Algorithms Allowed

Web Resident Joana Moll’s project Algorithms Allowed leads us to the opaque world of US embargoes and online tracking services. The artist and researcher – who lives between Barcelona and Berlin – has been researching online surveillance practices for many years. An experiment – she sold an US tracking services on Ebay, that she found within a North Korean site – led her to discover something strange: the piece of code got banned immediately. Now, for her web residency by Solitude & ZKM, curated by Tatiana Bazzichelli on the topic »Blowing the Whistle, Questioning Evidence«, she investigated on the topic further. Find an interview with the artist here.

Concept for the web residencies

Typically, a tracker is a piece of data embedded in the code of a particular website that allows to monitor and collect data on user behavior. For instance: a tracker can automatically know where a user is based, which computer they’re using, which sites have been visited before accessing a particular site, and which webpages will be accessed in the future – among other more detailed and personal information. The US is currently enforcing embargoes and sanctions against Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, and the Ukrainian region of Crimea. Thus, all transactions carried out with these countries are prohibited and heavily sanctioned by the US government. Nevertheless, Google trackers and other online services such as Google Fonts and so on, owned by the American IT giant, have been found within several websites owned by countries under US embargo. It is important to remember that these websites are stored inside hard disks placed in physical territories. Moreover, I recently found Google trackers within the official webpage of North Korea and tried to sell them Ebay as a .txt file. Even though the item was just an intangible piece of data – property of a US company – it was banned immediately by a Bot, another piece of code in charge of enforcing US policy. At this point the usually unacknowledged agency of code is undeniable. Therefore, my proposal for the residency is based on researching and revealing the many US tracking and online services embedded in websites representing US embargoed countries, thereby exposing the ambiguous relationship between code, public policy, geopolitics, economics, and power in the age of algorithmic governance.

Prior to September 19th 2016, when a leak revealed that North Korea had just 28 sites registered with its own top-level domain, .kp, the country’s contribution to the world wide web remained a mystery. In North Korea, access to the Internet is reserved to a small number of government officials and tourists, while the rest of the population is just allowed to use a closed and heavily controlled national intranet service called Kwangmyong. The service opened in the year 2000 with the aim to become a national substitute for the global Internet.

The public relationships between The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States have been noticeably tense since the end of the second World War II, when Japanese occupation of Korea ended with Soviet troops occupying the north, and US troops the south. Far from decreasing, the political disagreements between the two countries have escalated throughout the years. As of November 2016 the UN Security Council further tightened sanctions towards North Korea by aiming to cut by 60 per cent one of its main exports, coal. This measure was a western response to the nuclear tests carried out in September 2016 by North Korea.

According to the Office of Export Control Services all transactions with North Korea, including imports and exports are strictly prohibited and sanctioned. Nevertheless, as shown in the images below, Google and Adobe services have been found within few North Korea based websites.