The Obfuscator

Data collection obfuscation device

A design brief that emerged through observation, deployment, and iteration

Time: Spring 2022 // Interactions

Role: Observer, Designer

Tools: Observations, SuperCollider, Raspberry Pi, Book, Blender

Final Prototype

BREIF

This module explores two threads. The first is the use of “technology” to create, foster, enable and facilitate interaction. The second is the exchanges that result from or are instigated by these productions—engagements, happenings, provocations, experiences. These two threads are commingled to offer new models for understanding and more importantly exploring interaction through making/prototyping.

We will consider what “technology” is; explore ideas of prototyping in and with publics; and critically reflect on the resulting implications. Emphasis will be placed on what is being instigated and considered by the design propositions each student puts forward for an individual, community or public to engage with.



PROCESS

Originally, my project started via discussing interesting moments from our weekend. I was at breakfast when someone random engaged with me. I chose to run with this concept to interrogate why / when strangers would be willing to engage.

My initial moment was: “That moment when a person engages with you because of an attention grabbing, out of the ordinary item”

I intervened with this moment by using a device I built for another class to attempt to get others to engage with it through drawing.

Draw on me test

I observed that overwhelmingly, children would be willing to engage with my device while adults would pass by with an untrusting gaze.

kids Coloring

I wanted to interogate this notion of trust further, so I set up another intervention in hopes to gain further insights into this idea of trust.

walk through me step on me

A key takeaway was this lack of clarity as to the underlying motives of the test that would determine whether an individual would engage or not. After discussion with class, we noted an interesting aspect to my project I had not thought about. The intitial object that I put out for my "draw on me" test was secretly a data collection device created for my creative technology class. This notion of unintened data collection started to peak my curiosity to explore in further iterations.

mask1 mask2 mask3

I was initially inspired by readings on methods that have been used to confuse facial recognition devices. I used this to fuel my next experiment in which I went out to a park to request individuals provide data written on a piece of duct tape that can then be placed around my phone to collectively "obfuscate" my device.

tape test

After getting a positive result from this test, I wanted to take this one step further by lowering the friction for engagement. I decided to design a device that would use complicit audio data to help confuse and potentially retrain data collection devices.

obfuscator

I went through various form iterations to get to my final prototype.

mic1 mic2 book1 book2 book3

after adding a few more design moves, I settled on my final prototype to test on which included a custom loop created in SuperCollider that drove a mini speaker hidden within a cut out book.

finalPrototype text

I began deploying and testing to gain further insights. I came up with a video prototype to help articulate my concept in practice.

The intention of my device is to expose methods of data collection by prototyping a device that intentionally collects surrounding data from a compliant community to obfuscate and confuse the system. By doing so, I hope to give individuals a sense of data ownership over their devices

also had some fun making beats with my new looping device :)

My final deployment gave me a few final insights that grounded my project in a potential practical future that might be interesting to explore. For this final iteration, I speculate a case that one could "lock" their device into for a set amount of time that would obfuscate their data collection systems from audio, video, and gps tracking to liberate themselves from the feeling of being watchedm.

future

REFLECTIONS

This was one of the most challenging projects of the year but it also pushed me conceptually in a very positive way. I was forced to embrace the unsettling feeling of the unknown and exploring emerging concepts through observation rather than personal ideation. By the end of this project, I realized that the methodological approach was much more important than the outcome. I was intruiged to explore this concept of data surveillance and obfuscation while embracing the tension that was created with each design move. It was useful to have to defend concepts and find the language and reasoning for each design move. I was also inspired to observe how each one of my classmates tackled this challenging project as well.



Instructor: Elise Co and Sean Donahue