"..if you enjoy the wobbly psychedelic synth of Boards of Canada you might like listening to the onslaught of cookies but if, like me, you have both AdBlock and Privacy Badger installed on your browser then you will begin to worry about how many of these third-party cookies they are managing to catch and block." - Marie Boran,
Listen to the Cookies Following You around on the Web. Web Log: Chrome and Firefox Plugin Reveals Level at Which Cookies Are Tracking Us Online. The Irish Times, 4 March, 2020.
Listening Back is an add-on for the Chrome and Firefox browsers that translates Internet cookies into sound while you browse online. As part of a practice-based research Listening Back is focused on the commercial online context of extractive algorithmic surveillance technologies. Seamlessly embedded in to our everyday Web experiences, they remain intangible to the surveilled. Listening Back proposes the creative potential of sound to provide a supplementary layer of sensory information to advance experiential engagement with Web surveillance through its aesthetic disclosure during the everyday act of browsing the Web. As a critical mode of sonic inquiry, Listening Back investigates algorithmic Web surveillance by providing a sounding approach to experiencing how its monitoring operations are continually and ubiquitously taking place. By sonically signaling their situatedness within the Web browsing context, alternate Web spaces are facilitated to consider the politics of being continually tracked while browsing the Web.
According to the most extensive online index of “pre-categorised cookies”, in June 2021, 36,816,705 cookies circulated across the World Wide Web and personal computing devices of which one percent were identified as ‘strictly necessary’.(https://cookiepedia.co.uk/. Considering the extraordinary amount of cookies tracking us across the Web it was impossible to create a unique sound for each one. I therefore created signature sounds for major web domains such as google, youtube, facebook, amazon, a flight search engine and some of the third party cookies that are particularly prevalent across the Web and our personal computing devices.
In live performances with the browser ensemble, trio, or duos, the act of Web browsing was amplified and enlarged via video projections and multi-channel sound systems as a means to increase appreciations of the ubiquity and pervasiveness of Web surveillance. These enveloping sensory environments facilitated alternate Web spaces to consider the normalisation of Web surveillance through critical and bodily felt encounters with abstract data flows.
For the gallery installation at Sydney Non Objective, an immersive Web browsing environment was produced to increase human connections to cookie data and offer a more considered and exploratory engagement through the possibility of interaction. The exhibition utilised two iMacs, seven small speakers, one subwoofer, and the Listening Back Chrome browser add-on. The affective and vibrational force of sound, most evident at the low end of human audition, is where sound noticeably affects change in a body, and for the transmission of low frequencies a subwoofer is essential. The notion of affect, for the practice of Listening Back, refers to an experiential appreciation of sound in embodied and sensing terms. Stressing these embodied sensing moments, sound affects in a way that provides for more than a purely discursive experience and understanding of automated data collection. An inquiry through sound engages across both sensory and discursive modes of meaning making. To engage sound to think through and experience contemporary data politics is to situate listening across sensory and critical modes of experiential analysis.
Through personal usage of the Listening Back add-on, the listener is sonically situated within the surveillant networks of their own browsing. In these intimate situations the sonic interruption of everyday browsing, effects an individual experience of being continually and ubiquitously tracked by the ever-evolving cookiesphere. The Listening Back interface, initially developed for live performance, enables users to individually adapt settings for long-term usage and diagnostic and exploratory listening.