Digital safety and online privacy are treated as individual concerns and burdens: we are told to practice digital hygiene, manage our passwords and clear our search histories, monitor our credit, use encryption, and be wary of links in suspicious emails.
Yet the transformative power of data and digital technologies extends across the private into public realms. Our mere presence in public spaces often serves as tacit consent for state and corporate entities to extract data from our bodies and devices, and unsafe online behavior by a single person can put an entire organization at risk.
What happens when we consider our privacy, security, and safety as shared and public concerns? How do the stakes and the remedies change if we address digital privacy as communities, instead of as individuals?
Libraries and library staff members have long been on the front lines of these issues, providing information about digital resources and offering inclusive spaces for digital interaction. Now, New York City’s librarians are leading a public campaign to promote digital privacy.
Metropolitan New York Library Council and the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer have joined forces with New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Library to create curricula, tools, and strategies that library staff can use to help patrons understand and mitigate digital risks — from state and corporate surveillance, to targeted ads and propaganda, to scams and data breaches.
The collective has partnered with The New School’s Greta Byrum (co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory) and Shannon Mattern (Professor of Media Studies) to elevate a conversation about digital privacy in New York City’s communities directly, through their local branch libraries. Nine library branches will host a distributed exhibition of site-specific artworks exploring issues related to digital risk and privacy. Artists American Artist, Salome Asega, Tega Brain, Ingrid Burrington, Taeyoon Choi, Annabel Daou, Alejandra Delfin, Sam Lavigne, Mimi Onuoha, and Toisha Tucker will create works that speak to their local contexts.
Their artwork will reach out to communities who are often marginalized in technology development and disproportionately at risk of harm from predatory or surveillant systems. The artists’ work offers tools and strategies for technological self-determination. Exhibition visitors can log their journey across all nine branches via a customized “guidebook,” which will serve as an intentional “data trail” tracking their engagement with and responses to each artwork.
Participating Branch Managers & Artist Liaisons:
Lauren Comito, Mill Basin Library
Chancey Fleet, Heiskell Library
Nelson Lu, Queens Central Library
Alexa Orr, Leonard Library
Negla Parris, Flatbush Library
Mirian Rivera-Shapiro, Gravesend Library
Jill Rothstein, Heiskell Library
Tienya Smith, Long Island City Library
Chun (Michael) Tam, Ryder Library
Marc Waldron, Bushwick Library
Tisha Williams, Ryder Library
Greta Byrum, Digital Equity Lab, The New School
Shannon Mattern, The New School
Exhibit Project Managers
Davis Erin Anderson, METRO Library Council
Nate Hill, METRO Library Council
NYC Digital Safety Advisory Council
Nick Buron, Queens Library
Manuel Figueroa, Queens Library
David Giles, Brooklyn Public Library
Samantha Grassle, NYC Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer
Jeffrey Lambert, Queens Library
William Marden, The New York Public Library
Megan McDermott, Mozilla Foundation
Sophie McGrath, The New York Public Library
Melissa Morrone, Brooklyn Public Library
Joahnnes Neuer, The New York Public Library
Luke Swarthout, The New York Public Library
Bonnie Tijerina, Data & Society