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King GAFA: A Fabulous Fable Promoting Privacy Protection

[Image from Episode 5 of “King GAFA,” The Dragons.]

Once upon a time, in the far-off land of Vienna, four student designers decided to embark on a quest to fight for what they considered a noble cause: a more private, just, and equitable internet. Though the foes were formidable and the topics complex, they envisioned the creation of an online fairy tale which would both engage and enlist people in their journey.

So goes the creation story of “King GAFA and the Magical 0-1 Crop,” the latest addition to innovative, artistic projects designed to elevate privacy, security, and technology issues inherent to our digital age. By cleverly adapting classic fantasy and romance literature conventions, these four storytellers have created a project which is a true boon for privacy awareness. As the merry band describes the project:

“King GAFA and the Magical 0-1 Crop” started as a university project. Design for Agency! How could we as designers contribute to the fight for a better Internet? We’ve met with experts, learned from them how to encrypt our emails, which messengers to use, how to avoid nasty trackers, we joined their discussions and we are now very proud to present our fairytale – a story to challenge our internet behaviour and spark a conversation about data sovereignty.”

At the time of this article, the fairy tale of King GAFA offers seven episodes, though the group has designs on creating more. Sample topics in the current series include our dependency on apps and devices (“The Present”), the role of data brokers and how their algorithms impact our lives (“The Dragons”), and encryption and the use of safe messengers (“The Basketmaker”). Though you can view individual episodes, the entire series is well-worth your time. Their clever development and extension of metaphors appropriate to privacy and security is compelling.

But who is this “King GAFA”?

Meet King GAFA

While the fairy tale does an excellent job explaining “King GAFA,” the acronym “GAFA” is taken from real life. As this article in Quartz explains, GAFA stands for Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. It’s a “shorthand term for some of the most powerful companies in the world.” From the article:

Le Monde’s economics editor, Alexis Delcambre, tells Quartz that GAFA first appeared in his newspaper in December 2012. “GAFA is not used very often, but when used, it is almost always on critical topics, including taxes or personal data,” he says.

The article goes on to explain how European countries have a less-than-sunny view of GAFA and the revolutionary innovations the companies have brought to the world, especially in the wake of various NSA surveillance programs.

This also helps explain some of the tone in the “King GAFA” fable. Privacy is personal, and our view of our relationship with companies who gather and use our information is personal as well. Whereas some may see profound benefits to this relationship, others see a future of “surveillance capitalism” and “American cultural imperialism.”

Regardless of where you are on the spectrum of optimism and pessimism over GAFA’s aims, “King GAFA” tells a story rich with information which can help you better understand privacy and security issues. It can also help you act in accordance with your values.

Become a Privacy Knight

The tale of “King GAFA” is far from over. In fact, the group wants to enlist you in the knighthood and seeks ideas and support for the future of the project. The student founders have “ideas for at least 10 more episodes” and could use the help of all who champion the right to privacy.

Kudos to the crew behind “King GAFA.” It is always inspiring to see artistic expressions of privacy and instances where modern art meets privacy challenges. While the quest for our privacy may never have a tidy fairy tale ending, it is heartening to know we are part of the hero’s journey.

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