A magical crop grown by peasants but exploited by an evil king in a medieval fairytale land of castles and dragons – probably not how you usually picture the personal data economy.

But that is the premise of a video and web project called King GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Apple, geddit?) by a team of industrial design students at the University for Applied Arts in Vienna.

The project brief was ‘design for agency’ – to examine how agency will change as a result of technology. The team went to Privacy Week in Vienna and discovered the interlocking issues surrounding how our data is gathered and used, and who gets the value from it.

Team member Johanna Pichlbauer explains: “We didn’t understand anything in the beginning because we hadn’t really dealt with this topic before. We started to try and make sense of those things – the tracking, the blockchain, the dark net – it was all new to us.

“We’re design students tackling this issue but we felt that there was actually a lack of design and creative tools being used for this cause. There were all these very dry expert talks that were excellent but we realised that this network that already exists might not posses the right tools to communicate to a broader audience, that’s what we wanted to add.

“We started with this very basic king theme which was the state before a revolution when everything belongs to the king and the peasants don’t have any rights and then we started to add bits and pieces. We wondered what data would be in this world and came up with the 0 -1 crop and we thought how does it transfer to the king and what could the dark web be and is the king really the evil guy or could there be dragons that are even more evil and what’s the relationship with them.”

The dragons represent hungry AI algorithms consuming data – portrayed as the magical ‘zero-one crop’ and there is a whole supporting cast of characters representing different interests in the information economy.

Temas member Fabio Hofer highlighted some of the other areas the team would like to explore: “Maybe personal data storage, consent receipts – we definitely want to tackle things like that with smaller, shorter episodes in the future. These projects will continue to exist in parallel with the big, data-driven economy. We want to make it more public that there is a better internet evolving.”

Future episodes will also feature the ‘dark forest’ as an analogy for the dark web and secret VPN ‘tunnels’ that allow hidden passage across the kingdom.

The result is a series of animated stories that are witty and beautifully executed, with authentic medieval illustration and music. Each episode offers open source tools that offer alternatives to mainstream software and browsers.

Whatever you think of the Big Four, you can’t help but be enchanted by the story of King GAFA.