Face to Facebook - Hacking Monopolism Trilogy

Paolo Cirio / Alessandro Ludovico
Source: Paolo Cirio / Alessandro Ludovico

Paolo Cirio

Face to Facebook - Hacking Monopolism Trilogy , ongoing
Co-workers & Funding
Co-author: Alessandro Ludovico
  • face to facebook
    533 × 471
  • facetofacebook
    424 × 320
  • face to facebook
    584 × 480
  • face to facebook
    424 × 320
  • face to facebook
    950 × 350
  • image/jpeg
    638 × 482
  • image/jpeg
    950 × 887
  • image/jpeg
    950 × 1421
  • image/jpeg
    950 × 1189
  • image/jpeg
    950 × 675
Face to Facebook texts from www.face


by Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico. 2011
Logline: Stealing 1 million Facebook profiles, filtering them with face

recognition software and then posting
them on a custom

made dating website, sorted by their faci
al expression characteristics.


Facebook, smiling in the eternal party
Social networking is naturally addictive. It's about exploring something very familiar that has nev
er been
available before: staying in touch with past and present friends and acquaintances in a single, potentially
infinite, virtual space. The phenomenon challenges us psychologically, creating situations that previously
were not possible. Before the ris
e of social networking, former friends and acquaintances would tend to
drift away from us and potentially become consigned to our personal histories. Having a virtual space with
(re)active people constantly updating their activities is the basic, powerful
fascination of the social network.
But there's another attraction, based on the elusive sport (or perhaps urge) to position ourselves. The
answer to the fundamental identity question, "who am I?" can be given only in relation to the others that
we interact
with (friends, family, work colleagues, and so on). And the answer to this question seems
clearer after we take a look at our list of social network friends.
So an intimate involvement and (endless) questioning of our online identity (often literally jux
taposing with
our physical one) is perpetrated in the social network game. But social network platforms are not public
organizations designed to help support social problems but private corporations. Their mission is not to
help people create better social
relationships or to help them improve their self

positioning. Their mission
is to make money. Economic success for these corporations rests on convincing users to connect to the
several hundred people who await them online.
The market value of these com
panies is proportional to the number of users they have. Facebook is valued
at around 50 billion dollars [1]: it sports 500 million users [2]. The game can often translate into a form of
social binging in which the number of friends a user has is never eno
ugh to satisfy. But what kind of space is
Facebook? Facebook is not home

it is way larger and more crowded. And it's not the street, because
you're supposed to know everybody in your space. Facebook is an eternal, illusory party, under surveillance
and r
ecorded for all time. Its structure invites you to first replicate and then enhance your real social
structures, replicating your experiences on your own personal "screen space".
In this unending party, you meet and join old and new friends, acquaintances
and relatives. As with most
parties everything is private, or restricted to the invited guests, but has the potential to become public, if
accidently shared. Here the guests' activity and interests are also recorded through their posts in different
ts and media (pictures, movies, trips, preferences, comments). It's an induced immaterial labour with
instant gratification. Guests produce content by indirectly answering the question "who am I?" and they get
new friends and feedback in the process.
In f
act, Facebook’s subliminal mantra seems then to be "be personal, be popular, never stop." It has even
gone so far as to make it difficult to notice when a friend closes their account (you need to check the
friend’s list to have any idea). The more successf
ul (and crowded) the party, the more the private funders
are happy to put money into it. The price the guests are unconsciously paying is that they are giving away
their (constantly updating) virtual identity. Guests, in fact, organize their own space, and
therefore their
own "party", offering the party owner (Facebook) a connected, heterogeneous group of people who share
As such they offer what can be termed as “crowdsourced targeting”

the indirect identification of people’s
targets and desire
s by the users themselves. In fact the spontaneously posted data provides an endless
(almost automatic) mutual profiling, enriching and updating the single virtual identities, in a collective self

positioning. But can profile data be liberated from Faceboo
k’s inexorable logic? The answer is yes, but it's
important to focus on the core of the Facebook profiles and see how they are recognized as virtual
First, the profiles sublimate the owners' (real) social actions and references through their v
irtual presences.
Second, they synthesize their effectiveness in representing real people through a specific element: the
profile picture. This picture, an important Facebook interface, more often than not shows a face, and a
smiling one at that. Our face
is our most private space and simultaneously the most exposed one. How
many people are allowed to touch our face, for example? And generally speaking, the face is also one of the
major points of reference we have in the world.
There are even "special" reg
ions of the human brain, such as the fusiform face area (FFA), which may have
become specialized at facial recognition [3]. Faces are now so exposed that they do not remain private, but
are thrust into the public domain and shared (they can even be "tagged
" by other people). So any virtual
identity (composed of a face picture and some related data) can be stolen and become part of another
identity, through a simple re

