Online Project: Traceblog, by Eduardo Navas
Featured for the month of October at Fringe Exhibitions, Los Angeles:
(Click on “net art project”)
Traceblog is a daily ghost log of Eduardo Navas’s online searches, created with TrackMeNot (TMN). While Navas surfs the web, TrackMeNot is activated with the aim to cover his online surfing. TrackMeNot is a browser extension designed for search engine obfuscation. The developers define the Firefox plug-in as follows:
“TrackMeNot is a lightweight browser extension that helps protect web searchers from surveillance and data-profiling by search engines. It does so not by means of concealment or encryption (i.e. covering one’s tracks), but instead, paradoxically, by the opposite strategy: noise and obfuscation. With TrackMeNot, actual web searches, lost in a cloud of false leads, are essentially hidden in plain view. User-installed TrackMeNot works with the Firefox Browser and popular search engines (AOL, Yahoo!, Google, and MSN) and requires no 3rd-party servers or services.” http://mrl.nyu.edu/~dhowe/trackmenot/
Keeping track of people’s surfing activity has become an essential element for data-mining, which is often used by private and public as well as state entities to better understand people’s trends. Traceblog is developed to reflect on a new stage that global culture is entering, which follows a recent period when millions of people around the world willingly shared information about themselves online, via social networks such as Facebook, Flickr, and Myspace, as well as Youtube, not to mention thousands of blogs. This sharing is still at play, and is becoming ubiquitous. The argument behind Traceblog is that social networking and online transparency encompass the solidification of Web 2.0. The result is that everyone is encouraged to be more social under the subtext of constant exposure, at times indirectly and others directly informed by the concept of the celebrity. Everyone can be star in Youtube, if an uploaded video becomes viral, or everyone can feel extremely popular when amassing thousands of friends and “fans” in Myspace and Facebook.
Navas’s logs of pseudo surfing are published on Traceblog to reflect on the archiving of daily activities of any individual who surfs the web. And to ask online surfers to reflect on the real implications of the current state of online tracking. The project in many ways is the opposite of Diary of a Star, in which Navas commented on the Andy Warhol Diaries, while often sharing some personal information of his own. Traceblog, does the opposite: It shows Navas’s unwillingness to share information, while exposing how information can be taken from him. Traceblog also presents the surfing-logs in a way that is unappealing and hard to read by the online user, something blogs are usually designed to avoid. This is done to reference the actual form in which the logs would be stored in a database.
TrackMeNot has received some criticism on its effectiveness, as can be attested by selected links provided on the blog’s top right handside of the front page. Traceblog is not primarily concerned with how well TrackMeNot performs; instead it utilizes the Firefox extension for critical commentary on the preoccupation of losing one’s privacy.