8 — A design response

This week, I identified the topic of “government transparency” as one that had piqued my interest in the research I had done so far. I proceeded to list who was involved, what the boundaries of the issue are, when the problem occurs, where it occurs, and why it has come to be a problem.

It was when I began developing my problem statement that I also began to run into trouble. Upon reflection, I should have viewed this as an indication that I was focusing on an issue that was perhaps too large and complicated to explore with the time and resources available to me.

Some problem statements I put forward were —

— “A lack of transparency surrounding government-implemented data retention systems results in paranoia and fear among users.”
— “Users do not understand how data retention works.”
— “Data aggregation for national security results in a lack of trust in the government by users who are having their data surveilled.”

All of my ‘problem statements,’ including these three, were surface-level observations rather than critical interrogations. Despite this, I thought I could get something out of this idea so I tried rephrasing my sentence into a “how” question, as I had found this to be an effective way of defining a problem in Visualising Experience last year. I came up with this —

— “How can the government be more transparent about data retention schemes?”

The problem I presented to my group for brainstorming was the less coherent, “Data retention/surveillance systems in pursuit of national security, lack of transparency.” With this, I was off to a bad start. I wasn’t confident in my problem statement which meant that my group members were clutching at straws when we came to brainstorm around my issue. Particularly as this one is such a technical issue we were all stumped. Words like “decode” and “visualise” were thrown around, but we could not think of any engaging ideas that fit under the any of the three required categories— service design, data visualisations or generative systems.

After being prompted by my group members to revisit my cultural probing exercise, I realised that the real question I am asking is —

— “How can users be made aware and able to understand metadata surveillance?”

With this, I reworked the brainstorming activity in class and came up with the following possible outcomes to present to my group and tutor in the next week.

  1. A generative system that maps (by location) data from social media, exploring photography in particular. By exploring a social media trend – #Throwbacks, or food photography – the project would be a way of showing how easily metadata can be extracted from social media posts.
  2. An app or system that allows users of the internet and mobile technologies to access a visualisation of their metadata how it would be received by telcos or government intelligence agencies.
  3. An app or extension that browses on its own, generating “misinformation,” under a user’s IP address and therefore disguising a users’ accurate online activity.
  4. An app that creates a profile or narrative about a user based on their metadata for that (day, week, or month).
  5. A generative system that creates MEMES out of publicly available profile pictures to illustrate the spread of information.

Though I think it responds to a different issue relating to data ownership and freedom, I am most interested in proposing an app or web extension that conceals a persons’ data history by ‘browsing’ under a user’s IP address. The app would also have some kind of visualisation after a day (or week, or month) of what “you” (your IP address) had been searching and where “you” (your IP address) had travelled. The app would be of service to users that are interested in their online privacy, but lack the technical know-how to take complicated and time consuming precautions to protect their data. In a way, the app seeks to empower; restoring individual agency by allowing users to regain ownership and control over an issue that they feel like they have lost very little control over, referencing some of my earliest explorations of the issue (see Blog Post 2).

In conclusion, though it took a long time to formulate, I am happy with where I have ended up and am looking forward to developing my proposal further.