New Publication: Why Electronic Voting?

This week my EINS colleagues Marco Prandini and Laura Sartori from the University of Bologna will be in Hong Kong to present our paper on electronic voting at the CeDem Asia 2014 Conference. This International Conference on e-Democracy and Open Government aims to bring together researchers, policy-makers, industry professionals, and civil society activists to discuss the role of social and mobile media in the future of citizenship and governance, and analyze current research, best practices, and emerging topics that are shaping the future of e-government, e-democracy and open government in Asia and around the world.

Scientists have been studying electronic voting for 30 years, and some countries have been using it for almost 20 years. Yet, arguments in favor of its adoption or against it usually take into account only a limited subset of the issues at stake. As we show in this paper, no study has ever tried to draw a comprehensive picture of the interplay between social and technical aspects of the voting process. We claim that this kind of interdisciplinary research is needed for the scientific community to be able to exert its positive influence on stakeholders. We propose some urgent research questions that to our knowledge have no clear answer.

Prandini, M., L. Sartori and A. Oostveen (2014) Why Electronic Voting? International Conference for e-Democracy and Open Government (CeDEM Asia 2014), 4-5 December 2014, Hong Kong.

So, …

Qualitative research not only allows you an in-depth exploration of what other people think, feel or do (and why), it also makes you aware of some of your own quirks and habits.

Once the audio recordings of interviews and focus groups have been professionally transcribed, it is sometimes slightly embarrassing to be confronted with your own contribution to the conversation. The text you have spoken is far removed from the polished papers you normally write. I have noticed that in my most recent focus groups I use the word ‘so’ rather excessively. Many of my sentences start with “So, …”, and the word also appears somewhat randomly in the middle of a sentence. Analysing the transcripts, this really gets on my nerves.

So, wWhy have I not noticed it in previous interviews? Is it a quirk I have picked up recently? Or have I been driving people mad with this habit for years? And why do I constantly use this sentence-initial?so

I first assumed that I insert “So, …” to give me extra time to think about the rest of the sentence. However, I had already noticed the irritating habit in my informal emails as well. I now specifically edit my mails to delete the Sos before sending them off. I don’t need extra time to think when writing emails, and still I scatter the Sos around as if they’re going out of fashion.

Apparently I am not the only person with a so-habit. Jane Solomon has written a blog post for the site about the observed increase in speakers beginning sentences with the word so. She points out: “One explanation is that in this case, so is being used as a filled pause, much in the way that “well,” “um,” and “like” are used in conversation. However, […] this explanation is overly simplified; so as a discourse marker is “more nuanced” than that. […] So is not being used just to fill a pause, it seems, but as a tool for conversation management”. We also learn from her article that the word ‘so’ is very versatile. It can be used as an adverb, a conjunction, a pronoun, an interjection, or an adjective. No wonder I manage to squeeze it into almost every sentence!

Now that my research has made me aware that I am part of this new (and annoying) trend, I will try to cut down on my ‘so’ abuse. No doubt it will be replaced with the overuse of another word.

New Publication: Child Location Tracking in the US and the UK

Mina Vasalou, Peter van den Besselaar, Ian Brown and I have a new paper out in Surveillance & Society (an international, interdisciplinary, open access, peer-reviewed journal of Surveillance Studies).

Real-time location tracking of individuals has become relatively easy with the widespread availability of commercial wearable devices that use geographical positioning information to provide location-based services. One application of this technology is to allow parents to monitor the location of their children. This paper investigates child location tracking technology in the US and the UK and compares its privacy implications. Although overall the price levels and the technical capabilities are the same, we find that the features of the technology are different depending on the social context. This can be attributed to national regulations and law that shape how a technology can be used. These laws and regulations, influenced by cultural frameworks, values, and morality, differ considerably between the countries. Clarifying the expected impacts of technology on the lives of users and other stakeholders in terms of these contextual factors will help to inform public debate about technical possibilities and societal needs.

Oostveen, A., A. Vasalou, P. v.d. Besselaar and I. Brown (2014) Child Location Tracking in the US and the UK: Same Technology, Different Social Implications. Surveillance & Society. Vol. 12, No. 4, pp. 581 – 593.


New Publication: Non-use of Automated Border Control systems

In September I will have the opportunity to present a short paper about the non-use of Automated Border Control (ABC) systems at the British Human Computer Interaction Conference (HCI 2014) in Southport. The overarching theme of the conference is ‘Sand, Sea and Sky – Holiday HCI’.

The paper is based on research within the FastPass project at two North-European airports with each between 50 and 60 million passengers per year. We carried out 155 face-to-face surveys to ask passengers about their experience with ABC and biometric systems. We also conducted in-depth expert interviews with border guards and border management and found that at the moment, usage of ABC systems does not live up to the projected scenarios.

