Animation about cell phone data mining

Michael Rigley created this beautiful animation, titled "Network," for his BFA design thesis project at the California College of Art. It's about personal data captured by cell phone providers and is quite relevant this week.


  1. The only thing that always bothers me about this type of piece is that, why wouldn’t you rather have ads tailored to you as well as search results.  “The global internet becomes the personal internet”.  Sounds like a benefit.  I understand the rest of the issues, but everybody always uses that point as some “aha” moment when if I’m going to have to see ads, I would much rather see some that I might actually find interesting.

    1. Also, the final line: “Information ceases to be information at all.” What does that even mean?

      1. Yeah, I actually chuckled at that.  Of course it is information.  If I only get a subset of information, it doesn’t cease to be information.  It just perhaps isn’t as valuable as the entire set of info I would have gotten otherwise in some cases.  However, you could argue that it is more valuable in others as it weeds out the noise.  If my data shows I play ice hockey and I do a search for “best goals”.  I would be happy for it to prioritize ice hockey videos over soccer videos in my search results.  It is true that the information, while still information, also becomes a product to buy and sell so it does mutate a bit.

        1.  If it limits the scope of your investigation it’s perhaps still information, but it’s information that could contribute to a confirmation bias. This animation is an art piece more than an instructional video. It may not be precisely “information,” in that it’s not necessarily 100% factual, and edges into metaphor and speculation, both in the voice over and the visuals. I suspect this will make people who have become habituated to the “authoritative voiceover,” will find this quite grating, whereas others, such as film students who’ve been exposed to documentaries where you aren’t necessarily supposed to trust or take literally everything you see, will be more comfortable with the video’s evocative rather than denotative voice. (And yes, I minored in film, so I apologize for lapsing into film essay voice there)

    2.  Because suppose you engage in an avenue of inquiry that leads advertizers to believe you are interested in a particular type of product. Ultimately maybe you decide you don’t want that product at all or you make a selection/purchase and are now interested in something else and no longer need the thing being advertized. Nonetheless you get intrusive advertizing that isn’t actually aligned at all to your interests. Ask yourself if you are really enjoying the current crop of movie reboots that have obviously been sold to Hollywood on the basis of facebook profiles and users “likes.” Then there’s the privacy breaching ads that tell other people about things you’d rather keep private.

      1. I would expect that if after a year of liking cat posts I suddenly grew tired of them that as I started liking other things the weight of my previous cat fetish would be decreased to the point that I no longer get cat lover ads. Data is data and is typically representative of my interests if done correctly. Regarding the privacy aspect, that is what I was referring to when I mentioned understanding the other issues and is a valid point of contention. It is just the personalized ads that I always think is more of a good thing than bad.

  2. I work in an industry that handles this kind of data, the things he talks about just don’t exist in that form. If you had access to multiple databases you could join sets together to get something like this but no one in the commercial sector has access to that for the exact reasons you should be scared of.

  3. Fair enough, but is it any worse than a generic ad for diapers or something?  Even the slightest value added is better than none.  Of course, again, it is probably not worth the privacy concerns but I am really only talking about the “personalized” ads being shown as a negative in every article I read about data mining.

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