Playful surveillance?

phone In the various interviews for my book about location-based services, privacy is often brought to the table, especially with french journalists who really want to deal with this angle. What happens is that most of the discussion revolves around the potential fear caused by Google Latitude, Aka-aki (I was even asked what I thought about the GPS bra). Most of the time, there is a big confusion between the imaginary representations some people of these technologies (trackable everytime everywhere) and what is really implemented.

It's generally hard to talk about something else so I try to move the discussion to different grounds. My point is to show that privacy is indeed a problem but that there are other interesting matters when it comes to locative media. In order to do that, I highlight how locative technologies can be repurposed or hacked through playful or critical practices. Projects such as iSee that that maps the locations of surveillance cameras in urban environments and propose paths to avoid them are interesting for that matter. The possibility to avoid surveillance becomes a purpose here.

Which is why I was interested in reading "Playing with Surveillance", a short paper by Judy Chen that deals with this issue. It basically presents a playful design of an application that exploits surveillance as a playful practice through a camera phone. The paper describes the application but I was more interested by the design rationale:

"Our design for mopix was inspired by an observation we made of a woman taking a photo with her phone in a shopping mall. The woman was photographing an object in a store across the walkway, but another woman sitting nearby hid behind a baby stroller in an effort to avoid being in the photograph. To the first woman, her camera phone was a device she could use to capture a memento from her experience at the mall. To the second woman, the camera phone was an unwanted surveillance device that was invading her privacy and anonymity. (...) By taking a playful approach in our design, we trivialize aspects of surveillance that are typically disconcerting to users, while at the same time, providing engaging experiences with the system and between users. "

Why do I blog this? documenting interesting examples of technology ambiguity and their non-neutral nature. This work is interesting also in the discussion about locative media and privacy or how to go beyond the general discourse about these 2 issues.