Blog post 3: Visuals of the ‘non-visual’

Mapping the participants

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This is a communal map of the participants (human and non-human) surrounding the issues of data surveillance and online security completed my group during Tuesday’s tutorial. There were a number of interesting stakeholders that arrived through the group’s open discussion surrounding the map: One such stakeholder that I found particularly interesting, was ISIS, and the counter-terrorism regimes that surround the organisation. The map got us talking about the effectiveness of such counter-terrorism regimes, and what these regimes might mean for public/data privacy. We began unpacking people associated with these counter regimes and discussing these amongst the group.

Whilst unpacking the stakeholders associated with counter-terrorism regimes, the group and I began discussing a relationship between counter-terrorism and the media: The way in which figureheads such as ISIS are portrayed in the media for example, becomes integral to the implementation of government surveillance policies (or counter terrorism regimes). The media, which often excites fear, perhaps creates a space for such regimes. A fearful public is perhaps in the best interests of a government hoping to tighten surveillance. There is a clear relationship here between participants. Counter-terrorism regimes do not exist only within the confines of law enforcement, or software, for example, but are displaced across, and influenced by, a range of human and non-human participants, such as the media. It was certainly interesting to observe these sorts of relationships between participants taking shape through the group’s open discussion.

Image archive

Image one/

Image credit: Chip Somodevilla (Somodevilla 2016)

The image shows protestors out the font of an F.B.I office in Washington on February 23, 2016, protesting a confrontation between the Justice Department and Apple, over smartphone security. There is an emotive quality captured within the image that reflects the fear and frustration being felt by the American public regarding data security. These emotions are revealed in the image through a middle aged man, standing front and centre, holding an iPhone to the sky, which reads: “Don’t turn our phones into FBI Drones”. This reveals a lot about the context. The photographer has captured emotion not only through the text that reads on the iPhone, but through the facial expressions of the figures, also in the way in which the group seem to be bustling, shoulder-to-shoulder, in a procession. The photographer has perhaps chosen to photograph the group at eye level, to give the viewer a sense of being within the bustle, upon the open street.

These sorts of debates over laws and ethics surrounding technologies, is something that I have covered within much of my textual research. I do think that photography offers an emotive potential, and a sense of immediacy, that is perhaps, at times, more difficult to achieve in text. 

Image two/

A person uses a sensor for biometric identification on a smartphone in Berlin
Image credit: Fabrizio Bensch (Bensch 2016)

The fingerprint and the footprint have become quite a ubiquitous visual metaphor for data security and online surveillance over the past few decades. This particular example, by Fabrizio Bensch, uses both photographic and illustrative elements to portray a Sci-Fi-type image, of a human hand leaving behind a robotic, computerised finger print. I have found these sorts of trans-human renderings to be particularly common to this topic of data/online surveillance.

It is interesting to consider the aesthetics that surround data — where there is often this Sci-Fi approach. This is perhaps owed to Wachowski’s 1999 film, The Matrix, although it perhaps has more to do with data’s connection to computers and code. As data is often itself, disembodied, it is perhaps given its form through the objects or systems that mediate it. This intersection is quite interesting. The way in which we perceive data, perhaps informs the way in which we approach it.

Image three/

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Heat map of Will Ockerdon’s daily metadata (Ockerdon & Liddy 2015)

This is an image taken from Will Ockerdon and Matt Liddy’s 2015 article for the ABC, titled “How your phone tracks your every move”. I have covered this article in some detail in ‘blogpost one’. What I find interesting about this image in particular, is its use of a heat map to convey Will Ockerdon’s metadata within the Sydney region: I have considered that this heat map is not an immediate manifestation of the data provided by Telstra — which showed only the areas in which Will’s phone calls pinged with Telstra towers close by. The heat map is instead, a visual personification of this data, curated by the ABC.

