It Could Be You, digital identities close to you


There are so many ways to let our personal data get out of control. The more we have tacitly accepted that it is no longer important not to share important details about ourselves, the more our digital persona has been intimately digitised and exposed. We have given up the last bastion of our informational privacy, which consists of our private lives, friends and interests, to be “shared” (or better, competed) on social media, and we have given up the last bastion of our spatial privacy (our homes) to use voice commands for trivial tasks while personal assistants listen constantly across multiple devices. Among the various artworks addressing this loss, ”It Could Be You” by HsienYu Cheng has expanded the level of data mining and the resulting generation of content to shake the audience a little. The project first gathers messages from various online forums and chat rooms and then uses machine learning and ethical hacking techniques (such as penetration testing) to generate portraits and personal details such as names, phone numbers, email and IP addresses as fabricated data that can closely resemble the real thing. The installation serves to illustrate the process. There is a screen with a matrix of animated faces, each alternating with similar faces, and three small monochrome thermal printers on stands that continuously materialise the fabricated identities on paper through an image and associated data that gradually pile up on the floor. These accumulating fictional identities, stable on endless rolls of thermal paper and flickering on screens, are the synthesis of our actions from the perspective of a machine. They show the result of accumulating and calculating what the internet servers do all the time with our own data and logically derived true or false information that can be obtained. What should increasingly frighten us is that they look perfectly plausible and that the validating machines care less and less about the difference between them and reality.


HsienYu Cheng – It Could Be You