When IT companies own the streets: A project by Sebastian O’Sullivan

Image © Sebastian O’Sullivan Højholm

The recent storm around fake news showed clearly that IT companies (or their algorithms) can control what we see online: IT companies control our search results, our social media timelines, and the ads that are displayed on the web pages that we visit. The flow of information that reaches us is more or less fully controlled by these big IT companies.

This is not necessarily a good thing: You don’t want to be saturated with heavily biased or ‘fake’ information!

There will always be a need for alternatives – you want to be able to consume a wide variety of media, shop at many different online (and brick-and-mortar) stores, visit a wide variety of websites, see unbiased search results, and get information from many sources.

With big IT companies leading the race towards electric and self-driving cars, digital workplaces, as well as a multitude of products and services in the real world (in addition to the virtual world), Sebastian O’Sullivan, Stud.Cand.IT,  Digital Design at Aarhus University,  takes a look at what the future might hold below.

When IT companies own the streets: A project by Sebastian Højholm

Image: Project booth at the “Post-Factual Design 2027: An interactive exhibition” at IWDK © Sebastian O’Sullivan Højholm

The project

Google MYway is a critical project that attempts to speculate on the role of Google in our society and digital behaviour through a post-factual future in 2027. This project attempts to expose some of the power relationships between Google and the user by translating them from the digital to the physical world.

Google MYway becomes a means of selling our private data to interested third parties in order for us to move “freely” in this fictive society of 2027. Thus, the Google becomes the gatekeeper, regulator and manipulator of our access to the physical world, based on corporate values which undermine the user’s privacy and restrict our behaviour and our access to the world through an economic model based on profit – in much the same way that Google works on the internet today.

Furthermore, the individual person becomes undermined and somewhat irrelevant in a world, where the quantified self and the algorithmic understanding of a person determines what world we’re exposed to, which, in turn, restricts the data we produce, creating a vicious circle of controlled exposure.

In short, the design underlines the problems with a “World of Google” with its lack of regard for our privacy, and an increasingly larger range of products encircling our lives. As the developer of Tor Jacob Appelbaum puts it:

At some point, people are going to realise that Google has everything on everyone. Most of all, they can see what questions you’re asking, in real time. Quite literally, they can read your minds

(from Society of the Query – The Googlization of Our Lives (Gert Lovink: 2012).

Google MYway

An advertisement for the MyWay wrist band (Material from the project) © Sebastian O’Sullivan Højholm

With Google MYway, you have the unique opportunity to combine your interests with the ability to be paid a part of your traffic fee.

The cost of augmenting Danish cities has long been a stone in the shoe of the Danes. Traffic fees have made it unreasonably expensive to live or move to the big cities, but with Google MYway, you can pay your traffic fee and, at the same time, experience a tailor-made route matched to your needs, habits and interests.

Google MYway uses your Google data to automatically sell your traffic fee to businesses. In other words, you save money going through the city by following the roads suggested by the companies who buy your data. For example, if you like a daily cappuccino, your local coffee shop can sponsor a route that passes by their location. Or maybe a trendy clothes shop lures you in by paying your traffic fees? Or maybe your data provider chooses to give you a discount on your commute home from work?

With Google MYway, it’s cheaper to move around the urban environment using routes which are tailored for you only.
Make all your travels in life, both long and short trips, better – use Google MYway.

Traffic fee

The traffic fee is the amount we all pay to go outside in public. The fee was introduced in connection with the launch of SmartGrounds – the digital and augmented substrates, which today constitute 82% of Denmark’s roads, pavements and paths. Due to the cost of materials, both in implementation and maintenance, Danes are automatically deducted a small amount when they use the roads constructed with these materials. The fee is allocated from different price levels depending on the amount of people traveling through the given location and the type of transport they are using.


MYway is a armband with a projected hologram. The hologram shows your location on Google Maps. When a company offers to sponsor your journey on a particular road or route, the armband will vibrate. With two fingers, activate the hologram and the sponsored road will be highlighted on the map . If you choose to use the suggested route, the sponsorship will automatically be deducted from your monthly traffic fee. Google MYway is connected to your Google Data account to provide the most accurate sponsorship information for all parties, and to tailor your routes to meet your needs and interests.

MyWay band on wrist


The need for alternatives

If there were many alternative ‘physical’ providers to choose from, your routes would not be able to be controlled as strictly as in the project described above. More choice usually equals more freedom.

And we haven’t even touched on the lack of privacy highlighted by this project.

Will this really happen?

Do you think this could be in our future? What other areas of our lives could be impacted in similar ways?

Join in the discussion with Sebastian here.