Book: Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting, resurfacing data

Book: Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting, resurfacing data


Book: Behind the Smart World – saving, deleting and resurfacing of data
as part of the AMRO Research Lab 2015

edited by: – Linda Kronman, Andreas Zingerle
published by: | process coordinator: Us(c)hi Reiter
layout by:

The publication is available both analog as a printed book and digital in form of a pdf, an epub and a web version.


Us(c)hi Reiter/ Foreword
KairUs: Introduction
Fieke Jansen: If not us, who stores and owns our data?
Ivar Veermae : Center of Doubt
Emilio Vavarella: The Google Trilogy
Leo Selvaggio: Surveillance, McLuhan and the Social Prosthesis
Marloes de Valk: What remains? The way we save ourselves
Research Team “Times of Waste”: TIMES OF WASTE
Interview with Audrey Samson : Digital Data Funerals
Stefan Tiefengraber: Technology-based Art and Destruction
Dr. Michael Sonntag: Third Person Data
KairUs: Artistic strategies for dealing with resurfacing data
Interview with Michaela Lakova: Deleted file information is like a fossil…
KairUs: Strategies Against Phishing and Fake Business Websites



Behind the Smart World at ISEA

In August we participated in the ISEA 2105 conference in Vancouver, Canada. The theme of this years ISEA was Disruption and as keynote speakers amongst others the Yes Men who were promoting their new film: Yes Men are Revolting

Maybe one of the most disruptive actions took place during the Yes Men keynote when young activist where questioning the connections of Simon Frasier University (the host of the conference) to a plan to build a new Trans Mountain pipeline to transport crude oil. With the help of the Yes Men in a selfie style video the activist got the whole ISEA crowd to say no to the pipeline.

The Yes Men – ISEA 2015 Keynote – #NoFuckingPipelines Is The New #KMFace from Jakub Jerzy Markiewicz on Vimeo.

We were also busy presenting the ‘Behind the Smart World’ project as a poster/artist talk in one of the sessions to present ongoing works and processes. It was a interesting 2,5 h during which people came and asked questions about our project after a short presentation we did for the whole audience. The poster paper is available here:“Behind the Smart World: 22 harddrives from a West African e-waste dump. While we had a chance, as KairUs, we also organized a 419-fiction workshop, made a demo presentation of our work ‘Let’s Talk Business’ and Andreas presented a long paper which is part of his PHD.

From our perspective the conference could have been more disruptive, but some highlights were Carmin Karasic  workshop”Hacktivism Seeds for Discourse” with Byron Smith explaining his concerns about the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that was to bisect his farm. Afterwards in a role play we tried to understand the perspectives of the government, the general public and how net activists could play a role i this. Also talks in the GeoPolitics and Activism session (e.g. Tugce Oklay. An Aesthetic Reading of Online Artivist Projects, Tomas Laurenzo. Geopolitical Subjectivity, and of course Andreas) and in the Surveillance  session (e.g. Annina Rüst. Participatory (Counter-) Surveillance and the Internet, and Leo Selvaggio. URME Surveillance: Analyzing Viral Face-crime) were very interesting. One of the most rewarding things about conferences are that one can get to know people behind interesting projects that deal with similar issues as ones interests are. And therefore we hope that both Leo Selvaggio’s URME Surveillance project as well as Emilio Vavarella’s Google Trilogy will make it as a part of the Behind the Smart World -publication. And of course at the main ISEA exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery we could spot one work with hard-drives: Error 404 502 410 by Marcelina Wellmer.

(images starting left Carmin Karasic, Byron Smith, Tugce Oklay + presentation slide, Tomas Laurenzo, Annina Rüst + presentation slide, Andreas wearing Leo’s face & Leo Selvaggio, Emilio Vavarella at a demo session and Error 404 502 41)


Day 3 -5: Discussions, prototyping and experiments

Day 3: Discussions, prototyping and first experiments:
The first two days we had a lot of input; from experts, from our field trip to an e-waste recycling facility in Amstetten and from each other in form of artist presentations. So on day 3 we started with digesting a bit all this input. We created a mind-map covering some main points such as privacy, ownership, trust, transformation, memory, forgetting, storage migration etc. that we wanted to focus on the upcoming days both through discussions as well as in hands-on experiments.  Each of us proceeded to either making hands-on exploration, diving deeper into the data trying to interpret it, into research or discussions in smaller groups over concepts and ideas. While working in the same space exchanges happened naturally and each of us enjoyed the collaborations. With contact microphones and a magnet sensor we figured out that each hard-drive has an unique sound profile. Michael was dismantling one of the hard-drives and with his microscope we could all experience a new close up view on various parts of the hard-drive. Hard-drive 20 was rich on data and some of us where working on identifying its owners or understanding their behaviors by analyzing images. Emöke found over 800 viruses or suspect files on the recovered hard-drives which also describes their condition.  Before dinner we wraped-up the day by sharing our work, questions and research. Some questions that had emerged from the discussions were about: our relationship to the data that we constantly produce and consume, strategies and commercialization of so called ‘infomation detox’, data-diets during which we escape our digital life and the life cycle of the hard-drives from production to the e-waste dump.


