How to be invisible: designers create anti-surveillance products to protect privacy

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A far cry from the foil hat, that traditional aluminum trademark of conspiracy theorists.

Nowadays, the idea that average citizens need to be protected from Orwellian-style surveillance seems more practical than paranoid, due to Bill C-51, Canada’s broad “anti-terrorism” legislation that allows more personal information to be shared between a list of government departments or the warnings of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who advocates for greater global rights to Protection of private life.

While the concept of blocking unwanted signals – those that transfer data from your phone, including your location, browsing habits, and email history – isn’t really mainstream, product designers have a surprisingly wide range of surveillance (or anti-surveillance) items designed to protect our privacy.

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The trend was perfectly summed up by Ways to be secret, a recent exhibition at Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which ran from April to September. Hosted by Corinna Gardner, the show drew attention to things that both encourage online information sharing (like the selfie stick) and block it (like the Cryptophone 500, a military-grade mobile with the highest security standards on the market – 100,000 of them are in use worldwide).

“Moments of social, economic and political change are articulated through these objects,” says Gardner, curator in the museum’s department of contemporary architecture, design and digital, who attributes the growth of this category to the growing awareness of the “creep” of surveillance.

Take, for example, the Xipiter SyncStop / USB Condom, which appeared in the exhibit: It creates a barrier between a mobile device and an unknown USB port, providing protection against what is colloquially known as “juice-jacking” (or unwanted data transfer) when charging your phone away from home.

The fact that the first version of the USB condom was sold immediately upon its introduction to the market speaks volumes about the public’s appetite for anti-surveillance products, Gardner says.

Another modern example is the OFF Pocket, a phone case that takes a completely off-grid device, making it nowhere to be found. It’s a collaboration of smart-fashion designer Johanna bloomfield and designer of privacy products Adam harvey, whose line of “stealth clothing” includes an anti-drone burqa that protects against thermal surveillance used by military drones.

The OFF Pocket is meant to overlap function and fashion, Harvey told members of the media when he launched the product in 2013. He wanted it to be both “antagonistic to surveillance technology” and “for use. elegant “.

This type of fashion statement is another facet of the surprisingly robust anti-surveillance and wearable tech scene.

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After Facebook introduced facial recognition software in 2013, a design student from Amsterdam Simone C Niquille created Realface Glamoflage, a line of Creepy Camouflage Style T-Shirts that thwart automatic tagging and data analysis. The research department, an international team based in Canada and Germany, have created similar combinations that blur facial recognition.

In 2014, Austrian architecture studio Coop Himmelb (l) au published on Jammer coat: Resembling a shapeless psychedelic sleeping bag, the spotted garment blocks radio waves and tracking devices, ultimately hiding its wearer from Google.

Of course, another way to live in an increasingly guarded world is to simply go offline. And even then, artists and designers play a role, creating spaces that take visitors back to an analog era.

In 2013, advertising agency JWT Amsterdam partnered with Nestlé Kit Kat to design a Free Wi-Fi zone – essentially a park bench that blocks internet signals – to give visitors a break from emails, Facebook updates, hashtags, and double clicks.

Australian design collective Brothers and sisters created a similar facility in 2014. Called ON / OFF, it took the form of a mesh box that blocked electromagnetic signals and WiFi to act as the “ultimate disconnect space”.

At SXSW 2013, one of the world’s largest interactive festivals, stationery Domtar Corp. provided a “paper hot spot“for” paper devices only, please “- providing users with chairs, books, art supplies and notepads.

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And in 2014, artist Julien Thomas joined forces with HCMA Architecture + Design in Vancouver to create Cafe Faraday, a temporary cafe that actively repelled wireless signals, creating a black hole that made phones unusable.

What’s interesting about this alternative digital technology is that its innovations are driven by a form of nostalgia for a while before ubiquitous wireless coverage and multitasking devices take hold.

Some of these new devices offer what Gardner calls “undoing”: a design that returns a product to its original traditional purpose.

The “dumbphone” is a perfect example. British designer Jasper Morrison recently launched the phone in collaboration with the Swiss technology company Punkt. The stripped mobile handset makes calls and accepts voicemail. That’s it.

“It’s a liberating device that removes unnecessary distractions and gets back to the basics of communication,” said Petter Neby, founder and CEO of Punkt.

The same goes for the Twen 180 electronic typewriter, another traditional device that is getting a new lease of life, according to Gardner. She heard that the device, originally designed by Triumph-Adler in 1989, was purchased in large numbers by the Russian Federal Guard in 2013 to “expand the practice of creating paper documents.” Digital files are apparently too easily disclosed.

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A security specialist, who didn’t want his name used because of his job, says people forget that surveillance has always existed. For example, before the Internet, the police used to subpoena individual library files to obtain information about their criminal.

It’s just that the public is more aware of it now: We are seeing the immediate fruits of the follow-up efforts around us, whether it’s the weirdly personalized ads on Facebook or the fallout from the Ashley Madison hack.

What has changed, however, is the technology – and our attitudes.

A few weeks ago, Snowden himself eventually joined Twitter, where he acknowledged a change in the conversation over privacy and surveillance issues. “We changed our whole culture”, Snowden noted.

“We can discuss things now that five years ago … would have labeled you as a conspiracy theorist.” “

The former NSA contractor was share simple safety tips with his supporters. So far, he recommends pragmatic basics like strong passwords rather than locking himself into wireless technology.

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Then again, he predicts that this is just the beginning – touching the fears that are sure to occupy product designers.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story indicated that artist Julien Thomas had teamed up with Hughes Condon Marler Architects in Vancouver. The company changed its name to HCMA Architecture + Design.



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