A Question of Leadership
April 26, 2020
In her artwork, Pickering examines questions of leadership during the COVID-19 health crisis. “Question of Leadership“, focuses on community leaders such as Brittany Kaiser who speak truth to power. Because the people who deserve public attention are those leading us through this crisis with humility, sacrifice and collaboration.
Personal Privacy in the Era of Covid-19
New technologies are providing important tools towards controlling the spread of covid-19. For example, in many countries a tracking app can tell if you’ve been within 1.5 meters of other users. These apps are already being used in over thirteen different countries. In addition, the World Health Organization is developing their own global application.
Tracking software is being released by both governments and private corporations. However, the use of such software in democratic countries raises concern over the protection of personal privacy. On April 20th, the Globe and Mail published an article addressing this issue.(1) Their investigation focused on an Australian covid-19 tracing application. The success of the app is being credited by government for allowing them to lift lock down conditions. The article outlines concerns raised by privacy experts over the app’s centralized nature. Other issues also include overlaps with existing government surveillance laws. Yet perhaps of most concern is government failure to release the source code as promised to create transparency.
Brittany Kaiser is someone who can offer expertise and advice when it comes to the abuse of data and personal privacy. She is the former Director of business development for the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. The company, “offer(ed) services to businesses and political parties who want to “change audience behaviour”.(2) To this end, the company built a software program designed to “predict and influence choices at the ballot box”.(2) Thanks to whistleblowers and testimony provided by Brittany, we now know the company used illegal data in their program. Specifically, data accumulated from 87 million Facebook users.
In 2019, Brittany was appointed to the advisory board of Phunware. This company collects location and voter data to be used in the 2020 Trump campaign. According to Brittany, “it’s so abundantly clear our electoral systems are wide open to abuse. I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the US election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible.” (3)
Wide Open Abuses
Why should we be concerned about using a tracing app? As Brittany warns, the current collection of data is, “wide open to abuse”.(3) This misuse of big data makes clear the lack of protections required to shield individual freedoms. Of special concern, is that this monetized practice is being used for purposes of social manipulation. As experts like Brittany warn, there is a large-scale practice, “way beyond what people think.”(3) Taking a cue from Australia, we can start by ensuring that tracking applications publish their source codes before we install them.
About the Artist Jennifer Pickering
Jennifer Pickering is a contemporary artist from Canada, born in Switzerland and currently based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. She teaches Visual Art at Advanced Learning Schools, an International Baccalaureate School. Much of her practice is based in site-specific interventions into public space. Her work explores complex systems of information exchange. Issues of access and denial, of privilege, class and where the power lies are central to her work.
For more artwork by Pickering in this series “A Question of Leadership” visit: http://jen-pickering.com/blog/