The low uptake of a technology that has been in existence for several years, and that has become readily available at many European airports raised the question why so few travellers are using e-gates. In order for designers to build better systems with higher uptake by end-users they need to have a more thorough understanding of the non-users. Wyatt (2003) developed a theory about non-users of the Internet identifying four types of non-users: 1) The Resisters – those who do not want to use the technology; 2) The Rejecters – former users, who decided not to use the technology any longer; 3) The Excluded – those who can’t use the technology, regardless of whether they want to or not; and 4) The Expelled – former users who do not have access anymore (who stopped involuntarily)[1]. This paper investigates the reasons of non-use of Automated Border Control at European airports by applying Wyatt’s taxonomy and adding an “unawares” category. It also presents possible solutions to turn current non-users into future users of e-gates.

Oostveen, A. (2014) Non-use of Automated Border Control Systems: Identifying Reasons and Solutions. 28th British Human Computer Interaction Conference (HCI 2014). ‘Sand, Sea and Sky – Holiday HCI’, 9-12 September, Southport.


[1] Wyatt, S. (2003) ‘Non-users also matter: The construction of users and non-users of the Internet’ in Oudshoorn and Pinch (eds.) How Users Matter: The Co-construction of Users and Technology, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Progress Bar Blues

[Originally written for the Access Denied project]

Internet users living and working in areas with slow Internet speeds are per definition overly familiar with the ‘progress bar’. Wikipedia describes the progress bar as: “a graphical user interface used to visualize the progression of an extended computer operation, such as a download, file transfer, or installation”.






Progress bars come in many different shapes and sizes, but will be seen by those in Internet slow spots as a visualization of their frustration.


Interestingly, there is a whole UX (user experience) science behind the design of progress bars. Researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute of Carnegie Mellon University note that human perception of time is fluid, and can therefore be manipulated [1]. Several design considerations and tricks can make progress bars appear faster and thereby improve users’ computing experience. UX Movement summarises the above mentioned study as follows (providing some clear illustrations in their post):

  1. Ribbings that move backwards and opposite to the progress direction feel faster to users.
  2. The more revolutions an activity indicator has, the faster loading time will feel to users.

Another study [2] found that:

  1. Pauses at the beginning of a progress are more tolerable to users than at the end. According to the researchers, a progress bar can cache progress when the operation is first starting to mitigate negative progress behaviors such as pauses or slow-downs later on. When you downplay actual progress in the beginning and then accelerate it towards the end, users have the feeling the process is speeding up, leaving them more satisfied.

The Carnegie Mellon researchers argue: “By minimizing negative behaviors and incorporating positive behaviors, one can effectively make progress bars and their associated processes appear faster”. Yet, no fancy designed progress bar – however cleverly manipulated – will reduce the frustrations felt when it takes up to 5 minutes to check a bank statement online due to inadequate broadband speeds. We can clearly use our time in far more satisfying ways…




[1] Harrison, C., Yeo, Z., and Hudson, S. E. 2010. Faster Progress Bars: Manipulating Perceived Duration with Visual Augmentations. In Proceedings of the 28th Annual SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Atlanta, Georgia, April 10 – 15, 2010). CHI ’10. ACM, New York, NY. 1545-1548.

[2] Harrison, C., Amento, B., Kuznetsov, S., and Bell, R. 2007. Rethinking the progress bar. In Proceedings of the 20th Annual ACM Symposium on User interface Software and Technology (Newport, Rhode Island, USA, October 07 – 10, 2007). UIST ’07. ACM, New York, NY. 115-118.


New Publication: ABC standardisation key to improving usability

This summer my colleague Mario Kaufmann from the Fraunhofer Institute will present a paper [1] based on our FastPass work at the Interfaces and Human Computer Interaction (IHCI) 2014 conference in Lisbon.

One task of the FastPass project is to study actual automated border control (ABC) systems and investigate how their usability and take-up can be improved. Although e-gates have been in use for years, they are still underutilized by travellers. The paper presents a usability analysis of ABC e-gates at two large North-European international airports and compares their ease of use.

Our observations show that the man-machine interface of e-gates is still under development. One important lesson to learn is that continued usability testing with real users after implementation is very important and will further enhance the system. The strong emphasis at one of the airports on usability and its ongoing testing means that the system is continuously being improved. As a respondent (from border management) remarked: “What we could not test of course was the passenger behaviour. You only notice it when you’re operating the gates. Things come up that we have not thought of, or that we see ‘that could be better’”.

A large proportion of (potential) e-gate users are infrequent travellers, therefore major component differences make it difficult for users to know how to interact with unfamiliar and dissimilar e-gates. Standardisation will be key to improve the usability for travellers and will raise user confidence. Positive experiences of users are vital as they lead to repeated use, and can have a favourable impact on the uptake of the technology by current non-users through word-of-mouth endorsement.

