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By Russ Cooper
At the second edition of the President’s Conference on Nov. 4, the focus will be Surveillance, Security and the End of Privacy — the outward eyes watching us each day. The research-creators from Concordia’s Mobile Media Lab (MML) in the Department of Communication Studies have discovered a few ways to turn the eye inward.
The MML developed three unique ways to creatively demonstrate the potential of surveillance methods and wireless connectivity, on Oct. 26 and 27.
The team demonstrated two projects using the Mobitouch Cube – a 12”x12”x4” short-range Bluetooth transmitter able to wirelessly transmit files between cell phones, PDAs, computers, etc. – a piece of equipment comm studies professor Kim Sawchuk (one if the featured speakers at the conference’s afternoon session) acquired during her recent sabbatical in Italy.
For the Discoverable project, MML programmed the Cube to send passers-by whose wireless devices are set to discoverable — which means the device can be recognized by other Bluetooth devices — a request to upload a 1- to 23-minute, lo-fi artistic video or sound file developed by research-creation faculty relevant to the conference’s theme.
The project Bluetooth Beats sent various single-instrument music tracks comm studies professor Owen Chapman and research assistant Sam Thulin developed to numerous cell phones. Once tracks were downloaded, the participants clicked play, launching into a collaborative, improvised concert. (Bluetooth Beats will be displayed at the conference on Nov. 4.)
“People think of Bluetooth for utilitarian, pedestrian uses,” says Chapman. “We thought, ‘if we could serve out pre-prepared audio files to a group of people so they could play them together, wouldn’t that be cool?’”
On Oct. 26, the third project, Moebius Maps, addressed the massive surveillance project of Google Earth and Google Street View. Under the direction of comm studies instructor and PhD candidate Mélanie Hogan, enlisted Concordia students documented the locations of cameras, etc. throughout the city; surveying the surveillance, if you will. Still in development, they plan to expand the project in days to come and hope to engage high school students to widen the observatory range.
In September, when Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens approached Sawchuk to present at the conference, they both saw the MML projects not only as a platform to showcase unconventional forms of innovative research, but also a unique method to demonstrate the invisible exchange of information that surrounds us.
Chapman explains that while the Cube does have capabilities to “develop statistics” about those who accept files (such as time/place or type of phone), it is not programmed to collect personal information attached to cellular service… for now, at least.
At this point, it’s pretty innocent, Chapman says. But for those with the smarts and the motivation, the potential to gather personal info of unsuspecting citizens exists.
“These types of networks people sometimes take for granted are definitely being taken advantage of. People need to realize they’re leaving traces of themselves everywhere. We are far more discoverable than we know.
“There’s a bit of moral panic one can take on with issues like this. But I think we don’t just want a knee–jerk reaction against it,” he says. “Short of moving to a mountaintop somewhere, you’re going to have a hard time avoiding constant connectivity. Just think about it and be aware. This is a good time to take advantage of what’s out there.”