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We share more of ourselves online than ever before, but we’re also more conscious about who might be following our digital footprint. Privacy – gaining and maintaining it, both online and IRL – was a common theme that emerged in several pieces of winning work at the 2022 D&AD Awards. In response to this increased focus on Privacy, Rachel Connolly, a writer who explores the ways we use and think about technology, unpacks what privacy really means, and what has fuelled a change in the way we think about it.

person holding iPhone pointing camera at the viewer with the text
Privacy - Tracked, TBWA\Media Arts Lab Los Angeles

This quality of being hard to define might explain the slightly cavalier attitude to privacy – especially digital privacy – we have seen from many people until fairly recently. Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA documents in the early 2010s prompted some outrage, but didn’t really affect a mass change in the way people use or think of digital communication.

“For a long time now we have been incentivised to blur the already fuzzy line between our public and private lives for likes and shares”

But it is starting to feel like a seachange is underway. The number of works this year addressing privacy, trying to make it feel concrete, or like a problem which might be easier to manage than we would expect, speaks to this. Why the change?

various items bearing a camouflage design, including a skateboard and drinks cans
Camouflage Against the Machines, Dentsu

During Covid, many of our most intimate conversations with family and friends went totally digital, and we started to think more about the importance of these conversations truly being intimate. When the option to “take this offline” vanishes, you are forced to think more about what online actually means.

At the same time, the culture of shaming and moralising on social media, by sharing private communications from dating apps, say, or footage from video encounters, has seemed to worsen. Or perhaps has just felt more prescient because everyone was forced to be online more. This has prompted discussion about the ethics and morality of privacy. Some people may have started asking themselves: Does anyone truly have nothing to hide?

“Some people may have started asking themselves: Does anyone truly have nothing to hide?”

computer screen with multiple windows open, including an 8-bit image with the text 'The Cookie Factory'
The Cookie Factory, DDB Paris

The Cookie Factory takes a similar track, by making the invisible work of cookies obvious by showing users how different their experience of the internet would look with someone else's cookie history. The result is a discombobulating portrayal of just how well the internet seems to know you, how much it has collected and stored without you realising. Meanwhile, Camouflage Against Machines uses an eye-catching design of literal camouflage to evoke the danger of surveillance. These camouflage patterns scramble AI-based security cameras, making it hard for them to detect clothing so they don’t work as well. The use of the camouflage pattern associates privacy intrusion with the idea of conflict and being hunted, making it seem like a more pressing threat.