contextualization of the same data.
Furthermore, "face recognition" techniques can be app
lied to group vast amount of Facebook pictures. This
process is also quite paradoxical, because the "surveillance" aspects (face recognition algorithms are
usually used together with surveillance cameras) here are not used to try to identify a suspect or a
but to capture a group people with similar somatic expressions. The resulting scenario is that different
elements forming the identities can be remixed, re

contextualized and re

used at will. Facebook data
become letters of an unauthorized alpha
bet to be used to narrate real identities or new identities, forming
new characters on a new background.
And this is a potentially open process that anybody can undertake. It becomes more tempting when we
realize the vast amount of people who are smiling.
When we smile in our profile picture, we are truly
smiling at everyone on Facebook. So any user can easily duplicate any personal picture on his/her hard disk
and then upload it somewhere else with different data. The final step is to be aware that almost
posted online can have a different life if simply recontextualized.
Facebook, an endlessly cool place for so many people, becomes at the same time a goldmine for identity
theft and dating

unfortunately, without the user's control. But that's
the very nature of Facebook and
social media in general. If we start to play with the concepts of identity theft and dating, we should be able
to unveil how fragile a virtual identity given to a proprietary platform can be. And how fragile enormous
lization based on exploiting social systems can be. And it'll eventually mutate, from a plausible
translation of real identities into virtual management, to something just for fun, with no assumed
guarantee of trust, crumbling the whole market evaluation h
ysteria that surrounds the crowded, and much
yped, online social platforms.




How we did it.
Through special custom software we collected data from more than 1,000,000 Facebook users. What we
collected is their "public data"

some of their personal data (name, country, Facebook groups they
subscribe to)
plus their main profile picture and a few friend relationships.
We built a database with all this data, then began to analyze the pictures that showed smiling faces. The
vast majority of pictures were both amateurish and somehow almost involuntarily or un
alluring. And they are almost always "smiling".
It's also evident that the majority of users want to appear in the best shape and look. They are acting on
Facebook’s mandatory mechanism: establish new relationships. Facebook is based on the vol
uploading of personal data and sharing it with friends. The more friends the better. Being personal and
popular a Facebook user is exposing him/herself to many others, continuing to establish new relationships.
Once the database was ready, we studie
d and customized a face recognition algorithm. The algorithm used
self learning neural networks and was programmed to "group" the huge amount of faces we collected (and
their attached data) in a few simple categories. The categories are among the most popu
lar that we usually
use to define a person at a distance, without knowing him/her, or judging based only on a few behaviors.
We picked six categories ("climber", "easy going", "funny", "mild", "sly" and "smug"

working definitions),
with some intuitive di
fferences, for both male and female subjects. The software effectively extracted
250,000 faces that were connected to the relevant public data in our database.
After grouping them, we started to dive into these seas of faces, with all the perceptual conseq
uences. And
we started to think about why we felt so overwhelmed.
In "The Love Delusion" essay, Dan Jones cites Martie Haselton’s research, which indicates that men
typically overestimate the sexual interest conveyed by a woman's smile or laughter.
When m
en see
someone of the opposite sex smile at them they tend to think "she must be interested." By the way,
women simply see a smile. [Dan Jones "The Love Delusion", March 31 2007, New Scientist]
Further, Heather Rupp, a graduate student at Emory University
in Atlanta completed a study about the
difference between the reactions of women and men when looking at the same erotic images. Tracking the
eye movements of study participants "the big surprise was that men looked at the faces much more than
women did."
Dr. Kim Wallen (who directs the lab where this experiment was performed) suggested that
men scrutinize faces in pornographic imagery because a man often looks to a woman's face for cues to her
level of sexual arousal, since her body, unlike a man's, does
not give her away.
So the role of the face in establishing a potentially in
timate relationship is stronger than generally thought.
And this is also at the base of Facebook’s social system. A Facebook user is supposed to have increasing
numbers of friends, but the website can also be used to actively look for a new relationship, b
y exploiting
the illusory capital of accumulated relationships, signified by switching (mentally or often practically) into
the "single" (i.e. available) status.
In "The Social Network" movie Jessie Eisenberg/Mark Zuckerberg becomes more and more excited a
s the
concept of Facebook gets refined and he lets it be known that "I'm not talking about a dating website".
Facebook is not a dating website, but it works using the same triggering principles. And for a few million of
its "500 million active users" it do
es become a dating website.
So by combining all this information we wanted to make this further step easier for everybody.
We established a dating website [

