Background

Anonymous Identities provided a representative look at the progression of the online advertising economy over the past ten years. The project provoked users to think more critically about their online identities and the impact of their online activity on this economy.

While this economy has enabled many people access to advanced technologies and web platforms for free, they come at a cost: internet users’ current online activity is helping to shape a future in which large companies and advertisers dominate the internet and can profoundly impact the online economy through small changes. 

Summary

This project, which was developed as a part of my Honors in Multimedia Scholarship program at the University of Southern California in 2014, was a three-screen, interactive exhibition. The project exposed trends in and the current state of the online data economy through interactive data sets.

When a viewer sat down at the project, they would first see an introductory remixed video, included here, that framed the project and provided a lens through which to explore it. After the video ended, they would then be transported to the three data exploration screens:

  • Left screen –  displayed data on two given companies (out of seven) for the chosen year.
  • Middle screen – displayed data about the state of the internet for the chosen year.
  • Right screen – displayed data about the state of online advertising for the chosen year.

The project enabled viewers to explore the information in a non-linear fashion and to form their own conclusions surrounding monetization and data collection practices in the online economy.

Finally, viewers could click 'Generate Report' to exit the data exploration and be taken to a brief research summary detailing my findings.

Design

The project's aesthetic was plain and intended to reflect a blend of the design trends of the years explored (2004-2014).

The grid-like layout was modeled after a CCTV system, provoking the notion that viewers were now surveilling data on the industry that collected their data.

In order to elicit a feeling of information overload and evoke viewers to consider the amount of information transmitted online, copious amounts of data were presented across three screens simultaneously.

Below are screenshots from the project:

The project was designed to interweave the viewer into its content, so that viewers would both connect more personally with the project and better resonate with the project's goals. For instance, after the introductory video ended, the computer's cameras would turn on and stream a live feed of the viewer. Then, in the report generated at the end of the project, viewers saw data that was tracked while they perused the project, such as their viewing time per image and their computer's fingerprint.

Implementation

I developed the site using HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and PHP. Due to placement constraints in some of its exhibitions, I needed to load each screen independently on its own computer. In order to keep the three screens in sync, I set up a simple database and employed long polling to detect changes to any of the screens and update the other two accordingly. 

The graphs on the left screen were created using HighCharts.js and the static charts and illustrations on the right screen were created using a combination of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.