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Collective Obscura as a response to the
post-covid era of surveillance



April 29, 2020


We developed our project Collective Obscura to contribute to a widening conversation about the ubiquity of surveillance and biometric systems. Our goal is to explore affordable and accessible ways to empower people to subvert technologies of capture in their everyday lives. The fight for privacy remains important to us, especially now amidst a global pandemic. The emergency catalyzed by the COVID-19 virus has intensified pre-existing social problems and revealed widespread parities in access to basic needs. Marginalized communities have been made more vulnerable to illness, food and housing insecurity, as well as policing and surveillance. It is during times of heightened crisis that we must be particularly vigilant against the privatization of public safety. These moments are often leveraged by large corporations to extend their power and reach under the veneer of necessity and service.

Across the globe, technology companies are racing to adapt existing surveillance systems and devices to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. In Russia, facial recognition systems have been deployed to track individuals who violate shelter-in-place orders. Here in the U.S., tech giants Google and Apple announced that the companies would collaborate on a tool that uses Bluetooth technology to notify smartphone users when they have been in contact with or proximate to an affected person. Various tracking mechanisms have been utilized throughout Asia in countries such as China, Singapore, and South Korea. All these practices exemplify what Shoshana Zuboff refers to as surveillance capitalism.

Zuboff writes that “[s]urveillance capitalism unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data” (p. 8). While some of this collected information is used for the improvement of products and services, a portion of the data is “declared as a proprietary behavioral surplus” to be extrapolated and traded in the marketplace (ibid, original emphasis). In other words, contemporary practices of widespread data collection extract valuable information from our everyday choices and experiences to ultimately predict and coerce behavior. So while companies purport themselves to be designing technical strategies to curb the virus, it is important to consider what the unintended consequences of such approaches are and how the perfect location tracking of the world’s population will impact our right to privacy.

To put it more clearly, technologies of surveillance—and the data they capture— that are being considered as useful tools during our global emergency (e.g. facial recognition software that detects people who violate self-quarantine orders) might be put to different and extensive uses beyond the pandemic.

We must continue to demand technology that protects privacy, security, and democracy rather than undermine them. The response to an unprecedented global pandemic should not be an intensification of surveillance, policing and infringement of privacy but access to affordable healthcare, food, and housing for all.


Fast Company Selects Collective Obscura
as a 2020 World Changing Company Finalist






April 28, 2020

With over 3,000 entries to their World Changing Ideas Awards competition this year, Fast Company magazine has recognized "Collective Obscura" as a 2020 World Changing Idea of the Year finalist.


Now in its fourth year, Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas awards honor products, concepts, companies, policies, and designs that are pursuing innovation for the good of society and the planet. Categories range from Advertising to Food, Health and Wellness, to Social Justice and Energy.


Projects in any category, created by undergraduate or graduate students. Read about the winner: a redesigned rape kit that aims to empower assault survivors.


FINALISTS


Aicatcher, Deepak Mallya
Bootcamps for Change, Katie Heggtveit
Collective Obscura, Eleni Oikonomaki, Bryan Truitt, Rashad Timmons, and Lian Song
Cress Health, Michael Lai and Justin Kim
Durex: Hiding in Plain Sight, Matias Chiquis, Tuhin Phari, and Leonardo Fonseca
Equity for Artists, Amy Whitaker
Farror, Yumeng Ji, Andrea Kang, and Ke Hu
Form, Rachel Balma
Geoidentity, Giorgia Malandrino
Kiri, Nick Porfilio and Jacob Starley
M-Hair, Augmented Human Lab, University of Auckland
Oasis, Jay Jones
OceanCloud, Alice Sueko Müller
Pluto, Maxine Anderson, Michael Ioffe, Ryan Laverty, and Joseph Passanante


HONORABLE MENTION


Animo, Sebastian Hunkeler
Blind Maps, Mriga Suchdeva and Saloni Mittal
Mercury OS, Jason Yuan and Dennis Jin
Museum of Tomorrow, Jessica Ho and Kejian Zhao
okaTrack, Christy Zhang, Hanna Lauterbach, and Chris Spaulding
Out of the Box, Yu Qian Ang and Klo’e Yim Chew Ng
Panic Aid, Hatem El Akad, Refaat Rico, Ahmed Radwan, and Abdo Soliman
Prospero, Samantha Chan, Suranga Nanayakkara, and Haimo Zhang
Tradicion Peruana Peruvian Hot Sauce, Antoinette Munoz and Brett Addington




Collective Obscura at Shenzhen Biennale







December 13, 2019

Collective Obscura was chosen to be exhibited in the "Eyes of the City" section, curated by MIT professor Carlo Ratti (Chief Curator), Politecnico di Torino and SCUT (Academic Curators).  Learn more here!

Watch here the project included in the video of the world’s most attended architecture exhibition, opening in December 2019 in Shenzhen, China that prompts a critical reflection on how digital technologies are impacting urban life.