Ever been browsing on a website for, say, sneakers, only to suddenly get bombarded with Amazon ads elsewhere for them? Web companies use data in a lot of different ways to work out your interests, and some of those methods can feel slightly creepy when given a closer look.
A weird digital art experience, ClickClickClick.click, that launched this week from Netherlands-based VPRO Medialab won’t explain to you how Adidas knows when you’re in the market for sneakers, but it will make you aware of just how much behavior is tracked by websites and fed to advertisers.
Here’s how it works: Users are invited to experiment with a green button, move the mouse, click, hover and drag to see what happens. An intrigued psychologist narrates your interactions on the site, and each user’s data is gathered to a central server, where ClickClickClick collects statistics about how people are interacting with the site. As time progresses, the site draws conclusions based on your behavior: if you’re a more cautious clicker, for example, that may mean you’re female.
“We have consciously chosen to leave out the content,” says Luna Maurer, a business partner at Studio Monker that helped design the site. “All you see is a green button, nothing else. You don’t see a photo or other layer with which you can interact, there is actually nothing at all. And yet you are still subject to analysis.”
The project is a continuation of a previous, physical installation called “We Are Data,” a human-sized box that scanned users to determine their emotions. ClickClickClick aims to replicate that sense of unease about the volume of collected data so users worldwide can take part.
It’s not just behavior that advertisers use to pick up on customer habits. In May, one U.S. senator took a stand against ad billboards tracking nearby phone locations, data that could be used to find out how the billboard impacted buying habits and whether it was effective. Similarly, Google last month started using user data to supply advertisers with personally identifiable information.
ClickClickClick may work as a simple time distraction, but it shows just how much experts can learn about you without you even knowing.