The data itself is not organic, and does not radiate heat as the image suggests, but is rather, an inanimate set of locations which have been visualised by the ABC in this way. Given the context (news media), I suggest that the ABC have used the heat map to create an emotive response. Again, the media that mediates the data is what gives the data its form.

Image four/
Australian census night crash display window (Brooks & Pearce 2015)

This was the image that greeted millions of Australians on the Australian ‘Census night’ of August 9, 2016, as they attempted to log in and lodge their personal data online to the ABS. This was quite a significant moment to be greeted by such an image, as the ABS had already been under scrutiny regarding the software that they hoped would facilitate the aggregation of data from millions of people on the evening of August 9.

I find the image quite humorous, particularly the part that reads: “ didn’t send any data”: What I find humorous about this line in particular, is that this was the extent of the consolation offered by the ABS (if not to mention a few euphemisms offered by Michael McCormack in the Australian media a fews days later). The image does not offer any explanation, nor further advice for proceedings following the crash. The image could perhaps be appropriated as an emblem for the ABS — in that the image is opaque, very opaque. 

Image five/

Image credit: Zach Gage (Gage 2015)

This is the image that will greet you if you visit The web space is one of many of Zach Gage’s many explorations into ‘wall-clock poems’. The work displays one of two words: ‘war’ or ‘peace’.  The web space determines which word it displays by gathering search queries from Google trends surrounding each word. Basically, if more people search for the word ‘war’ than ‘peace’ in a day, the webpage will display the word ‘war’. Interestingly, the webpage has never revealed the word ‘peace’ — perhaps soon.

The work relates to some of my findings surrounding web analytics and the internet of things. It is interesting how the collation of data can be reframed in such a way, to create quite a beautiful and evocative visual outcome.

Image six/

Edward Snowden — face of counter-surveillance (Schmidt & Mazetti 2013)

It is virtually impossible to search the web for images surrounding data surveillance and not find at least one image of ex-C.I.A Computer Technician, Edward Snowden. In 2013, he perhaps became the figurehead of data surveillance and online privacy counter-culture, when he disclosed a number of America’s top secret surveillance programs to the media. His disclosures, which continue today, initiated a myriad of international discussions regarding data surveillance and the laws that foster it.

It is interesting to consider the idea of a figurehead, such as Snowden, and reform: I have read numerous news articles, such as the example from the New York times in image one, which covered iPhone surveillance, in which journalists go as far as to refer to dates proceeding 2013 as “Post-Snowden” (Somodevilla 2016). Perhaps figure heads, or the idea of pulling together a face, or image, with a given issue, allow the public to better identify with opaque, and often hard to follow issues such as data surveillance. By better identifying with such issues, perhaps we are better equipped to start addressing them.

Image seven/

Image credit: Louis Dickhoff (Dickhoff 2013)

This is an image from 2013, which shows protestors lining the streets of Berlin in protest of US surveillance. What I find particularly interesting about this image, is it perhaps reveals the scope of Snowden’s disclosures, as discussed in the post previous. These disclosures from Snowden soon turned into national debate. There is certainly a sense of frustration revealed in the facial expressions of the figures within this image who seem to be bustling in a procession down a city street. The clever statement which reads: “yes we scan” certainly reveals quite a lot about this context.

These sorts of enraged protests regarding US surveillance and Snowden’s revelations seem to have lessoned since 2013, however, I am wondering whether the extent of US surveillance has also.

Image eight/

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Image credit: Ryoji Ikeda (Ikeda 2010)

I find these sonic and visual representations of ‘raw data’ by Ryoji Ikeda particularly interesting. This image is a frame grab of Ikeda’s 2006 piece, titled ‘Datametrics’ in which he explores the potential to perceive data, sonically, visually, temporally and spatially.

I have started to take interest in the aesthetics of data; in particular, the way in which we perceive data. My findings suggest that data is given form through the media that mediates the data. It is interesting how this then informs peoples perceptions of data , and thus, how we approach it on a social and political level. Perhaps our sensory experiences inform social and political responses.

