Giving a talk today in Dresden, Germany titled, “Give Me My Data: A Facebook Application Inspired by the Stasi Files Controversy.” Here is the abstract.
During the final days of the German Democratic Republic (or GDR) it became evident that the Ministry for State Security (more popularly known as the “Stasi”) was destroying incriminating evidence from its 40-year history of domestic and international surveillance. These documents, which the Stasi was attempting to destroy using shredding machines, as well as by hand when the machines failed, included information gathered through various clandestine methods about lives of citizens of the GDR without their knowledge or consent.
On January 15, 1990, protestors stormed the Stasi headquarters in Berlin in attempt to prevent the destruction of personal records which they felt they should be able to access. The phrase, “Freiheit für meine Akte!” (in English: Freedom for my file!) spray painted on the Stasi guardhouse during this protest embodies a desire by citizens to open this closed world of state surveillance in order to understand the methods of control employed the Stasi
This moment in history inspires my ongoing project, Give Me My Data, a Facebook application that helps users export their data out of Facebook. While clearly utilitarian, this project intervenes into online user experiences, provoking users to take a critical look at their interactions within social networking websites. It suggests data is tangible and challenges users to think about ways in which their information is used for purposes outside of their control by government or corporate entities.
At the height of its operations, the Stasi is believed to have hired, between spies and full- and part-time informants, one in every 6.5 East German citizens to report suspicious activities, almost 2.5 million people.1 At this moment, the ratio of people entering data on Facebook to non-members is one in fourteen for the entire world,2 introducing possibly the most effective surveillance machine in history.