Day 4: More prototyping and experimentation:

Matthias brought along an old Thomas Edison phonograph with a 2min recording/playback wax cylinder. The idea was to record a spinning hard disc, process it on the pc by using ableton and pd, record it on the wax roll and then play it back and record it on the computer again. So to go through the whole cycle of storing data from one medium onto another old storage form. An interesting test to see what information you loose during the migration process. In the end of the day each of us presented a concept which each intend to develop for the AMRO 2016 festival. In the evening after dinner we watched the “Behind the Screen” documentary that exposes stages of a computers life cycle from extraction of raw materials to disposal.

Day 5: Wrap-up

The 5th day we had our last breakfast together, an evaluation and discussion how to proceed. The exchange of ideas had been inspiring. All of us were both energized and tired after the intense weekend. We discussed how to continue working online and about possibilities to meet ones more before the AMRO 2016 festival.  Just before the farewell of the first participants, who had to catch their flight, we still had time to make a quick tour in the data center.

Behind the Smart World Day 2 Field trip & Artist presentations

Field trip to MGG Recycling (Müller Guttenbrunn Group) center in Amstetten. Chris Slijkhuis, responsible for E-Waste & Public Affairs gave us a tour through the center, showed us their shredder and talked in a presentation about his experiences at Agbogbloshie.

After Lunch in the evening the artists presented themselves at the Kunstraum Goethestrasse xtd.


Behind the Smart World Artlab: Day 1: Expert talks

Thursday, May 21st, 2015, Expert talk evening at Kunstraum Goethestrasse xtd:

Thursday evening we started the first ‘Art meets radical openness’ Artlab at the Kunstraum Goethestrasse xtd. Linda and Andreas introduced the Artlab topic “Behind the Smart World” and talked about their artist-in-residence in Ghana last summer 2014. They brought back 22 hard drives that they were partly able to access the data. Others were rescued by the ECS Solutions who have their main office here in Linz, Austria.

Can Sinitras from ECS Solutions introduced his company and gave an insight to data recovery. Fieke Jansen from Tactical Tech Collective talked about data broker. Both talks were recorded by Thank you a lot for that!

Dr. Michael Sonntag from the Johannes Kepler university talked about data forensics with a special focus on our upcoming project.
Here is an excerpt of my notes:
Computer and data forensic is about obtaining evidence to be used in criminal court cases. It’s about finding evidence about the history of the user, and not to assume what the user might have done or not. In forensics you need to get more information that just one image so that there are no doubts left that things just happened by accident. Forensics is also about integrity, meaning you don’t change anything during your investigations. So the changes should be able to detect.
So from a forensic point of vies the hard drives are useless, this doesn’t mean that we cannot do interesting artworks with them.

A classification of data from a forensic perspective:

1.) Obvious data: a photo, a chat log, etc.
2.) Invisible data: data that has been deleted, and it can be restored. log files that are automatically created by the computer are interesting to see how the person was using the pc. metadata of images (exif data)
passwords are of course interesting to retrieve them, even when they are hashed or encrypted.
3.) Correlation data: more data of a person can identify the person and can become problematic. he recommends to mix several hard drives to mashup data.

Some recommendations:

  • There is for sure personal data on the disks. Privacy issues are problematic when we use this data and expose it in an exhibition or something similar.
  • Mix the data of the hard drives to avoid identifying one person.
  • Anonymisation of texts, images, etc. If harmless info ends up online, it can be searched and found and maybe the owner of the data won’t be happy about it.
  • Don’t use the data as it is, change/modify it in a way.
  • Use only parts of the hard drives, make a strong selection and don’t use everything of one HDD.
  • Passwords in combination with usernames, medical records, insurance numbers, serial numbers from programs are potentially problematic to expose.
  • Take care about the invisible data.
  • Use the information as a motive, don’t use the emails, but use them as an inspiration.
  • Keep the original data to your self and encrypt it in a way if possible. Publishing art based on them is one thing, publishing the original hard drive is another thing.
  • He suggests to physically destruct the hard discs  (don’t use microwaves, it’s useless, use some better force!)

Here are some photos by Florian Voggeneder from the evening: