The Glass Room Pop-Up Shines Light on Personal Data, Privacy and Security


The Glass Room

There are just four days left to experience The Glass Room, on Mulberry Street in New York City.

The Glass Room is an ersatz pop-up in NYC’s Nolita neighborhood, nestled among the trendy boutiques, cafes and storefronts. Behind its minimalist exterior the public can find art, investigations and activist projects along with a free workshop series. The goal is to encourage personal reflection and a public dialogue on personal data, privacy and security. It’s open from November 29 to December 18.

The Glass Room

Presented by Firefox developer Mozilla and curated by Tactical Technology, a Berlin-based nonprofit, “The Glass Room is a space to explore our own data traces, spark examination of our own online lives, and find out how—using a selection of free, alternative apps and a Data Detox guide—to take back some control over our digital selves,” according to a press release.

As Mozilla puts it,

To passers-by, The Glass Room looks like another slick, clean-lined store offering the latest shiny consumer products. Step inside, and you’ll discover something more unusual, but nothing for sale.

The “products” on display have the power to illuminate our alternative selves, revealing the often contradictory and sometimes opaque dynamics of living in the Internet age. Who are we revealing when we’re online? What facts and fictions are recreated from our digital breadcrumbs? What is known about us, and why?

The Glass Room is a place to consider how you use technology and how those behind technology use you. We invite you to defamiliarize yourself with the overly-familiar.

The exhibition includes 54 objects across four tables:

  • Open the Box. A visualization and exploration of what our personal data looks like
  • Something to Hide. A look at how personal data is captured that forces us to consider whether we actually have nothing to hide
  • Normal is Boring. An exploration of ambitious and alarming moonshot projects US tech giants are pursuing with their vast wealth
  • Big Mama. A look at tech innovations that normalize surveillance under the mandate of care.
  • Data Detox Bar. A drop-in bar that teaches visitors how to better control their online data and privacy.

Once you step inside The Glass Room, which describes itself as an “UnStore,” a crew of “InGeniouses” (in a nod to Apple’s Genius Bar crew) offer privacy and data tips.

The exhibits, aka “artifacts,” include 4.6 million leaked LinkedIn passwords in an alphabetized collection of white-bound books.

“We want people to feel uncomfortable,” said Marek Tuszunski, creative director of Tactical Technology, to Business Insider.

In the Normal is Boring section, the pop-up shop shows a diagram of Mark Zuckerberg’s house and the four surrounding homes he bought in 2013 for about $30 million.

It begs the question: Do you have to own a Silicon Valley company to buy privacy—and is Zuckerberg setting a personal privacy perimeter for a post-privacy era—built with ad dollars from our use of Facebook?

Another diagram shows just how far Google’s acquisitions and investments stretch.

The Glass Room

And another visualization shows how much money Apple has moved overseas to avoid paying US taxes—enough to pay America’s entire education budget.

The Glass Room

“The Glass Room doesn’t just frighten you into trashing your cell phone and throwing your laptop out the window,” notes The Gothamist. “It also attempts to offer solutions to help you cut back on some of that data you’re dribbling out all the time.”

The Glass Room LogoThat’s where the workshops and salon series spring into action. For example, a “What The Facebook?” workshop shows you how to cut back on the information you’re sharing with the public on social media.

Another workshop, “De-Googlize Your Life,” explains how much data you provide to Google via Gmail, Google Docs, Google search and other services—and how to minimize your trace.

A wall of beacon trackers reflects the data being sent by visitors in the store. “We don’t ask people to run away or hide,” said Tuszunski, “but we tell people they can do better than they do.”