Data U
A mixed-reality exhibit that explores data-value exchange in the digitized world
In a world where democratic elections are being influenced by billion-dollar companies powered by personal data, undergraduate students and faculty from the California College of the Arts set themselves to design an immersive, mixed-reality exhibit to showcase the sentiments of Americans regarding their own data. Data U combines augmented reality, and quantitative and qualitative research, to take the user into a deeply engaging experience of data analysis. Additionally, to emphasize the role of individual narratives, the exhibit displays snippets of the in-depth interviews that the team performed on 25 subjects. Data U will travel the Bay during the 4th quarter of 2019, visiting companies and organizations for a day. 

During the process of making Data U, the team performed a survey on 1,000 Americans. The 89% of the people agreed with the statement that progress in digital technology will make their lives better in the future. This expressed optimism is at the same time contrasted with 63% of Americans being nervous about not knowing what companies do with their data. Nervousness can be attributed to a lack of clear knowledge of what this data-sharing process entails, but also to an absence of transparency of the companies integrating data, an, even more so, when accounting for the now popular third-party data brokers. 

The Data U research highlights this tension between the beneficial versus the abusive side of data-driven technology. Tensions that come to life from the in-depth interviews: Greg, an interviewee, states, "the challenge is how much of my privacy am I willing to give up to reap some of the more customized benefits", whereas for another one of the respondents, it is not so much of a challenge, as it is something ethically questionable: “I want them to use the data that I choose to give them. When they take it to the point of selling it to somebody else [...] that's too far. I don't believe in the corporate companies because it's all about money." But what is the feeling of the people regarding solutions? Most of them feel they have extremely limited choices:  "I guess you can be a hermit and not go out into the world and not be connected. But that's kind of not much of a life in this day and age."

The Data U exhibit looks to surface these sentiments and proposes an entry-point to the ongoing public conversation about benefits and adverse effects of data-value exchange. Questions around the personal and public politics of monetization over information, social media sharing, data mining, among others, inform the project’s intention: to present the collected data voided of expressed opinions, letting the users identify potential gains and subsisting tensions through their own journey.

Data U was designed and implemented by professor adjunct, Johannes Seeman, and students, Tara Lin, Bibiana Bauer, and Aosheng Ran, all from the California College of the Arts. This project counts with XXX support and sponsorship.