Your Safe Space
Exploring the relationship between Consumerism and Privacy
By Anusha Menon, Rim Armouch, Taylor Patterson, Shipra Balasubramani
Welcome to your Safe Space!
Consumer behavior has been heavily impacted by auto-generated ad placement based on algorithms that track purchasing behavior
and movement. Most of this type of advertising is subliminal and happens with daily interaction within our personal spaces. While these ads
and their timing can be useful and convenient, they can also become an invasion of privacy.
Our research and design focussed on the following questions :
How do we get an audience to understand just how far these algorithms have reached inside the home and
how do we get them to explore the borderline dangerous relationship between consumerism and privacy?
Related works Research
Inspiration 1: Listening Post, Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin
Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin is an art installation that uses text messages from thousands of live chat rooms and broadcasts them over a collection of 231 small electronic screens which are placed in a grid like manner for display. “The piece is also about surveillance, privacy rights, and data malleability.” (Rondet, 2016). Ben Rubin founded the EAR. Studio back in 1998. He directed the New School in NYC where he was a Professor of Design. Mark Hansen, designer and artist, joined Ben Rubin at EAR in 2007. Both have collaborated and created multiple projects together. (Mark Hansen: Science Museum Group Collection (2022). The complex network connectivity, public display of otherwise private texts and the focus on privacy being invaded makes this installation an accurate supporting project to our installation.
Inspiration 2: Lauren, by Lauren Lee McCarthy
Lauren Lee McCarthy is a well decorated associate professor at UCLA. She’s received grants and residences from several well-known organizations. Lauren is the creator of p5.js and sits on the board of the Processing Foundation making programming more accessible. Lauren’s installation consisted of Lauren becoming an AI, watching over individuals in their private living spaces. Lauren anticipates actions and triggers the AI accordingly. “LAUREN is a meditation on the smart home, the tensions between intimacy vs privacy, convenience vs agency they present, and the role of human labor in the future of automation.” (Lauren Lee McCarthy (2017) LAUREN.)
Lauren triggers interactions from a computer to household items prompting them to do an action based on the individual’s request/ preference. During the process, the line between privacy and convenience is questioned. The ability to connect ‘virtually’ to items in a common space made this project a great source of inspiration to the brief and our concept.
The Historical Context
Advertising started out as one of the lower priorities in a business. It wasn’t until the infomercial days when companies saw revenue sky-rocket that it became a standard/prioritized part of the business. During this time, the ads were in your face and blatant. Over time, the advertising noise was getting too loud and there was a shift to subliminal advertising. As the world became more technologically advanced, subliminal advertising was more undetectable and done through artificial intelligence and tracking. This project highlights the modern-day version of advertising in an exaggerated form to show the impact and potential privacy invasion.
The Socio-cultural Context
Understanding the way in which ads speak to their audience encouraged us to touch on the standard interaction of day-to-day items. The simple act of entering a room, the plant, the magazine and the coffee cup are all part of the socio-cultural norms of today. The incorporation of specific ads in different languages targeted the aspect of Artificial intelligence that is representative of how such platforms present information and collect based on the consumers behavior.
This project is a representation of recurring issues in the context of Sociocultural and technological environments. The concept was developed after an idea dump of trying to determine what we could do to engage customers while indirectly sharing a message about present recurring issues affecting everyday life. How do we create an experience where mundane items are used to represent a significant issue, what kind of issues do we want to highlight, economic, environmental, sociocultural, or technological? These were a few of the questions that came to mind.
Design Considerations & Technical Description
For this project we were inspired by the project Lauren, by Lauren Lee McCarthy. Our main research question revolved around the idea of how technology has become a very important part of every household, and how we as consumers fail to notice the invasion of privacy.
We decided to set up the installation in the DF lounge space, as the scenography is ideal for the typical home environment. We also focussed on identifying the nodes/objects that would seamlessly be placed in the environment, leaving room for the user to survey and interact. While working on the prototypes we felt that not all nodes should be made obvious to the user, rather some were intended to be hidden in the set.
Initially the following objects were intended to be included in the space: Book, Cup, Plant and Phone. While working on the prototypes and during our testing sessions, we realized the challenges that come with using phones as a sensor. Considering time, we decided to reduce the interactions to 3 objects: Book, Cup and Plant.
