“I was having dinner at my brother’s house and we all said cheers as we clinked our glasses. His Amazon Echo said ‘cheers’. At the time we thought this was funny but I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” says artist May Safwat on the inspiration for her project Echo Chamber.
“A Bloomberg report revealed Amazon’s Echo voice technology uses contractors to review recordings, which Amazon later confirmed. People often proudly place their Amazon Echo on the bed night stand, our most intimate space. We are blissfully unaware of this intimate surveillance and this project aims to inspire a public debate. What is recorded and stored tells these companies a lot about who we are and what we like. These ‘smart’ devices are run by privately owned companies whose goal is to extract value from its residents whilst simultaneously distracting us with a treat so we can yell, ‘Alexa, play Post Malone Wow’ for the hundredth time.”
Echo Chamber is about this invisible surveillance we’re under all the time and Safwat says it’s also about our readiness to invite corporate surveillance into our homes. In order to spark a conversation she decided to create a life-size replica of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s head with a copper cylinder hidden inside. It’s designed to sit over an Amazon Echo or Google Home and block it from hearing you and connecting to the internet.
“Edward Snowden to me is the Saint of Privacy. He risked his life and sacrificed his freedom to raise awareness,” says Safwat on why using Snowden as the face of her idea seemed like the obvious choice. “As a statement it was necessary for the head to stand out in a domestic setting. This project is about making the invisible visible. And who better than Edward Joseph Snowden at protecting your data?”
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