Zoom Obscura


DI Webinar – Pip Thornton and Chris Elsden, Zoom Obscura

Zoom Obscura: creative interventions for a data ethics of video conferencing beyond encryption
Pip Thornton and Chris Elsden

The COVID-19 pandemic has gifted video conferencing companies such as Zoom with a vast amount of biometric data to be rendered knowable, translatable and ready for economic exchange – such as faces, voices, and chat scripts. It is however as yet unclear what the explosion in video conferencing software means for the exploitation and monetisation of potentially valuable data for NLP, facial recognition, ML and AI training and other drivers within the digital economy which require urgent critical scrutiny. COVID-19 has left us with little choice but to increase the volume of interactions we have in online spaces such as the video-call ‘room’, and with limited agency in how our personal data might be being stored and exploited.



Zoom Obscura is a project that aims to give agency to the users of newly ubiquitous video conferencing technologies such as Zoom, while still allowing them to participate in online spaces and debates, enabling us to negotiate our own presence and our own value in these new spaces. In addressing this controversy, we will share work we have commissioned from seven diverse media artists, creative technologists and designers to develop critical interventions that make the problematic workings of these technologies legible to wider audiences while empowering users to experiment with, and control how their personal data (visual, audible, text input) manifest in online spaces.

You can find more details of the Zoom Obscura project here: zoomobscura.wordpress.com

Dr Chris Elsden is a research associate in Creative Informatics, with a background in sociology, and expertise in the human experience of a data-driven life. Using and developing innovative design research methods, his work undertakes diverse, qualitative and often speculative engagements with individuals and organisations to investigate emerging relationships with technology – particularly data-driven tools, distributed ledgers and financial technologies.

Website: elsden.me

Twitter: @ElsdenChris

Dr Pip Thornton is a Chancellor’s Fellow in GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh and a practicing artist. Her theory and practice revolve around exploring the politics of existence in online spaces, and critiquing and making visible structures of power within the digital economy with creative methods.

Website: pipthornton.com

Twitter: @Pip__T