Post 5—Design-led ethnography


Given the task of conducting design led ethnography, I interviewed a class member to gain insight into how young people (18-25) navigate their way through the digital sphere. Using the questions below as a loose guide, we chatted about her concerns for personal privacy, typical internet usage, social media etiquette, how she protects her digital self, the recent census and data retention laws.

  • Are you concerned about your online privacy?
  • What do you typically use the internet for?
  • Have you or your family every been hacked or scammed online before?
  • Do you do anything to protect yourself online?
  • What do you know about the data retention laws that were recently introduced?
  • What is your opinion about the recent census and its shortcomings?

When queried, the participant began by stating she was very concerned about her digital privacy, especially the idea of people watching her through her webcam. She explained that her concern was based off anecdotal stories and media coverage rather than stemming from a personal experience. Elaborating on her initial fear and concern she suggested that sharing content with others (e.g. photos and status updates) through social media platforms, was important, yet what was most worrisome is the blurring of the line drawn between public and private online interactions.

This naturally lead us on to discuss social media etiquette, in particular surrounding the sharing of content posted by others. She talked about her mother sharing photos of her on social media while she was on a holiday. She said it made her feel uncomfortable because it was as though her mother shared the photos to make it seem that she was on holidays with the participant. However she believed she couldn’t make a scene about it because her mother was well intentioned and perhaps didn’t understand the unwritten rules of social media like younger generations. For her this was an eye opening experience: losing control of her own content, in the wrong hands it could mean more than being annoyed at her mother.

Continuing our chat she talked me through her typical online interactions—citing herself as a heavy user of social media, also frequenting online shopping platforms. She noticed that a lot of her online interactions felt very spontaneous and natural—something which the instantaneous nature of the internet affords. Consciously reflecting on her interactions with technology she voiced her skepticism for the inbuilt autofill option for forms (e.g. address and credit card details) which almost force you into purchasing or signing up. Once after opening an email claiming to be a Microsoft software upgrade her computer autofilled her payment details, luckily she realised it was fraudulent before clicking confirm. This close call has lead her to be more vigilant about her online interactions, especially taking the time to check the email address she is receiving from. Other precautions she takes includes taping her webcam, using an adblocker program and occasionally activating incognito mode on her browser, yet she was unsure of this feature’s capacity to protect her privacy while surfing the web.

We concluded the interview by discussing recent events surrounding dataveillance. Despite earlier stating her strong level of concern about online privacy, the participant admitted that she knew little about the metadata retention laws introduced in 2015. After giving her a brief overview of the scheme, she concluded that we are all constantly under surveillance and dwelling on this overwhelming thought would only induce paranoia. She asked herself if she should be worried? stating she hadn’t done anything illegal…

 Design probe

After our chat I was intrigued by the participants simultaneous concern and indifference about online privacy, something I believe may be influenced by the spontaneous affordances offered by various online platforms. The natural and seamless design of these platforms often mask behind the scenes data collection and analysis. With this in mind I prescribed a probe task in the form of a targeted advertising diary which urged her to consciously navigate digital spaces and take notice her online surroundings. The diary (below) asked her to record details about each time she noticed advertising tailored to her interests or search history.


Looking at the collected data we can begin to piece together a snapshot of:

  • The participants interests
  • Her online habits such as the time of day she is most active and websites she uses
  • The frequency of targeted advertising

findings from probe.jpg

On a base level the design probe was successful as the participant was able to identify ten instances of targeted advertising in a seven day period. I was able to gain the insight that targeted advertising occurs most frequently through social media platforms. It also allowed me to better understand how targeted advertising works, along with the habits and interests of young people using the internet. As young people tend to be active social media users in the later hours of the day perhaps there is a relationship between the amount of traffic and frequency of tailored advertising being thrust onto the web.

In future this probe task could be prescribed to a larger and varied group of participants which would be far more useful to identify trends in internet usage and where exactly a specific tailored advert originates from. It would also be beneficial to employ more specificity into what exactly people are being exposed to so as to not end up with a generalised summary such as “social media” or “holiday”. Lastly it would be worthwhile to also examine emotional responses to targeted advertising.

Summary from interview and design probe

  1. Our online interactions are becoming increasingly natural, automated and seamless
  2. Young people are concerned about their online privacy and digital footprint, yet due to the spontaneity of the internet they are often quite naive about the impact of sharing data and content
  3. There is a lack of education and knowledge supplied to the general public around data retention and how to protect ones anonymity.
  4. There is disconnect between how young people (18-25) and older individuals use social media. They often have different end goals and etiquettes when they are sharing content.
  5. Targeted advertising is most commonly encountered on social media platforms, likely due to the shear number of users each platform attracts.

by Samson Ossedryver 


%d bloggers like this: