Sophie Calle is a French artist who often blurs the lines between life and her art. In 1979, she took a job as hotel cleaning staff to photograph guests’ rooms without their permission. Those photos were later on display in the Guggenheim Museum.
What if Calle knew how to code, and take advantage of our personal data to create an even more personalized, privacy-intrusive form of art? That’s something CyLab’s Maggie Oates has been exploring.
Oates presented on the subject in her talk, “Privacy in the Arts: A Case Study of A Theater Company,” at last week’s USENIX Conference on Privacy Engineering Practice and Respect (PEPR) in Santa Clara, Calif.
“With the passing of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we heard some people saying that it would be really hard on small businesses,” says Oates, a Societal Computing Ph.D. student. “But I think the GDPR had an interesting side effect of forcing a lot of small organizations, including arts organizations, to talk about privacy, maybe for the first time ever.”
With the passing of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we heard some people saying that it would be really hard on small businesses.Maggie Oates, Ph.D. student, Societal Computing
In her talk, Oates focused on the tensions between privacy frameworks and the arts. For example, privacy frameworks aim to promote psychological comfort by design, while art might aim to disrupt psychological comfort by design. Privacy frameworks include informed consent and respect for social norms, but art thrives on surprise and shock value and disrupts social norms.
“We need people to be thinking about how to balance these tensions and adapt privacy methodologies to fit these contexts,” Oates says.
We need people to be thinking about how to balance these tensions and adapt privacy methodologies to fit these contexts.Maggie Oates, Ph.D. student, Societal Computing
Oates and a few others in CyLab have been working with Bricolage Production Co., a Pittsburgh-based organization that specializes in experimental and immersive experiences, to put together a play that looks at emerging technologies and how people feel about them. The show is set in the R&D lab of an innovative tech giant that is launching a groundbreaking AI product and explores themes related to ethics, security, and privacy.
“Project Amelia,” as the production is titled, was written by CyLab’s Michael Skirpan, a special faculty in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Philosophy. Bricolage will produce the play in partnership with Probable Models, a consulting company with the tagline, “Making ethical futures more probable.”
“It’s an on-going project, but my goal is to better understand how arts organizations make decisions around data privacy and ethics,” says Oates.
Oates will also be interviewing show attendees after the show to gauge what they learned.
To protect the secrecy of Bricolage’s plan for the show, little has been revealed about the show’s plot. But what we do know is that the production team will be collecting personal information from consenting attendees about their life to help shape the show’s storyline.
Information sharing isn’t required, though, says Oates, and providing that privacy choice was very intentional.
“Bricolage likes to say you shouldn’t come to their events with any expectations, but you should also know that the production team likes to both challenge people while keeping them safe,” Oates says. “It will be an adventure.”
The show opens Sept. 20 in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood.
A few others in CyLab have been involved in guiding the production of the play, including CyLab director Lorrie Cranor, CERT’s associate director of Cyber Assurance Rob Cunningham, and associate teaching professor of architecture Daragh Byrne.