What is this?

Note: this site is not yet live, except for the location which is actually realtime! Otherwise it’s a mockup of how it will look as it fills up with data in the coming months. Don't forget to check out the heartbeat.

I’m interested in the idea of privacy and the way that networks and modern communication are changing the way we think about it. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to hold on to privacy, because our footsteps are not so ephemeral when they pass through thousands of servers every day. Our ideas of what should be private have also changed. We’re all experienced micropublishers now, broadcasting intimate and trivial thoughts to people we’ve never met.

Recently, while looking through my google search history I noticed some search terms I was pretty sure I hadn’t used. I kept on looking and I found a few more scattered around. My first thought was something malign but after a while I realised that it was the searches of someone I had worked with a few months ago. I had signed into gmail on their phone to check my email and never signed out. Rather than my security being breached, it was as if I had installed a tracking device on them.

While investigating I managed to piece together their identity from the collected searches. There were only about 50, but put together they were surprisingly revealing. I found out more than I wanted to know about this person who I’d only met for a short period. Their relationship problems, health fears and indeed, porn habits. Even though I'd been considering this project for a while, I hadn't realised the significance of such a small amount of data.

Many of the things on the timeline are things that are already known about you as well, stored in various databases around the web. You might not see its use anywhere directly, and it’s unlikely to receive as much individual scrutiny as this, but it’s all piling up.

When I travelled in Iran a few years ago, I talked to a lot of people who had never left the country and had never met someone who wasn’t Iranian before. It was really shocking to learn what a strange vision they had of my life in England. A man I met in Yazd believed that because we were so liberal people were having sex constantly on the streets or in cafes. It was a mixture of one sided representation in the news and suppressed fantasy. In my life I have the same view of other people sometimes, because my understanding of them is a mixture of their carefully constructed exterior and projections of my own insecurities.

I’m a particularly private person, so this is a big challenge for me to expose things I often work very hard to keep hidden. Capturing data silently and automatically means there’s no way for me to censor in advance what appears on here except by changing my behaviour. What will it be like for me when I have nowhere to hide? No way to keep secrets, no way to lie without being immediately found out. It’s frightening.

I’m interested to see how well qualitative and quantitative data can go to represent a person. As the amount of time represented increases, the more abstract the visualisation has to become. You cannot have an month or a year’s worth of video unless you pick out regular repeating features or chop it into highlight clips. Even at the immediate level can you understand much about someone with a minutiae of facts but no contact? Could you know enough to fall in love or really hate them?

Data to be included (in order of likely addition):

The UX of dashboards is quite challenging. If you have any ideas for how best to represent this data please email me. Here's a previous design that I felt didn't work because there's no sense of time passing in the data. And who uses gradients these days anyway? I would also appreciate tips on what data could be collected and how to access it programmatically.

Another technical thing I’d appreciate help with is security vulnerabilities. If you notice anything apart from the obvious divulging of personal info, like ability to steal passwords, accessing my accounts etc, please let me know. I don’t want to become actually bankrupt, just morally will do.

I believe that our decreasing ability to keep secrets will lead to barriers coming down between each other as our insecurities and perversions are forced out. It’s difficult to hate someone when you know the details of their story. I think it’s a good thing the extent to which we're now sharing even trivial things, because it helps us to see inside each other’s lives. When we get that view, we can really see how alike we are and it lets us take down the glamorous imaginings that fill up the empty space of mystery. Mostly we'll probably find out how boring we all are.

When I was studying politics, I often got frustrated with the way that philosophers merely talked about ideas and the way the world could be, rather than experimenting with them and learning from putting them into practice. So this is my attempt to put that nascent principle into practice. It’s the start of many more personal experiments to test boundaries and see how we could live.