Out of Control

Ars Electronica Center

A clash over the possession and dissemination of personal data is now raging worldwide. Politicians and bureaucrats, corporate executives and civil rights activists—it seems they’re all squabbling about who may, should or must know what about us and retain it how long! And regardless of who finally prevails in this skirmish, the victory comes with a short expiration date. Why? Because the internet and the services that make it up are changing so rapidly that we users and our elected officials can hardly keep pace. Social networks like Facebook, search engines like Google and all the rest—they know so much about us it’s scary! From the moment we get logged into our Google account, our online activities are comprehensively registered—what we buy, the vacations we book, which songs, films and books we like, the videos we view. Thus, because it’s completely automatic, it’s a simple matter for Google to figure out if we’re single or have a family, what income bracket we’re in, what we devote most of our energies to and what our sexual preferences are. And Facebook already has its feelers stretched out far beyond its home turf. There are more and more websites we can log on to with our Facebook profile, and, sure, that’s really convenient, but it also gives a growing number of services the ability to gain access to the data that we’ve—voluntarily—revealed on Facebook. Whereby “voluntarily” is true only to a certain extent here, since in many cases all that’s necessary is for our Facebook friends to register on a particular website.

*Out of Control – What the Internet Knows about You*, the Ars Electronica Center’s new exhibition produced jointly with the Department of Secure Information Systems at the Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences’ Hagenberg Campus, scrutinizes the constantly shifting border between the public and private spheres, and the opportunities and risks this entails for us users. It shows, what the Internet knows about you and demonstrates, how Google and Facebook gather information about us and what that really means. At various stations people can test how easy it is to fake information or news on the Internet – or how quickly you can end up in an Internet Dating Service. Visitors will also learn how to protect their privacy on the net.