruitful collaboration resulted in artworks that are attuned to the communities who view their local library as a resource for all sorts of issues — personal data privacy included.
Privacy in Public is unified by a guidebook designed by Ingrid Burrington. Only 1,000 copies of the guidebook exist, making each one a rare object. Visit any one of these artworks soon to obtain your copy.
Alejandra Delfin at Queens Central Library
On display at Queens Central Library, Alejandra Delfin’s Some Important Reminders While Surfing the Web consists of four panels. These panels depict tactics and tools for personal cybersecurity, from the importance of strong password usage and encrypted communications, to online privacy and identity.
American Artist at Flatbush Library
At Flatbush Library, American Artist’s Faraday Study is a small, free-standing “room” that visitors can use to read, study, and plan — without access to cell service or WiFi signal. The room uses a signal-blocking fabric associated with survivalist practices of eliminating radio waves or protection from lightning strikes. While we find more innovative ways to maintain privacy in digital space, the only way to truly find privacy is through escape.
Annabel Daou at Long Island City Library
Annabel Daou’s Password, now on display at Long Island City Library, consists of a collated collection of responses from visitors to the library who were asked to anonymously divulge the strategies they use to create private and memorable passwords for their personal online accounts. In sharing these strategies, visitors offer something personal to other library visitors, while contributing to a text that oscillates between singular and shared experiences. Printed on silk, a material associated with intimacy, the work suggests that secrets and hidden truths reside within the public institutional space of the library.
Mimi Onuoha at Gravesend Library
The Protest We Never Had by Mimi Onuoha and hosted at Gravesend Library begins from the premise that by using surveillance infrastructure to profit off of consumers’ data, tech companies like Google and Facebook have quietly committed some of the greatest acts of digital dispossession of our time. Because these acts unfolded slowly over time and under the hood of popular sites, they have never warranted a full-scale protest from the public. The Protest We Never Had is a series of protest signs designed for this exact purpose: rallying against the structural digital order of our day. The signs may be used and taken by community members in pursuit of this aim.
Salome Asega at Ryder Library
Salome Asega’s Radical Reading is hosted by Ryder Library. Radical Reading is a video series for young adults and parents to learn about the historical continuum of surveillance in a fun way. Drawing on early public-access edutainment like The Magic School Bus, Radical Reading embeds video shorts in books by authors who approach surveillance studies in intersectional theory. From settler colonialism to current bureaucratic structures, Radical Reading tackles multiple frameworks for understanding the oppressive surveillance state.
Sam Lavigne at Mill Basin Library
In Sam Lavigne’s Verified Purchases, a computer program searches Amazon.com for a sample of books in Mill Basin Library’s collection as of November 15, 2018. The software compiles lists of who purchased each book and all the other products they have bought on Amazon. These lists of “related purchases” are then printed on small cards and placed into books in the library’s collection, revealing the scope of knowledge that Amazon has about its customers.
Taeyoon Choi at Heiskell Library
Taeyoon Choi’s partnership with The Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library will include a series of workshops for community members.
Tega Brain at Bushwick Library
Bushwick Analytica is a series of workshops hosted by Tega Brain that invites participants to engage with the internet as advertisers rather than users. Held at Bushwick Public Library, participants will select people they want to target and be guided to develop campaigns to serve to them on common internet platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The workshop will overview some of the ways that data is collected and used to categorize us online. The advertising campaigns will be on display in the library.
Toisha Tucker at Leonard Library
Social media platforms are the first choice for sharing our lives and connecting with friends, family, and our nuclear communities. Those small communities, however, aren’t the only ones seeing our posts; corporations, governments and the larger internet community see them too. Toisha Tucker’s the public is private features a scrolling marquee that displays the text of a curated selection of posts intended for smaller nuclear communities. The marquee shares posts that are geolocated at Leonard Library or that use the hashtag #atreegrowinsinbrooklyn.