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Big Tech shattered in Glass Room art exhibit

The interactive exhibition looking at the darker side of technology debuts in San Francisco.

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The Glass Room art exhibit opens in San Francisco on Wednesday and is free to the public.

Lucas Saugen

Big Tech faces a reckoning. Personal data is stolen and leaked. Social media companies are blamed for helping subvert democracy, as well as inflaming ethnic tension and genocide. Tech workers themselves are protesting against their employers over harassment and discrimination.

One art exhibition hopes to capture all of this and more. The Glass Room has 50 installations that use real data to examine how technology has shaped our lives and our world -- for better or for worse. The exhibit initially opened in Berlin in 2016 and has since shown in London and New York. The exhibition will open on Wednesday in San Francisco, the northern annex of Silicon Valley.

The show is coming to "the belly of the beast," said Erica Terry Derryck, senior director of communications for Mozilla, which is sponsoring the exhibition.

Inside a two-story, glass-walled storefront, the installations invite people to learn more about the inner machinations of the top tech companies and their own digital footprints. Each display is meant to be thought-provoking and prompt a conversation around technology.

"We read about these things but it's quite hard to visualize," said Stephanie Hankey, co-curator of the Glass Room. 

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Pages and pages are filled with passwords stolen in the 2012 LinkedIn data breach.

Lucas Saugen

One installation is stacked with white, hard-bound books that contain all of the passwords stolen in the 2012 LinkedIn data breach. (The professional network's headquarters is five blocks from the exhibit.) In that breach, a hacker pilfered 6.5 million passwords and posted them to a Russian crime forum. In another installation, the artist makes a visualization of her entire online browsing history over the last several years. She invites people to interact with the exhibit and delete parts of her history.

A section of the exhibition looks at "the Big Five": Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. These companies are some of the richest and most influential in the world, amassing billions of users and their data.

One display examines the true cost of "free technology" by seeing how much money Google makes from targeted ads. Another shows what Amazon does to ensure worker productivity in its factories. There's also a Rolodex of all of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's public apologies, from FaceMash to the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

"It's taking Facebook's idea of 'move fast and break things,'" Hankey said. "And asking, 'can everything that's been broken be fixed?'"

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One installation shows more than 100 tech worker protests over the last ten years.

Lucas Saugen

Other parts of the exhibition look at facial recognition, emotional recognition, predictive policing, iris scanning and crowd surveillance. Another group of displays study how tech gadgets are made and the minerals, radioactive waste and labor involved in their production.

"I don't see it as criticism because most of the companies know this is happening," Hankey said. "I see it more as a discussion or debate."

The Glass Room will be showing in San Francisco from Oct. 16 to Nov. 3 and is free to the public.