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What will your data shadow look like?

Real Time Commission

Published: 05th June 2015.

Real Time Commission 2015 - Data Shadow by Mark Farid

Between June and October, artist Mark Farid will be resident in Cambridge working with Collusion and a number of experts to explore questions around the security of the data on our mobile phones. The commission calls for a new digital public work that connects with Cambridge as a world centre of technological growth, that interacts with the public, has a physical presence and sense of boldness, as well as harvesting real-time data. 

Farid aims to make the public aware of the privacy they are potentially sacrificing by regularly using a mobile phone and the internet. There will also be opportunities for the public to get involved and the final work will be revealed in October 2015 as part of the University of Cambridge’s Festival of Ideas.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we treat our phones as we would treat a human. We set the background to personal images, we customise their cases to our liking, we have conversations with them through programmes like Siri, and the answer to every passing quandary is found on our phones. We use them for work and for socialising; unlike a personal computer it never leaves our side. It is a link to family, friends, and foes, and they’ve become an extension of ourselves. 

We take our mobile phones to bed with us at night and, usually functioning as our alarm clocks, they’re the first thing we see in the morning. They go with us everywhere, and when they aren’t within arm’s reach, we’re lost until we find them. We can search for people on the Internet and learn a lot about them very easily; through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook we can quickly ascertain many elements of a person’s character, and our phones are no different. 

We are aware, to varying degrees, that our information is not private. The amount of information, and how intrusive this information is raises questions over the level of security over our data becomes a pressing matter as we enter an age where the digital is starting to supersede the physical, and further cries for the government to increase surveillance continue to arise. Data flows all around us from our phones all the time. Each phone sending out on average 350,000 messages a day. This comes from the phone trying to connect to WiFi hotspots, to one website telling another website about your activity, to simple messages from you to another person. This information is not private, but it is also not readily available to the public; so I ask, what if it were? 

Upon connecting to a specific free public wifi hotspot in Cambridge, Data Shadow will take information from an individuals phone and create a personal data shadow. The participant's movements will be tracked and mapped, and their personal data will be projected as their shadow as they walk down the street, with other participants. At the start, the user will be prompted to allow permission to partake in this piece of public artwork, taking a range of information from the user’s name and address to recently visited locations to their text messages. All data captured will be stored securely, will not shared, and will be destroyed at the end of the project. 

Commissioned by Collusion in partnership with The Technology Partnership, the University of Cambridge and Arts Council England.


Follow the projects' progression on Twitter using the hashtag #RTCdatashadow

For further information on Collusion, please visit


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