A San Francisco media artist named Harris David Harris has created a fake public WiFi network that looked very much like the free one that Google offers to its employees who take private shuttles to and from work in Silicon Valley. His “d0ntb33vil” project — which mimics Google’s motto — also serves as his MFA thesis project in the Digital Arts and New Media program at UC Santa Cruz.
Instead of getting Internet access, Google employees saw an image of the sidewalk in front of them. Instead of being hacked after connecting to an evil twin (a WiFi network that looks legit but is actually run by a hacker), users were subject to conceptual art.
Don’t Be Evil
In a statement on his installation, Harris said, “On the one hand, confronting riders with an image of the sidewalk offers an indeterminate symbol of failure, suggesting that something in their highly customized interface has gone wrong, while not saying exactly what or why. On the other hand, the imagery gestures toward riders’ immediate surroundings and the consequences of increasingly experiencing our environments and social interactions through virtual means.”
The Role of Silicon Valley in the Gentrification of San Francisco
The piece was in part a response to San Francisco’s public protests against the private buses that use public bus stops to pick up employees for hi-tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Protestors have used these private buses as a symbol of San Francisco’s dramatic gentrification from free-spirited mecca to high-priced enclave of the young Silicon Valley employees.
As a result of the protests, the city stopped allowing the private buses to use the public bus stops for free, and started imposing a fee.
Harris said that his piece was not necessarily aimed at the Google employees themselves but rather at the corporations which have transformed San Francisco. Harris stated, “though individuals may play a role in gentrification, it is ultimately a structural issue tied to government neglect and the increasing power of the unregulated market. Just as the shuttles offer a local example in the privatization of public transit, the sectors’ myriad apps and devices promote an increasingly consumer-oriented world in which citizens are nothing more than users, and the only sense of a shared ‘commons’ can be found in paid or data-mined networks. I’m not trying to reject the value of technology, but only to suggest that as a society, we should demand greater accountability and preserve equal access to housing and technology alike.”
In addition, it should be noted that while Harris installed a fake WiFi network with a real-sounding name to simply make people “think” about the issue, a hacker could have done the same thing and eavesdropped on all Internet communications by anyone who connected to the fake network.
For all those fooled by Harris’ fake network/conceptual art installation, take heed. Next time, simply protect yourself with a personal VPN when you connect to free public WiFi.