], importing all the 250,0
00 profiles. This
step builds the virtual land that Facebook is always close to but never explicitly steps in, being just an
enormous background to the active process of searching for potential sexual relationships.
The profiles will be definitively "singl
e" and available, in a fairly competitive environment, with real data
and real faces that users have personally posted. Their smiles will finally reach what they unconsciously
really want: more relationships with unknown people, attracted by their virtual
The price users pay is being categorized as what they really are, or better, how they choose to be
represented in the most famous and crowded online environment. The project starts to dismantle the trust
that 500 million people have put in Facebo
The project talks about the consequences of posting sensitive personal data on social network platforms,
and especially the consequences in real life. These consequences are always underestimated because we
still instinctively tend to confine what we
do online in the visual space of the screen. Face


practically questions online privacy through one of the web’s most iconic platforms. And as with GWEI and
Amazon Noir we're not just making a sophisticated critical action against another giant
online corporation,
but we are also trying to formulate a simple hack that everybody can potentially use.
Everybody can steal personal data and re

contextualize it in a completely unexpected context.
And that shows, once more, how fragile and potentially m
anipulable the online environment actually is.
The Hacking Monopolism Trilogy
Face to Facebook is the third work in a series that began with Google Will Eat Itself and Amazon Noir.
These works share a lot in terms of both methodologies and strategies. T
hey all use custom programmed
software in order to exploit (not without fun) three of the biggest online corporations (Google, Amazon
and Facebook), exploiting conceptual hacks that generate unexpected holes in their well oiled marketing
and economic syst
The process is always illustrated in a diagram that shows the main directions and processes under which
the software has been developed. We found a significant conceptual hole in all of these corporate systems
and we used it to expose the fragility of
their omnipotent commercial and marketing strategies. In fact all
these corporations established a monopoly in their respective sectors (Google, search engine; Amazon,
book selling; Facebook, social media), but despite that their self

protective strategie
s are not infallible. And
we have been successful in demonstrating this.
There are other common themes in the projects. In all of them we stole data that is very sensitive for the
respective corporations. With Google it was the "clicks" on their AdSense P
rogram; with Amazon we
started to steal the content of entire books, and with Facebook we stole a huge amount of public data
profiles. In all the three projects, the theft is not used to generate money at all, or for personal economic
advantage, but only t
o twist the stolen data or knowledge against the respective corporations. In GWEI it
was the shares obtained through the money created by the Adsense program; in Amazon Noir it was the
pdf books distributed for free; and in Face To Facebook it is the colle
ction of profiles moved with no prior
notice to a dating website.
All the projects, indeed, independently claim that some of the corporation’s "crown jewels", including their
brand image and marketing approaches, can be hacked, focusing only on their esta
blished strategies and
thinking in a "what if?" fashion. Furthermore, the projects were all based on a "hacking" idea that, although
pursued on a sophisticated level and with custom software, still could have been applied by anybody with
similar results. T
his is one of the fundamental values of these projects. Finally, all the installations we
exhibited did not use computers or networks, trying to be as coherent as possible with the projects, but
focusing more on the display of the processes than on the tec
Co-author: alessandro ludovico.

"For Face to Facebook, Paolo Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico “stole” one million Facebook profiles, filtered them with face-recognition software, and then posted them on a custom-made dating website, sorted by the characteristics of their facial expressions. The project is the third work in The Hacking Monopolism Trilogy, which began with Google Will Eat Itself and Amazon Noir. Cirio’s and Ludovico’s artistic activism explores the contested space of ownership rights to personal data from multiple perspectives. While no Facebook log-in was required to retrieve any of the profiles, the act of analyzing and repurposing them has led to multiple disputes. The Face to Facebook installation includes prints of the stolen faces, a local version of the Lovely Faces dating website, media coverage of the project, as well as exchanges between the lawyers for Facebook and the artists, and reactions by the public."
Christiane Paul, Face to Facebook, essay in the course of the Exhibition:The Public Private 7.February - 17. April 2013, New School, New York, http://www.sjdcparsons.org/tpp/, 26.08.2014
  • aesthetics
    • contextual
  • genres
    • digital activism
    • digital communities (social network)
  • subjects
    • Body and Psychology
      • expression
    • Media and Communication
      • Internet
    • Power and Politics
      • legislation
    • Society and Culture
      • digital identity
      • privacy
  • technology
Technology & Material