"Fuck my like."
"Safety First." "Hang in there, baby." "Loose lips sink ships."
We've all seen these classic motivational messages stuck to the walls of peoples' homes and offices. But today we live under a much different set of anxieties, and counter-surveillance artist Adam Harvey thinks it's time for an update.
When I visited his studio at the New York City-based tech-art incubator NEW INC last week, Harvey was hunkered over a laser-cutting machine, overseeing the production of dozens of brightly-colored placards.
"Metadata Kills," one blood-red design reads, a reference to the infamous comments by former NSA chief Michael Hayden about how the US government uses the digital residue produced by cellphones to target drone strikes.
Another, colored in that unmistakable shade of Facebook Blue, says "Fuck My Like," a modern day lament that "Big Data Knows More About My Life Than I Do." A bright yellow and black message warns me to "Mind The Cyber Things," the increasing number of household devices that connect to the internet, capture personal information, and inevitably betray us.
The placards are part of "Think Privacy," a color-coded public awareness campaign in the form of signage and tchotchkes for your home and office—like materials for an employee training program that never left the corporate board room.
Harvey says the project was modeled after a sign he saw at his previous art studio that read "THINK SAFETY" on a neon orange background. "This was good advice when placed next to a drill press, but heavy machinery safety is no longer a daily concern and privacy is," he told me, saying he wanted to "bring color and attention to more contemporary issues around data, privacy, and surveillance."
Part souvenir, part political art, the products are the latest addition to Harvey's Privacy Gift Shop, an online storefront that sells anti-drone burqas and other surveillance-related accessories. Think Privacy's messages come in various formats, including wall placards, coasters, refrigerator magnets, and soon coffee mugs and other ephemera, all sporting messages of sensible paranoia that seem right at home in the age of mass-surveillance.
Spreading that awareness is always a tricky balancing act. Not a week goes by without news of some new privacy intrusion. Yet it's still mostly privacy wonks and professionals like Harvey who walk around realizing that—for example—their Facebook Likes can be used to determine their mental state, sexual preferences, politics, and more with surprising accuracy.
"I didn't want the messages to sound too preachy so I aimed for a 80/20 balance between provocation and education for each sign," Harvey wrote to me later in an encrypted email. "The provocation is bold and short, and the pedagogical part sits less conspicuously within the larger letters."
You might know Harvey as the creator of CV Dazzle, a series of makeup patterns designed to confuse facial recognition algorithms. He also designed the OFF Pocket, a sleek cellphone Faraday pouch that lets users to avoid tracking and surveillance by blocking their phone's incoming and outgoing radio signals. (Metadata kills, remember?) The Pocket is currently getting a major upgrade, and the new-and-improved version will be on sale in early 2016, Harvey tells me.
Think Privacy launched earlier this week on Cyber Monday, and the shop plans to add more items soon to fully flesh out the campaign with all manner of privacy stocking-stuffers. And with the holidays fast-approaching, now might be your only chance to pick up that "Born Paranoid" stainless steel coaster for the hardcore Infosec junkie in your life.