News & Views

I know where your cat lives...and what your event was about

by Contagious Team

Digital Data Privacy and What It Means for Your Brand: Event Recap 

Did you miss the HELEN MILLS and Contagious privacy seminar on July 25th? Don’t panic. It was recorded in entirety on video, captured copiously on mobile devices, buzzed about on Twitter (#mornprivacy) and shared on blogs and Facebook. What’s more, to save you from piecing together that digital afterlife yourself, we’ve put together the highlights in an easily digestible format.

Like all good conferences, we kicked things off with cats

Contagious’s North American strategy director Arwa Mahdawi, moderated the conference and started the day off with a look at, a data experiment that visualizes a sample of one million public pictures of cats on a world map, locating them by the latitude and longitude coordinates embedded in their metadata. The cats were accessed via publicly available APIs provided by popular photo sharing websites. This isn’t just some kind of perverse way to aid the international cat-napping industry. As the project’s founder, Owen Mundy, a Professor at Florida State University explains: It’s an exploration of the ‘status quo of personal data usage by startups and international megacorps who are riding the wave of decreased privacy for all.’

Cat-stat digression: If cat-stats are your thing, you may be interested to know that (at least in Britain) cats are more popular than selfies. More than 3.8 million cat photos and videos are shared each day, compared to 1.4 million selfies. 

From cats, we moved seamlessly to eavesdropping lamps

Kyle McDonald, an artist who works in the open with code, was our next speaker. Kyle hasn’t mapped any cats (to my knowledge), but much of his past work explores notions of modern privacy in headline-raising ways. His 2011 project, People Staring at Computers, got him investigated by the Secret Service and started a global conversation about the intersection of privacy, law and art. More recently, Kyle raised headlines for Conversnitch: an eavesdropping lamp that live-tweets offline conversations. 


A look at the NSA's effect on global fashion trends  

Adam Harvey, an artist, technologist, and designer with a focus on privacy and surveillance technologies took to the stage after Kyle. He started off the sobering fact that the "triple identifier" of birthday, gender, and zip code is all that someone needs to uniquely identify 87% of Americans.

Adam then went on to discuss some of his projects. These include the privacy gift shop, Stealth Wear and CV Dazzle, which explores how fashion can be used as camouflage from face-detection technology, the first step in automated face recognition. 


From anti-drone burqas to radio-frequency-shielding hoodies 

Eliza Esquivel, VP Global Brand Strategy at Mondelēz International, came up next to speak about Focus: Life Gear, a conceptual fashion line created by Trident (yep, the gum brand) that blocks radio signals to ensure privacy and encourages a “distraction-free lifestyle.” Privacy can be an incredibly complex topic because it means so many different things to different people. In this instance we looked at how privacy doesn't have to be about surveillance, it can simply about controlling when and where you are contactable.  

Rounding up the day, Dee De Lara, an associate director at Flamingo, New York, shared some of the qualitative privacy research Flamingo undertook alongside Contagious. Dee discussed the misconception that millennials don’t value privacy and the ways in which a digital generation are forging a new definition of privacy. You can read the full report here

So, why does all this matter? 

Only a few years ago, conventional wisdom held privacy to be an outdated concept that had no place in a digital world. However, as has become very clear in recent months, privacy has made a comeback, and brands can no longer afford to hide from the privacy implications of data-driven marketing. According to some original research conducted by Contagious earlier this year, 54% of people aged between 18 and 34 in the US have stopped using a product or service because they were worried about the way it was using their personal data. Privacy concerns are starting to affect how we buy, and how we behave with brands. 

If you'd like to read more about the research Contagious did on privacy, then please click here or get in touch.