Experiencing to ‘become data yourself’ in the Mirror Roo


Door Noor Boonen
Leestijd ± 3 minuten

Eindhoven wants to become a smart society. But how does that work? What’s going on in a society like that? Are there any good examples to learn from? DATAstudio explores the transition a city has to go through to actually become such a smart society. Each week, we present a new contribution on E52. This week: the Data Mirror Room. Read all the articles here.

Every day, you consciously and unconsciously expose data about yourself. This data can be made public unsolicitedly. And as if that idea isn’t scary enough, you can also experience it yourself in the We Are Data Mirror Room. There where, in contrast to reality, you get the chance to delete the data that is being collected about you personally.

“You’re a little tense”, says a woman’s voice after she summed up your gender, age, height and weight. You’re standing alone in a dark square room of which the walls consist of large mirrors. There where for six minutes you’re bombarded with all sorts of images and sounds which can be heard far from the ‘container’, you are confronted with your fears.

 

“Je bent een beetje gespannen”, zegt een vrouwenstem nadat ze je geslacht, leeftijd, lengte en gewicht heeft opgesomd. Je staat alleen in een donkere vierkante kamer waarvan de muren bestaan uit grote spiegels. Daar waar je zes minuten lang wordt gebombardeerd met allerlei beelden en geluiden die ver buiten de ‘container’ al te horen zijn, word je geconfronteerd met jouw angsten.

“We want to let visitors experience what the importance is of privacy on personal data. For that we use techniques that are actually being used, like at Schiphol and in shopping malls.”
Tijl Akkermans —
We Are Data Mirror Room

From walls slowly coming towards you to drowning, and then suddenly you’re in a car and you have been involved in a car accident. Although that last one seemed more like a video game. To make everything more realistic during the scenes, you constantly hear a heartbeat and a tense breathing, which should symbolize yours. You’re ‘being watched’ at every scene and the installation is trying to read your face to see whether something makes you scared or happy. That is being done with a FaceReader. With this camera technique, the system can read and recognize facial expressions.

 

Finally, the collected data about you is presented on the big screen. Somewhat astonished, you look at what they found out about you. “What you do, who you are, it’s all data. But where lies your boundary? Which data are and which data aren’t you willing to give up”, you hear in the room. At that moment you get the opportunity to delete that data. After that, you’re reminded of the fact that that opportunity isn’t there outside the room. Once outside, you sum up everything for yourself. A lot of data, also about you, is being collected and used, which you can’t nuance. All that data is then presented as the truth. And this awareness is precisely the purpose of this traveling installation.

 

“We want to let visitors experience what the importance is of privacy on personal data. For that we use techniques that are being used at Schiphol and in shopping malls”, says Tijl Akkermans, one of the creators. If you choose to publish it, your personal data is placed on the website. “We don’t do a lot with the data yet, but it goes into a database with which we can measure the averages. We eventually do want to work with the data in collaboration with Fontys and other organizations to see if we can make connections.”

Data can be great for companies and authorities, but it may be detrimental to citizens. At least, that becomes clear during the personal confrontation in the Mirror Room. The installation has De Effenaar as a basis and will be traveling around in the Netherlands until the end of this year. The project is co-supported by Fontys Hogeschool ICT, Baltan Labs, and VPRO Medialab.