Blog 5 – Interview and Probe

Semi-structured Interview

The overall goal of my semi-structured interview was to look into finding out people’s general feelings about data collection and online-privacy, their views on the practice of profiling, and their awareness of big data’s positive potential. To do this, I presented my interviewees with the following queries:

  • What organisations are you not okay with having access to all your information? Furthermore, what are you worried these organisations will do with your information?
  • Are you aware that there are different digital versions of you online based on the number of business you interact with online? Given this premise, how many online version of you do you think there are?
  • In reference to the way Apple handled the protection of a criminal’s private data in an American shooting, do you think companies like Apple should be required to give up information when necessary? Why?
  • Would you support regulation of data surveillance if asked to vote on it in a referendum? Would you rather data surveillance not exist at all? Do you not care either way?
  • Did you know that the systems involved in profiling can also be used to prevent illness by predicting where a disease is likely to be, identify ideal candidates for jobs based on their activities, and even prevent suicides by using the statistical analysis of an area to predict factors like depression and other mental illnesses? Does knowing this change any of your previously stated views?

As the interview was only semi-structured, these questions were modified conversationally to glean the most useful information out of each interviewee, and other questions unique to each interview arose organically. The following points are a cross-section of both interviews combined:

  • Full transparency is not okay (that is, an organisation having full access to everything about you), however they accept that some organisations do have their information, but they’d rather not know what they’re doing with it.
  • The court process is worthwhile when pursuing big companies for data, as it makes sure the collection of that data is justified.
  • The average person would not leave their house to make a change to how data surveillance is regulated, and would rather not do anything too time-consuming even if it meant the current system remains unchanged. If there was an obvious incentive (whether moral or material) to contributing in some way to the landscape of big data, they might be more inclined to participate.
  • There is a lack of awareness about the positive potential that profiling could have on society, and people would be more likely to engage with big data in a meaningful way if they could see it being used in this way.



Cash For Your Character – Probe

My probe, named Cash For Your Character, is a modified survey which allows people, if they so choose, to put a monetary value on different pieces of information about the participant. The probe works by asking a series of personal questions of varying levels of invasiveness about a number of topics including health, family, finances, hobbies, views, and beliefs. The participant can choose one of three options when answering each question:

  • Answer honestly and correctly, to the best of their ability, with the most relevant information
  • Nominate a dollar value that they would accept as payment for parting with the true and accurate answer to the question posed
  • Leave both boxes blank, signifying that there is no monetary value which they would accept as enough to reveal the requested information

The main goals of this probe were to determine what specific pieces of information participants valued the most, and how much they were or were not willing to part with that information, as well as which aspects of the participant’s character they see no issue with divulging.

Some key takeaways from the probe that I discovered include the following:

  • People are more likely to give out significantly more personal information, such health records, details of their relationships, and their personal views and beliefs, when they know that their identity is not attached. In other words, they happily contribute their information if it is recorded anonymously.
  • People are not forthright with their financial and occupational information, whether anonymous or not.
  • Hobbies and seemingly innocuous information is given abundantly.
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