Video1: Interaction 01.mp4
Video2: Interaction 02 1.mp4
We initially started with creating individual units, and conducted various tests on receiving data from the LDR sensors. As demonstrated in the
fritzing diagram, the LDR values are sent to the WebSocket, and further shared to P5.js that would then trigger the output. Each of the objects are placed over an LDR sensor, so when the object is lifted there is an increase in the LDR reading and that is said to trigger audio visual response on the TV. As the intent was to place some objects at the reach of the user and some hidden in the scene, two objects were placed on the coffee table and one above the bookshelf. This way the user is not tied to one area in the space, creating more scope for movement. We were also able to create interesting interactions for when multiple objects were displaced, creating an overlap and overload of audio visual content.
Installation dimensions: 3m x 3m
Number of participants: Single user
Hardware: 2 x Arduino nano 33IOT (with uploaded code), 5 x LDR Light sensor, 2 x Breadboard, 2 x Laser pointers, Pin plugs, Jumper plugs, Low profile jumper wires, Powerbank
Software: Arduino IDE, C++, P5.js, Glitch(WebSocket)
Set Elements: Coffee cup, Book(Magazine), Plant, Couch, Coffee table, TV, Table lamps(Ambient lighting)
Code Link: https://github.com/anushamenon/Strange-Networks/tree/main
Diagram 1: Sensors to Detect object displacement/ object moved
Diagram 2: To Detect user Entry/ Exit the installation
The set is designed to depict a comforting, homely living space, inviting the viewer to walk in and sit down or interact with the objects. There is a TV, a sofa and a coffee table, along with other smaller items that can be picked up. While there is no movement (through digital visuals or otherwise), gentle music can create a soothing ambience to highlight the concept of it being a “safe space”. The experience begins once the viewer walks through “the door” into the space.
As soon as the viewer walks into the room, they are greeted by a computer generated voice, resembling common AI assistants like Alexa or Siri. If the viewer takes some time to look around the room and doesn’t interact with any objects for approximately 15 seconds, they hear an ad for a “Smart Assistant”, e.g. a Google home, playing over speakers that are not visible in the space.
Upon interacting with any of the objects in the room, the first ad will stop, if it is playing and a new ad for brands relating to the item picked up will play, both on speakers and with visuals on the TV. As the user picks up more items, the resulting ads will overlap over each other, creating an incomprehensible noise to induce discomfort or irritation in the viewer. As the items are set down, the ads will stop – for example, if the viewer is holding both a plant and a coffee cup, both ads will play simultaneously, but if the coffee cup is put back down, the coffee ads will stop, while the plant ads continue to play until the plant is set down. Multiple interactions with the objects can generate a different set of ads each time, as if the digital environment is trying to find the user’s preferred brands within their object of interest.
Finally, when the user exits the space, any ads that are playing will stop and the TV will switch off. A computer generated voice bids the viewer goodbye and wishes them a happy shopping trip as if to encourage them to purchase the products they just saw.
Our larger vision for this project would be to create an immersive installation, where the user is allowed to explore and experience the space. There would be more items to interact with using seamless technology to work as imitation AI and have it learn the behavior and movement of individuals in the space within a certain time period.
The scenography is detailed to replicate that of a typical home environment, with various objects/nodes for the user to interact with. Every time a piece of data is collected from the user, there is an audio visual response to keep the user aware of their actions/movements. Playing with audio, the sound of a bell and tickers, projected on the walls of the room, is aimed to create some tension between the user and technology that surrounds them.
Upon exiting the exhibition, the individual would be faced with how much information was gathered and will be shown how many different platforms their information has been shared and saved to in an effort to clearly display the depth of privacy invasion in the home from AI.
Video: Future Version Video (With sound).mp4
Lauren Lee McCarthy (2017) LAUREN. Available at: https://lauren-mccarthy.com/LAUREN (Accessed: December 4, 2022).
Rondet, B. (2016) The listening post, 21st Century Digital Art. 21st Century Digital Art. Available at: http://www.digiart21.org/art/the-listening-post (Accessed: December 5, 2022).
Mark Hansen: Science Museum Group Collection (2022) Mark Hansen | Science Museum Group. Available at: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/people/cp118841/mark-hansen (Accessed: December 5, 2022).