Your Private Data Isn’t Yours — Maybe It Never Was

A gang of bad-ass cyberfeminists tear into the big question: Is there life after Snowden?

Hakan Tanriverdi
Jan 23, 2015 · 3 min read

By Hakan Tanriverdi

Ever since the NSA and other security services have effectively declared the internet a war zone, some people have been retreating from the digital world to protect their intimate spaces. Addie Wagenknecht, however, didn’t feel like hiding. Instead, the artist-in-residence at the Frank Ratchye Studio for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University invited some of the “baddest-ass ladies” across arts, design, engineering, science, and journalism to explore the role of the arts in the Post Snowden era. They delivered their answer in the form of the 10-part Deep Lab lecture series.

Data scientist Jen Lowe talks about big data colonization and predictive policing. “Don’t ever trust ‘unbiased’ and ‘quantifiable’ together.”

Deep Lab unites some of the most exciting minds in cyberfeminist research. With the web being “largely void of a female presence, save for sexualized images,” as Wagenknecht reminds us, in December she invited nine women to assess privacy, security, and surveillance from their area of expertise. In the resulting talks, the artist Allison Burtch, Runa Sandvik of Tor Project, software developer Harlo Holmes, researcher Ingrid Burrington, visualization designer Maral Pourkazemi, journalist Denise Caruso, curator Lindsay Howard, artist Maddy Varner, data scientist Jen Lowe, and Lorrie Faith Cranor, director of the CyLab Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory, each pick one aspect of technology and dissect it.

Harlo Holmes, director of metadata for the Guardian Project, on “activist metadata” and the open-source analytics platform she built.

Intelligence services, data collectors, and telecoms providers all operate on one assumption: The reach of technology remains invisible precisely because it’s so personal. It’s my internet connection (using communal fiber optic cables), my search inquiry (running via others’s servers), my password (that’s also used by millions of other people).

There are patterns and codes, you just have to recognize them — and Ingrid Burrington, for example, lays out exactly those patterns in her talk. When Lorrie Faith Cranor integrates the world’s most-used passwords into a dress, it’s not only a fashion statement, but a security statement, too. If your password is on a dress, how secure can it be?

“Visibility is a trap,” a sticker by Burrington says — in this case, a trap for intelligence services and those operating in the shadows. But Deep Lab, at least, is good to see.

“How do you see the internet?” Ingrid Burrington on network infrastructure, data center geography, and the field guide to street spray paint markings she’s developed.

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