GDPR in ETHOS Lab: On compliance, deletion and implementation

By Simy Kaur Gahoonia

Like so many others, ETHOS Lab has concerned it self a lot with the General Data Protection Regulation. We have been concerned with GDPR at least since 2017, well before it came into effect, and specifically, we have been concerned with deletion, implementation and compliance–just in artful, experimental, interventionist ways, as is tradition in our techno-humanities lab.

The GDPR occupied much of my time in the lab, as Lab Manager and as assistant and researcher in ETHOS Lab subsequently. It came to center around three interventions, from Spring 2018 until I finally “left” ETHOS Lab as daily staff at the end of 2019. The three interventions were Compliance, The Great Deletion Poetry Rave and the chapbook, GDPR: Deletion Poems. I will describe them in more detail below, and I will also try to credit the vast network of people that made GDPR take form in ETHOS Lab. Marie Blønd was core ETHOS Lab management well before these things materialized as bubble, rave and chapbook. When I stepped in to cover as Lab Manager during Marie Blønd’s maternity leave, “GDPR event” figured firmly on the semester planning sheet that Marie and Heads of Lab Rachel Douglas-Jones and Marisa Cohn handed over to me. We were going to ‘do something with GDPR’. GDPR was a happening, more so than a piece of legislation, in our thinking. And considering GDPR a sociotechnical event followed nicely on the back of our successful farewell to the Cassini spacecraft, our Requiem for a Spacecraft. It is hard to convey how the three main artefacts of our GDPR adventure came to be. Essentially they were probably the product of dreaming, speculation and experimentation!


Compliance is the name we gave to a giant and unwieldy piece of inflatable plastic, in which we created the most serene and coveted space of, well, GDPR compliance. It was installed in the atrium of ITU on May 24, the day before GDPR rollout. In this bubble, we placed three things: a sofa, wheeled down from our lab on the third floor; a table, and a speaker. The speaker recited, in calm voice, the GDPR text. Anyone entering the bubble could then meditate on the words. However, in order to enter, you would have to delete something! Next to Compliance, we featured a station showing GDPR happening live. A twitter feed hooking on to #GDPR and related things. Cæcilie Laursen and Sonja Zell manned Compliance and our twitter station, providing explanation and context for the weird things in the ITU atrium. We were able to document much of this, because Sonja took pictures and tweeted from our event.

The Great Deletion Poetry Rave

In playful resistance, we renamed, rebranded and reorganized of the GDPR. Our GDPR was a Great Deletion Poetry Rave; it was a party with limited, yet absolutely possible entrance; and it laid out the regulation not as a .PDF to be CTRL+F’d in or read from page 1 to 288. The lab was emptied out and blacked out. It was made a black box. We put heavy black cardboard up to cover every window, casting out all sunshine on these 25 degree+ days. At the entrance to the lab, we hung thick black curtains, offered to us and installed by the generous ITU Facilities Management after we went to them, somewhat timidly, for advice on how to achieve radical black out in a “teaching support space”. Cæcilie, Pedro Ferreira and Baki Cakici were among a core group of people planning and engineering the blackout of the lab, and the plastering of wall with GDPR text. All in sweltering May heat! Dave Cohn provided audiovisual art for the Great Deletion Poetry Rave.

We had a captive audience for Compliance and the rave: Christopher Gad, Bastian Jørgensen and James Maguire proposed a collaboration with ETHOS Lab at the Danish Association of Science and Technology Studies conference, which took place on May 24 and 25 2018. This is where we installed Compliance and held the rave.

GDPR: Deletion Poems

After the rave, the GDPR wallpaper, now with deletions, remained for many months. We had not thought to do anything in particular with the many poems now gracing the wall. Until the idea of a chapbook came to mind. A collection of these great poems, from the rave at ITU–and the sister event at Oxford University where Rachel was spending the semester. Bertil Ipsen joined ETHOS Lab as Lab Assistant in the fall 2018 and helped edit the chapbook, and scan and do initial layouting of the poems.  Dave Cohn’s audiovisual art were made into stills, now featured in the chapbook, which he also helped to edit. The GDPR: Deletion Poems chapbook printing was funded by DASTS. And then Deletion poetry refused to die: since our rave, we have featured deletion poetry-making sessions at ITU Culture Night, made appearances in P1 Kulturen. 


In short, with our experiments, we answer the somewhat stale question of: what are your thoughts on GDPR? with a different semiotics. If there is a conceivable and/or empirical moment of struggle with GDPR to be reported, we take it up by thinking core GDPR terms in different ways: compliance (the bubble), deletion (our rave) and implementation (our chapbook).