Can you have secrets online? This unusual pop-up shop will make you think again

The Glass Room in central London looks like a high-end tech store, but is actually an exhibition designed to encourage visitors to question how easily they give data away online.
Written by Danny Palmer, Senior Writer

Video: Stop using '123456' as your password

Few are aware of their digital footprint and the extent to which their data is harvested, traded, and sold on a daily basis.

Most people enjoy apps and social media services without thinking about the control over their own personal data they are handing over to giant corporations. For example, if you don't alter the right settings, Facebook has the ability to track you across the web -- and many of its billion users are none the wiser of any of this.

And Facebook is just one example: companies are collecting and using more data than ever, while some governments are increasingly pushing to gain more powers over online services in order to access user's private data.

With a digital life now just the norm -- it's increasingly difficult to be part of society without being online -- and people unaware of the implications for their privacy, a pop-up project looked to educate the general public about what it really means to be online in the 21st century.


The exhibition is designed to evoke the feel of a high-end tech store and aims to draw people in off a busy London street.

Image: Mozilla

Called The Glass Room, the project was developed by Firefox browser-maker Mozilla and technology, human rights and civil liberties awareness group Tactical Tech.

It follows previous exhibitions in Berlin and New York and aims to provide an educational take on the relationship people have with the devices, websites and apps they use everyday.

"There's a whole bunch of fun gimmicks here to get people thinking about as they do things on line, what the footprint is and what the motivations for the companies that are involved in those activities might be," says Mark Mayo, senior vice president of Firefox at Mozilla.

"Hopefully it's dressed up in a compelling experience which gets people thinking and talking and asking about motivations of these services and help them make better decisions in future about the apps they install, the companies they trust or not."

Just a minute's walk from London's Leicester Square, The Glass Room reminds you of an Apple Store -- it's pristine, minimal, tablets are prominently displayed throughout the space and there are even 'Ingeniuses" on offer to provide aid and advice.

But once a visitor steps in off the street they'll quickly realise they're not in for what they expect -- indeed, the store doesn't sell anything at all.


These eight books available to read in The Glass Room list millions of leaked LinkedIn passwords.

Image: Mozilla

"The way we've designed the space is obviously supposed to be evocative of a high-end tech store. Some people know about it, some people come in off the street. But instead of having tech they can buy, they get something they don't expect. They come in and nothing is for sale," says Stephanie Hankey, executive director of tactical tech and co-curator of The Glass Room.

Instead products for sale, each plinth with a tablet features a video or display about digital technology and data in the 21st century, and the screens on the walls display quotes from tech entrepreneurs about attitudes to data -- some of which could make grim reading for visitors.

Famous quotes include "You already have zero privacy. Get over it," from Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun Microsystems, and "We know where you are. We know where you've been. We can more or less know what you're thinking about," from Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet Inc, Google's parent company.

But the exhibition isn't designed to scare. Rather, the interactive nature of it aims to foster interest and enthusiasm so people can learn about issues that impact on their lives.

"What we're trying to do is make things which can seem boring and inaccessible to people fun and intriguing. The reaction we've had so far is that it works -- we've had over 11,000 people in over two weeks, so it's been really busy," says Hankey.

Many of the forty-plus exhibits are interactive: a facial recognition tool tries to match up visitors with a database of publicly available images and attempts to find what could be photos of them online, providing users with a printout which compares their image with an online photo it deems most likely to be them.

Another display features, 'Forgot Your Password' a piece by conceptual artist Aram Bartholl which lists millions of leaked LinkedIn passwords in alphabetical order across a set of eight thick tomes. It's possible that visitors could open up one of the books and find their own password within it. The idea is to encourage visitors to think about how data they believe to be safe could be very publicly available.

Indeed, when The Glass Room opened, a billboard outside the venue prominently displayed what was supposed to be a generic example of poor password use -- 'Sharon's password is 123456' -- staff at the exhibition were surprised when a woman came into the store asking why her password was displayed outside.

But the exhibition isn't designed to be anti-technology, the idea is to raise the public awareness of issues around fair use of data, privacy and digital security. Many people are giving up data because they get something positive back from it -- The Glass Room looks to inform and entertain at the same time.

"We're not being tech-evangelists, but not technophobic either. The problem is as soon as you start criticising, people assume you're a luddite or anti-technology -- but obviously we're trying to do something else," says Hankey.

"We're trying to say that as technology isn't going anywhere and it is part of our lives on every level -- not just the use of mobile phones and internet, but company's use data in different ways -- and how we can have a more nuanced discussion about it and how we can make more informed choices," she adds.

The Glass Room exhibition is free of charge and remains open to the public until Sunday 12th November 2017.

Inside the pop-up store that reveals the truth about web privacy

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