POST 8: Brainstorming possibilities for a design response

Like every tutorial in this subject, mind mapping was again introduced as a way to structure ideas around a topic. For online privacy, data surveillance and data security this involved writing down the same things as the previous weeks, only this time with a different word in the middle of the page. As you can probably tell, I’m a bit tired of mind mapping and question if there is no other way to promote discussion? With that being said, this week’s exercise was much more defined than other weeks, with a clear objective to work towards. I felt that having a defined outcome helped structure conversation and led to more motivated discussions, as everyone knew what had to be done in the allotted time. Doing individual mind maps in a group setting was another more useful approach to brainstorming that I felt helped incorporate different viewpoints. Working on other student’s mind maps also highlighted the variety that exists within the topic and the different areas of exploration that everyone had chosen to pursue. Below is the outcome of these activities. Despite this I still feel like there should be more communication from tutors about how these brainstorming activities inform our design outcomes for the forthcoming assessment tasks.

Defining the problem statement

Who does the problem effect? Be specific.

My problem effects every person and organisation that uses networked technology. In most cases these stakeholders are confined to developed countries, although this will no doubt become a global problem as technology becomes more and more accessible.

What are the boundaries of the problem?

Companies and governments are able to operate invasive data retention schemes due to a lack of awareness and understanding from users. The technology used to capture and analyse data is so advanced that there is almost no way for a layman to understand how it operates and how it breeches their right to privacy. Deliberately complex end user license agreements only seek to magnify this problem.

When does the problem occur?

The problem occurs every time a user connects one of their devices to the internet. Once online, data is collected about their activities, whether they specifically agree to it or not.

Where does the problem occur?

The problem occurs on every computer, tablet and smartphone connected to the internet. Data is collected from these devices on a massive scale, largely unbeknownst to the user.

Why is this important?

The issue of online privacy is important as effects everyone who uses the internet. As more and more objects become networked, it will become all but impossible to avoid having information collected about you. Companies and Governments are unlikely to change their stance on these invasive practices unless there is a large scale push to introduce stricter regulations of how and when information can be collected. More needs to be done to raise awareness of online privacy and the ways in which companies collect and use data they collect from individuals.

Problem statement

Users are disconnected from the information they provide, either willingly or unwillingly to digital systems.

5  point summary

  • Create a data visualisation based on people’s online activities. The map would pinpoint locations where a user has connected to a network in order to show how detailed information can be extrapolated from seemingly innocuous data points.
  • Design a service that converts complicated, end user licensing agreements into plain text. Doing this would allow people to better understand what information they are granting companies access to when they agree to use a service.
  • Create a service to personify data inputs when registering for online services. By making the data entered more personal, users will be more cautious about what information they provide. An example of this is a map, instead of a text field for specifying address.
  • Design a data visualisation based on publicly accessible information, such as geotagged posts and photographs. Build up a map using this information to show how easy it is to access this data as a user, let alone as a company with access to powerful scraping tools.
  • Create a service which adds tracking cookies at outgoing data packets in order to allow users to see where their data is being sent. This would reveal the database it initially gets sent to, as well as who else it is shared with. This might not even be possible to design.


To raise awareness of the amount of information user’s provide, either willingly, or unwillingly to online services, I plan to create a data visualisation based off publically accessible information. To do this I want to gain administrative access to the Visual communication and Emergent Practices blog to install a widget that records IP address. Tracking widgets like these are offered by WordPress as a means for bloggers to better understand their audience, but in this case would function as a very basic scraping tool. Although invasive, this IP widget possesses nowhere near the capabilities of programs run companies such as Google and Facebook. After collecting this information, I would then run reverse searches on all of the IP address to pinpoint the location of every student using the blog. Cross referencing this with other data, such as their WordPress username would allow me to paint a fairly detailed picture of every student’s name and geographic location. Doing this would not only show how easy it is to use data to create user profiles, but also highlight how powerful these major tech companies must be. After all if a single student with no coding experience could gather this much information, how much more must Google and Facebook know about me?

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