At London Design Festival, an exhibition promotes personal data awareness.

As part of London Design Festival 2015, British information design agency Signal Noise has curated private i, an exhibition exploring issues of privacy, ownership and control in a data-driven economy.

A selection of 13 artworks investigated the advantages, downsides and grey areas presented by the growing role of big data in consumers’ lives. From DNA-mapping services to drones that promote safety in public areas, the exhibition showed how society can benefit from these innovations, while also highlighting the risk that mass data collection could be making consumers more vulnerable than ever.

Deceptonomics, private_i

“We don’t know what we’re putting out there, what we’re saying yes to and what we’re throwing our data at. You’ve got nothing to hide, until you realize you’ve something to hide,” explains Gemma Hitchens, Head of Content at Signal Noise. With private_i, the agency wants to make visitors question their digital behaviors by thinking about “how much of their data people actually own, and how much they give away for free,” Hitchens said.

One example from the exhibition is Project Seen, a downloadable self-censoring typeface that automatically alerts users when they are using trigger words that might attract the attention of the US National Security Agency (NSA). Created by designer Emil Kozole as part of his MA degree program at Central Saint Martins, this concept aims at raising awareness around digital surveillance and privacy issues. Through his project The Data Double, information designer Josh Gowen demonstrated how the digital footprints consumers leave behind tell a story about their health and lifestyle habits, traveling patterns, and consumption behaviors.

Project Seen, by Emil Kozel

Signal Noise’s call for a more ethical approach to big data shows an expanding role for design in public debates around technology. It also has clear implications for both consumers and brands: as more data sharing allows both greater convenience and greater potential for fraud, brands have to equip themselves with clear and user-friendly terms to prevent consumer backlash.