Having explored the foundations of my enquiry into privacy through my video installation, I decided to look at the ways in which we as a society would respond to state surveillance and mass data retention in the future. Inspired by Darren Cullen’s ‘Pocket Money Loans’ exhibited at Banksy’s dismaland, I created fake adverts from the 4 largest internet providers in the UK: Virgin Media; TalkTalk; PlusNet and BT. Through reading articles addressing the importance of privacy (e.g. Anon HQ, The Times and The Guardian) and listening to panel discussions focussing on the same issues, namely the University of Arizona’s ‘A Conversation on Privacy’ featuring Noam Chomsky, Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, I decided to focus on the ways in which companies would exploit their customers’ desire for privacy in a fictional dystopian future. In this future, privacy is advertised as an add-on to existing internet subscriptions and is offered in package and bundle deals. This dystopia that the posters reflect is something that is becoming increasingly less fictional and more of a reality, specifically in the UK.
In the UK, the secretary of state Theresa May is attempting to pass a new Investigatory Powers Bill that would essentially rid all British citizens of the right to privacy and security on the internet. Internet providers would be required to maintain user's browser history for 12 months amongst other things. In light of these revelations, it seems privacy will no longer be a basic human right, but an add-on option to our internet services (as stated). In my mind, companies will exploit the public's fear of being watched and will offer "Privacy packages" for an additional fee. In this dystopian world, the poor will be have no right to privacy and the rich will live a lie, existing under the impression that they have more privacy when in actual fact they have as few liberties as the poor they mock. Each poster draws upon consumer and pop culture to create eye-catching and colourful designs. In the Virgin Media poster for example, James Bond (Daniel Craig)–a symbol of power, strength and secrecy–is used to represent a company ethic of privacy; that is to say he is used to present the idea that Virgin, as a company, will not spy on its customers. What is perhaps most interesting about the posters is the way in which they draw upon the public’s fear of being watched. Each assures viewers that they will have their liberties protected, but the small print of each work outlines the opposite. In this fine print, customers are warned that internet companies do not have the power to go against government legislation, and by investing in privacy bundles, consumers are essentially wasting money: they cannot be protected, the law prevents this.
Each poster was created on Photoshop using a variety of techniques. For example, the PlusNet poster is comprised of three different landscapes cut together in one (shown below). The companies patented pink colour and vivid aesthetic is maintained in this piece, along with it’s key salesman who appears in every advert. The poster offers extra privacy for £35, but goes on to note that customers paying extra are not guaranteed any further safety compared to normal customers. Similarly, the TalkTalk poster uses bright and glowing colours to attract the viewers attention. This piece was created using a photo of mine, combined with a number of paint brush layers and light strokes. Similar notions to that of the PlusNet ad can be found in the small print of the TalkTalk poster.
A number of key questions are raised when viewing the posters: why are they contained solely within the studios? Is the intention for them to be seen or for the message that they may portray? Can the works be displayed in a public space? Are they intended to be a prediction or simply a depiction of this dystopia?
The decision to contain the work within the studio lies in its ethics. To take the work beyond the studio, as with the video installation, would have left the pieces up to public scrutiny. Whilst this is important, the very nature of the work would mean viewers could have, and most likely would have, been deceived. The fact that these posters advertise a more secure, private internet, something that is incredibly sort after, it would be extremely unethical and inappropriate to exhibit them in a public space without the prefix that they were pieces of art. If the intention of the piece was to deceive viewers, it would be important to inform various officials of their existence, and to make them aware that no harm is intended through their display. For these reasons, the work is displayed within the studio as viewers are less likely to be defrauded as they are aware it is art. I intend to take my work outside of the studio next year and start to address these issues of ethics further. In order to do this, the scale of my work will increase. I will attempt to make similar posters, but will seek to get them printed for billboard presentation for example. This way, the adverts become a statement against privacy and cause debate within the public sphere whilst also being exhibited in this space.
While it is important for these posters to be viewed, it is more the message behind them that is significant. The notion of additional privacy as a form of service completely negates the right we, as British citizens, have to privacy itself. As the Global Internet Liberty Campaign writes: “Privacy is a fundamental human right recognized in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights and in many other international and regional treaties.” The fact that these posters are offering this fundamental liberty shows the extent to which security services have exploited their powers and how the rise of the internet has resulted in the loss of this basic human right. We, as people; consumers; citizens of a democracy, deserve the right to privacy, and, indeed, thousands if not millions of people attempt to regain control of this right through their own means (encrypted messages, Tor brower etc). Many believe that it is not for the security services to determine otherwise. As Edward Snowden himself stated:
“Privacy is the fountain head of all other rights. Privacy is the right to the self. Privacy is the right to a free mind. Privacy is what allows us to determine what we believe without being subject to someone else’s beliefs.. Saying you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is like saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say. To say you don’t care about a right because you’re not exercising it at this moment in time is the most anti-social thing a person can do.”
The posters show that in a world where these government departments work with zero accountability or legislation, it is the people that lose out. Big companies gain the most through exploiting the people. Privacy becomes a selling point; a money-making tactic. In my view, as I stated earlier on, I predict that this will be the bleak future that we, as a society, will soon encounter. Privacy will be an add-on to a subscription; a way to control people. This dystopian vision that Orwell was so against is no longer merely an idea, it is slowly becoming a reality.
Links can be drawn between my works and the campaign ‘Billionaires for Bush’ by Andrew Boyd. Billionaires for Bush was a “culture jamming political street theatre organisation that satirically purported to support George W. Bush, drawing attention to policies which were perceived to benefit corporations and the super-wealthy.” One of the main aspects of this campaign was it’s use of ironic banners and posters. These visuals were used to mock of the former president and his political policies. My posters, in the same light, use their aesthetic ironically to comment on privacy. Links can also be drawn to Women on Waves’s ‘dieselforwomen.com’ and the ways this group unwillingly used big brands (Diesel) to comment on the garment industry to expose the violation of workers’ rights. Their campaign was a hoax and was attacked by Diesel who threatened legal action. My works, similarly, deceptively use the names of big companies to comment on a political issue.