Post 5 -Approached to design for change, design-led ethnography

Since data, privacy and security have been the major issues that I have been investigating, I wanted to find out what people thought of when they are asked about privacy and security, and distinguish an opinion around how online sites might be allowed access to your data.

The first step to developing the probes were the interviews that were carried out with class peers. Starting off with general questions about personal data and online privacy, the questions were framed mostly around whether or not they valued privacy and were concerned with the direction it is heading in the future. With the two interviews that were conducted, there were very opposing views in the issue. While one interviewee was very cautious of how their data is being used, constantly checking privacy settings, and deleting their browser history daily; the other interviewee had a much more laid back position on the issues, happy for companies to have their data when they have nothing to hide, believing that there is worse content out there, and that companies would inevitably get it anyway. As stated before, very opposing views.

With these interviews in mind, the concept for the design or cultural probe was to simplify the questions and really find out how people felt about online privacy, security and anything they would questions themselves. The first part of the probe was a one-time activity of answering four questions. The drive for these were to find out how the users defined privacy and security in their most basic forms. The other questions were more open in the way they questioned whether they value privacy–as some users don’t care–as well a question they have always liked to know the answer to, related to data.

Design probe for data and privacy

In terms of the results from these questions, the two I received back were very much the same in views. They define privacy as freedom, keeping to yourself and not worrying about things being forced out of them, while security they define as the state of feeling safe, protected, free from harm, and not needing to be on the lookout for danger. It is interesting to see that although they have very similar definitions, they context in which they are used is different. Privacy is more of a personal state where we choose the level or lack of privacy, but security is the public state, where it is the environment we are in that defines it. The other questions portrayed more personal views on the topic, with privacy and security highly valued qualities, but not something explicitly sought after. An interesting point that was brought up through this part of the probe however, is the query of how large businesses protect their data and the data of their clients safe–an investigation for another time.

Probe activity about defining privacy and security

The other part of the probe was more of a visually recording and mapping exercise. Throughout the week–or just all in one day–the participants were asked to record with stickers every major site they frequent. With a focus on the concept of online accounts, and different coloured stickers, the participants recorded details such as the follow: whether the site required an account to view the content, whether the account was just suggested for better viewing, if the site didn’t require an account at all, or whether they already had an account with that site. The concept of this part of the probe was to determine the amount of sites on today’s world wide web, and whether this can be linked to the increase of personal and preferential data gathered and stored. The trick was that sites could have multiple stickers if the participants wanted to provide extra information. And just like I thought when developing the probe–or at least this part–most popular or frequent sites visited require an account to view the content. It is unclear as to why they require an account as I didn’t read the term and conditions of any new sites I signed up to, however it seems a plausible conclusion that though the account–and the subsequent terms and conditions accepted–that the company of the site now own any data that you create on the site. This observation would certainly require more research into why accounts first started and why they are used so widely today, however from the probe result it is clear that this could be a possible answer.

Probe activity based around online accounts #1
Probe activity based around online accounts #2

Even though this design probe was somewhat of a success with regards to the answers and results, there were some difficulties both in the development of the probe, and trying to receive them back. The initial concept behind the probe was to dig really deep into the participants’ mind and figure out some tough questions. However, with some of the results from the interviews, in-depth questions or probes seemed too hard to get the users to understand when not being directly instructed face-to-face. Therefore, it was decided that an easier probe would provide more cohesive and accurate results. The next trouble was how do I get designers to participate and interact with an activity when it is speaking about data and the digital space. In keeping it simple, drawing was the first thought but it didn’t match the activity, therefore the visual representation of the stickers provided a simple interaction while recording different types of the same data. Another problem that arose during this probing exercise was actually getting the probes back. I managed to hand out 5 probes in order to get a good range of results and really see a survey of the audience, however I only received two back–even after constant messaging. An improvement on this issue would be to hand the probes out slightly earlier so that I could receive them back first hand. That, and coming up with a simple and effective probe that was suitable for the issue of data, were really the only problems that were encountered. I wouldn’t change much if the exercise were to be repeated, only the method of sending and receiving, and possible the type of task explored. The original plan was to stay away from privacy setting and recording sites that asked for access to your information, however with data this was always going to be a sub root. Although I did manage to spin it in a different way.

Some results and insights from this exercise I already knew or guessed, however some were also quite surprising and interesting to see. These insights can be reduced down into the following five points:

  1. Privacy and security are valued even when not explicitly sourced.

  2. The definitions of privacy and security are similar however they operate in different contexts; privacy is the private sector, whereas security is the public environment.

  3. Most popular or frequently visited sites on today’s web require an account to view their content.

  4. A reason for the overpowering number of sites requiring or suggesting an account could be so that they then own any data that you create or is stored about you.

  5. Participants in design or cultural probes may not act as you expect or want.

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