From Berlin to New York, London and San Francisco, the Glass Room, a pop-up store with a twist, is generating a global conversation about data and privacy. To passers-by, it looks like a minimalist, clean-lined store offering the latest, shiny consumer products.
Step inside, and you’ll immerse yourself in a thought-provoking exhibition space, where nothing is actually for sale. Instead, the objects in The Glass Room bring to life the hidden aspects of everyday technologies and give you a deeper understanding of how they change the way we live and the places we live in.
Embedded in our everyday life
As technology reaches a global scale and becomes embedded in every part of our lives and our environments, the Glass Room examines its impacts and helps visitors explore practical solutions to mitigate them.
What goes on behind the screens and inside the black boxes of the devices we interact with everyday? If you knew, would you still sign-in or click ‘I agree’? What is personal data in an age where data is everything but personal? How much trust do users invest in big tech companies, and what can be done if that trust is broken?
In all, there are five different themes: Personal Data (privacy), Invisible Labor (the human and environmental costs of technology), Trust in US (technology companies and accountability), Big Mother (the normalization of surveillance), and Open the Box (personal data journeys).
Food for thought
There’s a lot to see. For example, “Forgot’ your password?” by Aram Bartholl, a series of eight hardbound volumes containing the 4.6 million passwords exposed when LinkedIn got hacked in 2012. Or the not to miss “Notes on an Apology Tour”, a rolodex with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s various apologies, acknowledgements of failure, lessons learned, pledges, statements and promises.
One display examines the true cost of free technology by visualizing how much money Google makes from targeted ads. Another shows what Amazon does to ensure worker productivity in its factories. Prefer something more light-hearted? You’re welcome to put some coins in a vending machine to buy social media likes.
“I don’t see it as criticism,” said Stephanie Hankey, co-curator of the Glass Room in San Francisco. “Most of the companies know this is happening. I see it more as a discussion or debate.”
The around 50 exhibits and artworks on display range from the playful to the thought-provoking and plain terrifying. But fear not, at the end of your visit, you’ll be introduced to a cheeky tool: the Data Detox Kit. This handy eight-step program helps you to take back control of your online data and have a healthier relationship with the businesses running your life. It provides guidance about ways to secure digital data, improve online privacy, and enhance digital well-being in ways that feel right to you.
Furthermore, the Glass Room not only seeks to engage the public who visit and want to know more about the way technology is affecting their lives. It also reaches out to engaged makers, developers, designers, and tech sector workers who are interested in the individual, societal, and political challenges their work presents.
Find a Glass Room near you
The Glass Room is the brainchild of not-for-profit tech organisation Mozilla and the Berlin-based non-profit Tactical Tech. The “pop-up store” comes in various formats, from large-scale exhibitions to a smaller, portable version that can be set up by libraries, schools, festivals and exhibitions around the world. So far the Glass Room has hosted approximately 150 events in over 30 countries and attracted more than 135,000 visitors. Resources are available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.
To find out where the next exhibit will take place, go to theglassroom.org/events/. In the last couple of weeks, there were exhibitions in Poland, The Netherlands, Norway, Costa Rica, Sweden, Estonia, the UK, Germany, Japan and more.