Pantheon is a Chrome extension built during Art Hack Day :: God Mode at 319 Scholes NYC Feb 28 - March 2, 2013
To us, "God Mode" is omniscience and omnipotence. It's how the NSA might eavesdrop or how a hardware manufacturer might backdoor into your device without your knowledge. There are plenty of examples of this happening in real life - Amazon deleting Orwell's “1984” from people's Kindles without their consent comes to mind.
We wanted to illustrate the principle of backdoor access in a way that was playful and artistically and politically relevant. As such, we created Pantheon, a browser plugin that let's you impersonate a random person online (provided that person also has the plugin ). Every time you open a new tab it opens as if you were that other person. You can take any action you want as that other person online for 10 seconds until the page fades out and is deactivated. (Yeah, we were inspired by Snapchat.) We call the plugin Pantheon since it grants every user God Mode for a brief period of time.
By downloading the plugin you grant any other user of the plugin the power to impersonate you. In exchange you're granted the power to impersonate them. There is no way anyone will ever know who's impersonating who or when someone is impersonated. It's symmetrical and egalitarian - contrary to conventional backdoor access where one party generally abuses the other.
Pantheon is based on cookies, the fundamental infrastructure of the web. By sharing browser cookies, you genuinely become another person in the eyes of the internet. Note that the plugin has no idea who you are, it isn't sharing usernames or passwords. In fact it doesn't log any personally identifiable information at all. Sharing cookies is more akin to sharing someone's keys, but the key itself doesn't tell you who it belongs to.
With Pantheon we hope to
- Question the nature and prevalence of backdoor access
- Illustrate the power we (often unknowingly) grant devices and people online
- Explore the continuum of fear and delight that arises from unexpected intimacy: do people abuse their newfound power or does it evolve into play?
For security reasons we've split the original plugin into two plugins: One that shares cookies and one that doesn't. Using the version of Pantheon that shares cookies is somewhat like reperforming Marina Abramovic's Rhythm 0 performance online, and we're not sure people necessarily know what they'd get themselves into. Therefore, the plugin that's directly downloadable from Pantheonapp.net doesn't share cookies. If you want to go full on Abramovic style we welcome you download the cookie sharing version from GitHub and installing it. Let us know how it goes!
For future development of Pantheon we’d like to include a small map to show roughly where the person you’re impersonating is based. The notion of backdoor access itself is worthy of further exploration especially on mobile devices and we hope to get there soon:)