Approaches for Digital Self Defence
As of January 2019, over 100 million Alexa-enabled devices had been sold. That’s 100 million users relying on Alexa to tweak their thermostats, stream their music and schedule their appointments. Whilst there are many who view these devices simply as helping hands - there are others who consider them to be Trojan horses in the age of digital surveillance. This project centres around those who view Alexa as both of these things; those who use Alexa, but do so with a looming paranoia about where their data might end up, and the purpose for which it might be used.
The outcome of the project, CounterBug, is a family of satirical accessories intended to confuse the algorithms of Amazon’s Alexa. CounterBug uses disinformation as a form of guerrilla data security, bombarding Alexa with false data - in turn protecting the user from the threats of state spying, vested corporate interest and potential criminal hackers.
Each accessory responds to a different form of surveillance paranoia; one to censor the user’s language so that they don’t get in trouble with the NSA, one to disrupt Amazon’s tailored advertising algorithms, and one that chats to Alexa about virtuous topics whilst they’re out the house.
As the user of an Amazon Echo speaker begins to rely on Alexa to mediate a variety of tasks around the home - their use of the device becomes habitual. Each time they add a new device into their smart-home ecosystem, Amazon learns in more detail about their lifestyle and behaviours. This detail constitutes invaluable information capital, which Amazon can leverage to predict and control the lifestyles and behaviours of their customers.
For the person living in a smart-home filled with Echo devices, Amazon becomes more than just a retailer - it becomes an operating system used to mediate their physical life.
The Snowden Disclosures in 2014 shined light on the surveillance practices of the US government. Classified documents were published containing detailed reports of the NSA (National Security Agency‘s) wide-scale electronic data mining program, PRISM.
Snowden’s documents revealed that the NSA has partnerships with nine major technology corporations: Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, AOL and Skype to name a few. These partnerships enable the NSA to monitor real time data content such internet search behavior and browsing patterns. Further, the ‘Verizon Scandal’ revealed that a secret court order had required major telephone networks to provide the NSA with a sustained stream of metadata regarding phone calls: locations, caller, callee and call duration.
It only takes a Google search to find countless cases in which hackers have been able to to remotely access the microphones of virtual assistants.
One group of Chinese hackers spent months developing a new technique for hijacking Amazon’s Echo smart speaker:
“After several months of research, we successfully broke the Amazon Echo by using multiple vulnerabilities in the Amazon Echo system, achieving remote eavesdropping… When the attack [succeeds], we can control Amazon Echo for eavesdropping and send the voice data through network to the attacker”
Intimate entanglements: big data in clinical trials
This project was completed during my studies at the Glasgow School of Art, working alongside the Institute of Cancer Sciences at Glasgow University to produce a vision of the future based on current trends relating to Precision Medicine (PM) and cancer treatment.
The focus of this project was whether data regarding a patient’s lifestyle and environment, gathered by technological devices, could/should have a role to play in the delivery of precision medicine. Personal data is captured constantly and passively, becoming increasingly detailed and intimate as technological products dematerialise, making them more available to corporal integration. The shift towards wearable technologies that are able to gather data constantly regarding our physical state; for example our heart rate, body temperature and precise location - carries great opportunities for healthcare, but with this comes an array of ethical implications.
Diagram: how might AI impact clinical trials?
Data collection devices - prototypes
People respond differently to the same treatments; depending on factors such as sex, age, race, ethnicity, lifestyle, and genetic background. As clinical trails form the basis of evidence from which the safety and efficacy of new medicines and treatments can be evaluated, it is crucially important that they represent a diverse cross-section of society. However, this is not the case, and there are many barriers to diversity in trials, facing both patients and clinicians.
Trials are complex, with long lists of inclusions and exclusions for eligibility, depending largely on the patient’s medical history, but also taking into account lifestyle and environment factors such as whether the patient smokes, their weight and their level of literacy. Furthermore, it is difficult for clinicians to be aware of all currently active trials and the individual stages these trials are in, at all times.
TrialSeek is a service which gathers and analyses an individual's lifestyle and environment data in order to match them with a suitable trial.
For any enquiries please contact me at:
Dezeen: “Six Designs that protect your digital data”
Design Thinkers Academy London on Medium: “Designing to Disrupt Amazon’s Alexa”
Interesting Engineering: “A creator has designed a satirical device to counter digital surveillance”
Dezeen: “CounterBug is a digital self defence device that eases cyber paranoia”