Businesses and governments are increasingly asking themselves this question: What’s a reasonable expectation of privacy in a world where we’re constantly trading personal information for basic services online? According to designer and coder Xuedi Chen, there isn’t one. That’s why she designed a 3-D printed mesh bustier with pockets that expose your bare chest when you interact with your smartphone.
Chen spent a semester working on the x.pose bustier for her masters thesis at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. It features a flexible, black mesh with a layer of material that’s opaque when idle, but transparent when a current of electricity runs through it. Chen also built an app to mimic the data collecting habits of sites like Facebook or Google, which then activates the garment through Bluetooth and an Arduino platform.
“I saw this duality in this Internet culture that we have right now, where people are so obsessed with privacy and publicity at the same time,” Chen says. “Every time we post something, we want privacy software to protect us, yet every website we access logs some kind of metadata from us. We want to be protected, but we want to be public. We can’t help the fact that data is just being taken in the background.”
Right now, the bustier’s exposure response is structured on GPS data. Chen’s most traveled GPS coordinates trigger the most active points on the bustier–parts that reveal sensitive patches of skin on the chest and hips. Go on any kind of website, or interact with most apps, and GPS data will be sent out from your smartphone. But in Chen’s version of the online experience, the only way to keep your clothes fully opaque is to turn off your phone.
“I felt like digitally I was already being exposed, and physically, I just felt like that was a apart of the statement,” Chen says. “While wearing it, just the amount of activity that happened made me realize how much it was showing off.”
Chen says she hopes to take x.pose to galleries and expand on its design. Now that she’s got GPS data covered, she wants to incorporate more metadata. Timestamps and browsing histories, she says, are all fair game.