a note from
the editors

Apurv Rayate & Sarah Nichols

We all pay an unobservable price for using the internet. Aptly named a web, the hundreds of websites we browse on it everyday extract this price from us; from something as innocuous as our favorite color and shopping list to more serious and supposedly private information like our credit card information and our current GPS location. These data points are pieces of us that get stuck on this web; the more we use it, the more we are entangled in it, the more data we leave behind. Unfortunately, this living record of our online activity can become an accurate delegate for our desires and wants and is often used to sell all kinds of products and services specifically targeted to us.

No one has direct control over these hidden systems that we interact with on a daily basis; in fact, very few actually have full awareness of the industry churning behind their browsers. This is by design, as the really necessary information that you need before interacting with the web is often buried in endless privacy policies. Consent is taken as the tiny bar that flashes at the bottom of your screen every time you open a website- ‘We collect cookies for improving your browsing experience’.

The problem with this process lies not in its ability to sell us foot cream we like but in the ease with which all this data can be accessed and exploited, by any person, regardless of their motivations. How do you protect yourself from being deliberately influenced to vote a certain way? How can you prevent biases and hate related to your identity from being covertly spread online? What if one day you find a malicious website selling a tracker that constantly points to your exact geographical location? In case this wasn’t clear yet, this is happening in the world right now, maybe not to you yet, but by abusing the very tabs you have open along with this one.

Awareness about dark data is improving, and governments are scrambling to regulate the behemoth; but data harvesting is too profitable a process, with enough power to keep itself kicking. Amid a global pandemic that discourages social connection, the use of the internet has become essential to function in society. This effectively catalyzes the vicious cycle, even knowledge of the architecture behind the internet cannot help you avoid using it. This publication seeks to shift focus from talking about Dark Data to exerting agency over its meanderings; to empower readers to navigate the web while being more aware of its nature and explore ways they can shield themselves from it. Through reading this collection of articles, we hope readers are informed about the deliberately incongruous practice that is Dark Data, and that they gain strategies to investigate their own digital exhaust. Finally, we would spur readers to speculate more deliberate and balanced futures for themselves in a world powered by their own data.

The three sections in this publication each focus on these core ideas of elucidation, investigation and speculation about Dark Data. Each article is a critical response by the author to a semester worth of rigorous conversations and explorations around this topic and its intricacies. We would like to equip you, the reader with the knowledge and tactics that allow you to actively rethink your experience online on your own terms.

Apurv Rayate is a second year BFADT student. He enjoys overly nested JSON files but has a tendency to get lost in them. Twitter Sarah Nichols is a first year MFADT student. When she's not editing papers, she can usually be found researching botnets and social media fraud. Twitter
Dark Connections

The internet is made up of interconnected pieces of data about its users. Every website has trackers installed in it, mostly belonging to Google or Facebook, that keep tabs on the people using it. This data is neither protected or encrypted, often fully accessible to anyone with the means to access it. Though these companies store our data and use it to sell their products to us, they are in no way responsible for it. This entire system is almost always not implicit and shrouded in the background of its utility. This section aims to connect these dots that exist in the dark underbelly of the internet, that we have a vague idea about, but that are not necessarily clear.
Making these connections can make the online experience feel scary and unsafe, but it already is. Although governments and large corporations are often seen as the problem, the truth is that they are far less interested in you or I than someone who knows us personally and has an agenda that involves us. This section shines a light on the dark patterns that enable your data to be collected and potentially mobilized against your interest.

Digital Forensics

In order to combat the practice of dark data, one can exploit the loopholes in its architecture. But in order to do this, we need to at least comprehend the full extent of the information that is collected about us. It is now possible for us to demand the data that is collected about us, though this option is not directly obvious to most people. Resources like APIs, Google Takeout, and OSINT tools allow us to conduct small-scale investigations with regards to where our data lives and what data exists about us. This section is a collection of attempts by the authors to gain access to and interpret their own data that exists online.
However, awareness of the data does not guarantee its control. Google may give us a copy of the data that exists about us in its servers through its Google Takeout service; but this does not mean that that we now own this data. Google can still use it however it likes, it has not been deleted from their databases. We are being given only an illusion of control and this is intentional. Digital Forensics can only grant us a window into this massive machine, the machinations of which may still continue to be unclear. This section explores these windows and what they teach us both about ourselves and about the technology that we utilize.

Data Futures

What is the future of dark data? People are increasingly aware that information about them is collected online. Governments are making efforts to regulate Big Tech and protect the privacy of citizens. How can we imagine better ways to exist in the system? How can we protect ourselves from its repercussions? This section speculates how dark data is changing as a practice. It discusses ways in which people can take action and re-examine their browsing methods. The ideas discussed here think about how technology can be used to propose solutions to the problem it has created.
It is important to consider that the practice of data collection and exploitation is ongoing. There is no easy way out of these cycles. However, we would like to believe that sparking deliberate thought and action to help you orient yourself in this Wild West landscape can make the process of coming to terms with dark data easier.


This digital edition was compiled from scholarship, research, and creative practice in spring 2021 to fulfill the requirements for PSAM 5752 Dark Data, a course at Parsons School of Design.


  • Sarah Nichols
  • Apurv Rayate

Art Directors

  • Nishra Ranpura
  • Pavithra Chandrasekhar

Technology Directors

  • Ege Uz
  • Olivier Brückner


  • David Carroll
  • Melanie Crean


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