I make documentaries about the Internet. My last one, Rip! A Remix Manifesto, was made during the copyright wars of the early 2000s. We followed Girl Talk, Larry Lessig, Gilberto Gil, Cory and others as the Free Culture movement was born. I believed then that copyright was the Internet's defining issue. I was wrong.
In the time since I made Rip, we've seen surveillance from both corporate and state actors reach deeper into our lives. Advertising, and the tracking that goes with it, have become the dominant business model of the web. With the Snowden revelations, we've seen that this business model has given the NSA and other state agencies access to the intimate details of our online lives, our location, our reading lists, and our friends.
So with my colleagues at Upian in Paris, the National Film Board of Canada, AJ+, Radio-Canada, RTS, Arte and Bayersicher Rundfunk, I decided to make a documentary series about this. The trouble is, privacy is a difficult issue for most people. They either quickly pull out the "nothing to hide" argument, or they give the shruggie ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. We wanted to find a way to make this personal for people, so we decided to use the viewer's own data to create each episode.
When you open Episode One, the narrator you hear will depend on your location. You'll likely see me if you link from Boing Boing — I'm the English narrator on desktop. But if you connect on mobile, you'll meet Francesca Fiorentini from AJ+. In Quebec, you'll meet Sandra Rodriguez. In France, it'll be journalist Vincent Glad. The tone is conversational. You'll meet someone who speaks your own language discussing their online sharing addiction.
Once you've met us, we'll say different things to you. If it's raining where you are, we'll know it, because we've plugged into a weather API. This API will communicate with Giphy's API and present different GIFs. It's all edited together like a movie, but a movie that is created on the spot, just for you.
To go further, we ask you to tell us a bit more about you. If you tell us where you go for your news, we've partnered with the service disconnect.me to show you the third party trackers that advertisers and analytics folks place on your computer to follow you around the Web.
In Episode Two, we then take this data to create personalized ads within the program – while we talk to Ethan Zuckerman and Julia Angwin about how advertising came to dominate the Web. We'll ask you how much you would be willing to pay for a version of Facebook or Google that didn't have ads, and compare that with how much they make from you.
In Episode Three, we created a a corporation called Illuminus that practices "future present risk detection". If you log in with your Facebook profile, the corporation uses an API developed at the University of Cambridge, "Apply Magic Sauce," to determine which one of the "Big Five Personality Traits" applies to you. We discover how lenders are dipping their toes into making risk assessments based on your social media activity.
We varied our style in Episode Four and made a privacy cartoon. Journalist Zineb Dryef spent months researching what information she discloses on her mobile phone, and then Darren Pasemko animated what she learned. We meet Kate Crawford, Julia Angwin, as well as Harlo Holmes and Nathan Freitas from the Guardian project. It's an episode told in four parts, and you can watch the first part in the video below.
If you watch the rest of this episode on donottrack-doc.com, it will be geo-located and interactive.
Our next episode, available May 26th, is produced by the National Film Board of Canada's digital studio, who have a well deserved reputation for creating beautiful interfaces for new types of documentaries. In this episode, we'll explore big data – by making correlations as you watch, you'll determine the outcome, while you meet danah boyd, Cory Doctorow, Alicia Garza and Kate Crawford.
We're still catching our breath while we produce the final two episodes. One thing we know – we want these to be personal. As we learned in our first episodes, people understand the issues around privacy and surveillance when we let them explore their own data. Depending on how you behaved during the series, we want these final episodes to adapt. We'll be exploring how the filter bubble shapes your view of the world in our 6th episode, and how our actions can shape the future in our 7th. What these episodes look like is up to you.