Image nine/

Caricature of Tony Abbott  — Unknown artist (reddit 2015)

Although I am unable to identify the artist who created this work, I do find this caricature quite effective in its satire regarding the Compulsory Data Retention Policy introduced by the Abbott government in April of 2015. There is a clear satirical agenda here, where the artist is obviously commenting on the dubious reasonings made by Abbott (see pictured), regarding the implementation of the policy.

The artwork certainly relates to writings of Ockerdon and Liddy, from the ABC, which I have covered in blog post one. Although Liddy and Ockerdon also made comment on the retention policy, their version is perhaps far more neutral. I have considered that the medium of animation and caricature is quite effective for satire, which is perhaps why it is so ubiquitous in the field of political commentary. The medium perhaps allows a sense of immediacy, that is perhaps, at times, more difficult to achieve in writing.

Image ten/

Image credit: Keiichi Matsuda (Matsuda 2016)

This image is a screen grab from Keiichi Matsuda’s short film, titled ‘Augmented (hyper) Reality: Domestic Robocop’ from 2010. The film takes the form of a sardonic endgame for an augmented reality from the point of view of a ‘future consumer’, who is somewhat empowered, but mostly beleaguered, by the tyranny of corporate logos and superfluous information beaming down upon them. Recipes, didactic instructions and social networks become immersive spaces for the ‘future consumer’ as he/she roams through various spaces, which are difficult to differentiate, given the density of information beaming down.

What I find particularly interesting about this work, is its sardonic comment on the internet of things, which perhaps also relates to the writings of Kenny, Pierce and Pye, which I covered in some detail in blog post 2, and which spoke of the ethical considerations and guidelines in web analytics and digital marketing in a retail case study. Matsuda’s augmented reality perhaps depicts a dystopia that has long departed from such ethical considerations surrounding digital and retail marketing as discussed by Kenny, Pierce and Pye. Without such ethical considerations in online marketing, we are perhaps left with a landscape that somewhat resembles Matsuda’s. 


Bensch, F. 2016, You Can’t Escape Data Surveillance In America, The Atlantic, viewed 24 August 2016, <>.

Brooks, E. & Pearce, L. 2016, ‘The Census Website Was Deliberately Hacked, Prompting Massive Crash’, The Huffington Post Australia, 9 August, viewed 12 August 2016, <>.

Dickhoff, L. 2013, Protestors in Berlin against US surveillance, The Guardian, viewed 26 August 2016, <>.

Gage, Z. 2015, War or peace, weblog, viewed 26 August 2016, <>

Ikeda, R. 2010, “Datamatics”, viewed 26 August 2016, <>.

Kenny, R. Pierce, J. & Pye, G. 2012, ‘Ethical considerations and guidelines in web analytics and digital marketing: a retail case study’, in AiCE 2012 : Proceedings of the 6th Australian Institute of Computer Ethics conference 2012, pp. 5-12.

Liddy, M. & Ockenden, W. 2015, ‘How your phone tracks your every move’, ABC Online, 16 August, viewed 13 August 2016, <>.

Matsuda, K. 2016, Augmented (hyper) Reality: Domestic Robocop, weblog, Creative applications network, viewed 26 August 2016, <>.

Reddit 2015, The perfect mix – Australian data retention laws, weblog, viewed 26 August 2016, <>.

Schmidt, M. S & Mazetti, M. 2013, “Ex-Worker at C.I.A Says He Leaked Data on Surveillance”, New York Times, viewed 26 August 2016, <>.

Shear, M. D., Sanger. E. D & Benner, K. 2016, In the Apple Case, a Debate Over Data Hits Home, NewsWeb, New York Times, viewed 24 August 2016, <>.

Somodevilla, C. 2016, A Fight for the Future protest on Feb. 23 drew about a dozen people to F.B.I. offices in Washington, New York Times, viewed 24 August 2016, <>.