European Mobility Award Report | Paul O'Neill
Recipient of a European Mobility Award, researcher Paul O'Neill, reports on his participation in the Freeport 0: Trespassing the Data Factory Summer School that was held at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), Catalonia, June 2018.
Paul O’Neill is a Researcher based in Dublin, Ireland. His interests and research relate to Tactical Media, Hacktivism, Remix Culture and Media Archaeology. This discourse is reflected in his academic background, a graduate of Dublin City University with a BA International Relations, he followed this with an MSc Multimedia also from Dublin City University and then completed an MA Art in the Digital World in the National College of Art and Design.
Paul is currently completing a PhD in the School of Communications in Dublin City University.
This report provides an overview of the content of the Summer School, including lectures, discussions and practice-based workshops. It also contains a short description of how my participation in Freeport, with support from the EUCIDA Travel Award, has significantly contributed to my ongoing practice-based PhD research project, entitled, ‘Practice what we Preach: Tactical Media Art as a form of Political Resistance’ and the dissemination of the same.
Freeport 0: Trespassing the Data Factory was a collaborative project between the Influencers Festival (theinfluencers.org) and Share Lab (labs.rs), with support from CCCB (cccb.org) and co-funding by the Creative European Programmes of the European Union. The Summer Schools’ stated aim was to promote ‘radical research and creative production combining art methodologies with the language of unconventional ways to explore a networked planet, seizing its aesthetic opportunities and exposing its political ambiguities’ (Freeport.institute, 2018). This was achieved by engaging with a number of conceptual, theoretical and practical methodologies that incorporated open group discussion, lectures, practical workshops and project ‘clinics’, involving contributions from both participants and course leads. The main program leaders were Professor Vladan Joler, Director of the New Media Department at the University of Novi Sad, Serbia and co-founder of the Share Lab, Andrej Petrovski, a Cyber Forensic Specialist and Olivia Solis Vilaverde a designer and researcher, also from the Share Lab.
Prior to the commencement of the program, the entire group met to introduce ourselves and discuss the week ahead. In total there were 16 participants from various countries including Belgium, Brazil, Catalonia, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, The United States and Spain. The backgrounds of the participants was very diverse and featured artists, architects, activists, designers and academic researchers. Despite this diversity, it was immediately obvious that we all shared a common desire to critically engage and reflect with many of the dominant narratives associated with contemporary new media technologies such as privacy, consumerism, big data, e-waste etc.
Image: Freeport Banner at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona.
Day one commenced with a lecture by Vladan Joler and Andrej Petrovski, detailing some of their work to date, with a particular focus on projects they had undertaken in relation to the tracking of internet protocol (IP) addresses. Through this tracking process they were able to reveal some of the key actors and elements, both political and corporate, of the underlying structures of the internet. As will be discussed later, the methodologies and tools used in this process were utilised by all participants throughout the week. Following this lecture, the group split into smaller ‘clinics’ in which we discussed some of the findings and outcomes of Joler and Petrovskis’ research whilst incorporating other related themes, including blockchain technologies, surveillance capitalism, subsea cables and internet end points.
The afternoon session consisted of an introduction to various tools and functions, such as the open source software program NMAP, to track and trace IP addresses. These methods provided the participants with practical tools to enable a better understanding of networked topologies and the associated and affiliated organisations that regulate them, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and Réseaux IP Européens (RIPE).
Image Vladan Joler (left) and Andrej Petrovski (right) leading a workshop on network topologies.
Image: Free port participants at network topology workshop.
On the evening of day one participants were invited to a keynote lecture presented by Vladan Joler and Catalan artist Joana Moll entitled ‘Exploitation Forensics: Anatomy of an Artificial Intelligence System’. This event took place at the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia, an apt location for what was essentially a conceptual dissection of the materiality of digital technology. An iPhone was placed on the dissection table in the centre of the anatomical amphitheatre, Joler and Moll then gave a presentation identifying the raw materials, manual labour and networked infrastructures involved in the production of this digital artefact.
Image: Freeport Keynote Lecture 'Exploitation Forensics: Anatomy of an Artificial Intelligence System' at the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia.
