Sideswipes: In Case You Were Wondering - There Is Absolutely A Backlash On Surveillance

What do you get when you cross a few media artists with a researcher, a journalism teacher, and some foundation funding? The answer is Floodwatch, an unbelievably gorgeous data viz take on the ads that show up in your Web browser.  

In case you were wondering -- there is absolutely a backlash on surveillance. Floodwatch is part of it. Only for the time being, the backlash appears to be coming from the tech and cultural elite only, out of places like the Office for Creative Research where Floodwatch was developed.

I'm in league with these folks, so I won't pretend I understand why other people don't have their panties in the twists we have about data gathering. I can only wonder whether folks eating at Chipotle and watching Roman and Vitaly videos even care?

Floodwatch made me wonder who really cares about understanding data gathering. Who really, really cares?



Project co-creator Jer Thorp presents Floodwatch as a tool to help us understand the data that advertisers gather about us on his blog at Medium. The same presentation found its way to Gizmodo, where it got good share of eyeballs yet by the end of the comments section the conversation had devolved from understanding data gathering to fighting about the best anti-ad brands.

Here are two posts from the comments:

"Thanks to incognito mode, and adblock it doesn't say who I really am. WHEW!!!!"

"I use Tor browser with the Ghostery plugin (which blocks a lot more than Adblock)."

Wait. Wasn't Thorpe trying to teach us how to understand the data-gathering process? Yes, in fact, he was.

Floodwatch aims to sideswipe media by creating informed citizens who know how data gathering works. Theoretically, informed citizens can then change their behavior to create safer, less surveillance-prone environments in their lives. Yet this sideswipe is only relevant if people choose to become informed.

If people continue to reach for the closest anti-ad tool the fundamental change in culture that could be created by an informed citizen base is a moot point. So it will be interesting to watch whether the tremendous beauty of Floodwatch engages people in a learning how data gathering works. If Floodwatch succeeds in creating informed citizens, I suspect a lot more regular folks will see why we tech and culture elites have our panties in a twist about this topic.

Doesn't mean they'll join us, of course. But it does mean while they're watching Roman and Vitaly a whole lot more folks will know why a backlash on surveillance is happening.

Floodwatch: A Collective Ad Monitoring Tool for Social Good from Ben Rubin on Vimeo.

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