Cloud Mirror (2009)

You'll come face to face with your Internet Self, and you won't like what you see

Solo work. I wrote the software in C.

You gaze into the Cloud Mirror, and it gazes deep into you. It will violate your privacy, especially if you carelessly litter the Internet with sensitive personal details. The Cloud Mirror is an art piece which temporarily merges visitors’ online identities with their physical selves. It uses augmented reality, computer vision, accesses many Internet web services in parallel using cloud computing resources to identify visitors by name; mine the Internet for photographs and facts (dirt) about them; and superimpose that data in an on-screen comic book thought bubble that follows the visitor’s motion.

The Cloud Mirror is a large portrait LCD TV which displays live video from a camera pointed at the viewer. Casual visitors see themselves live on-screen. Superimposed on the image is a “comic book thought bubble” containing a snarky message. This thought bubble follows the visitor’s face around the screen as they move.

A visitor can pick up a badge from a nearby kiosk. Each badge has printed on it a unique fiducial glyph and a unique numeric id. The visitor then registers at a computer kiosk. They enter the badge’s unique id and log in with Facebook Connect, authorizing my Cloud Mirror application to access their data. Alternately, they can fill out a form with their name, email address, and other questions.

Returning to the Cloud Mirror itself, visitors see themselves reflected in the mirror; but instead of a generic message in their thought bubble, they instead see information culled directly from their Facebook profile! Their “favorites” (movies, music, activities) are there; their relationship status; their last status update. But the Cloud Mirror doesn’t stop with Facebook: the underlying DirtDB daemon (running on an Amazon EC2 cloud computing resource) consults many other web services to build a more comprehensive profile of the visitor. Their birthday is used to fetch their horoscope. Their information is used to search IMDB for their movie credits and the Internet Sex Offender Registry, among others. All the information gathered in this way is packaged up into little messages that fit in a thought bubble (“I didn’t know my name matches 4 registered sex offenders!”)

But there’s another surprise waiting for those wearing bages: When seen in the Cloud Mirror, the fiducial glyph on the badge itself is replaced with a photograph. The visitor is confronted with a “virtual photo album” hanging around their neck, and in that photo album are photos downloaded from Facebook and Flickr photos, those embarassing photos which their Facebook friends tagged them in, and image searches on their name.

Facebook and Twitter status updates
Relationship status
Activities, Interests, Favorite Movies, Political Affiliation
Pictures of the visitor and loved ones
Movie affiliations (for Sundance)
How many times does their name appear in the Federal Sex Offender Registry?
How many Google results does a search of their name yield?
And more…

The Cloud Mirror also capitalizes on peoples’ innate desire to embarrass their friends by allowing anyone to anonymously “graffiti” in a thought bubble by sending an SMS message to a special number containing the target’s unique badge ID.

Everyone who encounters the Cloud Mirror is surprised. Most are pleased. For the rest, they are shocked to come face-to-face with their own poor standards of privacy on the Internet.

The Cloud Mirror has been seen at:

Unveiled at the April 16 Mindshare event in Los Angeles. Each month, Mindshare features new interactive installations from the members of Mindshare Labs, a collective of artists, scientists, and engineers.
Cloud Mirror was presented for ten days at New Frontier On Main, part of the Sundance Film Festival 2010
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