Day two began with another lecture from Vladan Joler and Andrej Petrovski which detailed their research on a project entitled ‘Metadata: Inside Hacking team’. This lecture was an exploration of the ability to use metadata as an investigative method for research whilst also raising questions related to targeted and mass surveillance and privacy rights. The data used in this project came from the Italian based cybersecurity company ‘Hacking Team’ whose twitter account was compromised in 2015 leading to the publication of over 400 gigabytes of data, internal emails, invoices etc (labs.rs/en/metadata, 2018).
This lecture was then extended into a practice-based workshop in the afternoon session. Participants were shown how to mine the Hacking Team archive using various tools, including Gephi,an open source network visualisation program that allowed us to conduct an exploratory analysis of key nodes and networks within the Hacking Team infrastructure.
The lecture on Wednesday morning was given by Olivia Solis Vilaverde and focused on her research into alternative internet infrastructures, networking and content distribution in Havana, Cuba. The lectured then segued into a wider discussion surrounding decentralised networks and alternative, encrypted methods of communication and the implications of using them. Following this discussion, Andrej Petrovski gave a short presentation on cyber forensics which obviously complimented the themes of the program, whilst providing us all with a clearer understanding on practical methods to be used in relation to data protection and privacy.
Image: Andrej Petrovski presenting on Cybersecurity and Forensics
The afternoon session of day three was a continuation of the previous practice-based workshops focusing on using data analysis programs including Tableau. This was then followed by various participants giving presentations on their own research and artistic practices outside of Freeport.
The morning lecture on day four was again given by Vladan Joler and Andrej Petrovski and focused on what information we can defer from examining individual browser histories. This presentation built on the work of the Share lab in 2016 in collaboration with the Tactical Tech Collective in Berlin and utilised the browsing history of an unknown Swiss journalist. By examining his browsing history and habits whilst also examining trackers, cookies and other data logged during the browsing process, the presentation mapped out the corporate infrastructures that we encounter while using web browsers and, more importantly, what information these corporations collect when we interact with their platforms and services.
This lecture was followed by a presentation by the Catalan artist Joana Moll, who is doing similar research into the algorithmic structures of data collection and scraping.
'Image: Joana Moll presenting on her 2017 work, 'Algorithms Allowed'
The afternoon session featured more participant presentations. This included the work of Dr. Pablo Desoto presenting on his research into radical cartography and Luis Rodil – Fernandez presenting on his work at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media at the University of Lüneburg in the Netherlands.
The final day of Freeport began with a presentation from Vladan Joler. This presentation evolved from his research and analysis of the corporate employment structures of Facebook. This analysis was conducted using publicly available data, mined from over 1000 LinkedIn profiles of people associated with Facebook. The purpose of this research, which mapped the education, status and present position of staff within Facebook, was to shine a light on the actions of the company whilst also providing an informed space in which we can speculate on future courses that Facebook may take.
The final afternoon session was an open workshop in which participants, working individually or in small groups, focused on general research projects resulting from the lectures and discussions over the previous days. The range of projects was as diverse as the participants involved, and included an analysis and visualisation of one participants email history, a visualisation of the social nodes and networks of Freeport participants themselves, as well as a performance-based project that explored some of the themes raised during the week.
Since attending Freeport, I have been able to apply and incorporate some of the key methodologies and concepts covered in the program directly into my own PhD research. I have recently started a project entitled C-Node which, using the exploration of public internet protocol addresses as a starting point, maps the physical, political and corporate infrastructures of the internet in Dublin and Ireland. As part of this project I have started giving public tours of these same infrastructures in order to disseminate this research more widely.
I recently presented a paper entitled ‘Pedagogies of resistance in contemporary new media arts practice’ based on this work at the ‘Taking Back the Web: Participation, Panic, Power – public and private’ conference at the Centre for Critical Media Literacy in the Dublin Institute of Technology.
I will also be presenting a separate paper related to this project entitled ‘Towards a Critical Tactical Practice: An Archaeology of Manifestos and Making’ at the ‘After Post-Truth: Critical approaches to creativity in the age of multi-truth’ conference at the BAU, Design College of Barcelona on the 29th of November, 2018.
Freeport 0: Trespassing the Data Factory was an excellent experience that allowed me to significantly advance my research agenda, both conceptually and practically. It also allowed me to network, share knowledge and research with other digital media practitioners from all over the world. This opportunity could not have happened without the EUCIDA travel award. The award has made an invaluable contribution to my academic, professional and creative development and I am extremely grateful to the organisation for their support.