[1] Oostveen, A., M. Kaufmann, E. Krempel and G. Grasemann (2014) Automated Border Control: A Comparative Usability Study at Two European Airports. Interfaces and Human Computer Interaction (IHCI) 2014 Conference 15 – 17 July, Lisbon, Portugal.

New Publication: Understanding Engagement With The Privacy Domain Through Design Research

Within the Google funded project ‘Privacy Trends’ a tool was developed that collects and aggregates online reports from social media platforms on the topic of privacy. The reports are summarized, visualized, and presented to everyday Internet users as a way to sensitize them on ongoing privacy violations. The design of this tool was informed by users’ needs; users were involved in the early design process, which resulted in a set of ‘requirements’ and design concepts. The project, led by Dr Mina Vasalou from the London Knowledge Lab, has now resulted in a first publication for the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) to be published this year.

Screen shot of the privacy awareness application

Understanding Engagement With The Privacy Domain Through Design Research
Asimina Vasalou, Anne-Marie Oostveen, Chris Bowers, and Russell Beale

Abstract: The article reports findings from participatory design research aimed at uncovering how technological interventions can engage users in the domain of privacy. Our work was undertaken in the context of a new design concept “Privacy Trends” whose aspiration is to foster technology users’ digital literacy regarding ongoing privacy risks and elucidate how such risks fit within existing social, organizational and political systems, leading to a longer term privacy concern. Our study reveals two challenges for privacy intervention design: the need to develop technology users’ intrinsic motivations with the privacy domain and the importance of framing the concept of privacy within users’ interests. Setting our study within a design context enables us to identify four design opportunities for fostering engagement with the privacy domain through technology design.

Vasalou, A., A. Oostveen, C. Bowers and R. Beale (2014) Understanding Engagement With The Privacy Domain Through Design Research. Journal of the Association of Information Science and Technology (JASIST)

Crowdfunding to Support Young Researchers

My colleague Kathryn Eccles studies crowdsourcing in the field of cultural heritage resources, and the topic often comes up in our conversations. Usually we talk about the collective effort of individuals related to mass participation in the gathering, processing or interpretation of information. But today I received an email from the organizers of the International Summer School on “Information & Communication Technology for Democracy” to be held in New Delhi in March 2014, with a crowdfunding request to support their students. Just as with the broader concept of crowdsourcing, they hope to reach their goal by receiving small contributions from many parties.

The organizers have been able to secure funds for the keynote speakers, but it has proven impossible to get funding for the young researchers partaking. They explain on their campaign page that 30 Master and PhD students have been selected on the basis of the quality of their research. These students come from 15 different countries, among them many developing countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Egypt. The organizers want to provide free accommodation, food and ground transportation for their summer school students. To be able to do this, they need to raise 6500 US Dollars and they have only 55 days remaining to accomplish this.

I think it is important that all talented young researchers have the opportunity to meet colleagues to discuss their work with, and to build relationships with more senior researchers, activists, government officials, and practitioners. I am also interested in the topic of the summer school, having studied the role of ICTs in democracies and for civic participation myself. Therefore, I have donated a small amount. If you feel the same and can spare a couple of dollars, do visit the campaign website to make this crowdfunding exercise a success.


Social Media on the Motorway

In the 1990s the internet was often described as the ‘Information Highway’. Two decades on, the information highway has started to interfere with the real highway. One in three people in the Netherlands admit to using a smartphone for email and social media while driving their car. Whatsapp-achter-het-stuur-1 According to the Stichting Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid (a scientific research foundation investigating road safety issues) dozens of people die yearly due to smartphone use on the road and hundreds get injured. A simulator study by Basacik, Reed and Robbins (2012) has shown that the use of a smartphone while driving impairs driving performance more than taking drugs or drinking alcohol. The authors report that when people are sending and receiving Facebook messages their reaction times are slowed by around 38% and they often miss key events; drivers are also unable to maintain a central lane position resulting in an increased number of unintentional lane departures; and they are unable to respond as quickly to the car in front gradually changing speed. The risk of having an accident while using a smartphone increases by 25% (although some studies even quote a 160% increase). Illustrative of the dangers of smartphone use on the road was the 2011 BlackBerry service disruption in the United Arab Emirates: accidents dropped by 40 per cent in Abu Dhabi and by 20 per cent in Dubai due to the service outage [Wired, 2011].

Bord-social-media-1-1The government in the Netherlands has therefore set up a campaign to make people aware that ‘virtual traffic’ has no place in real traffic. In order to highlight the dangers of using smartphones behind the wheel, they have placed billboards along the motorway telling people to park their car before making a phone call or using Facebook, Twitter, or email. Without a doubt this government action is important and will save lives, but just warning people might not be enough. When driving in the Netherlands you frequently see big signs along and above the motorways telling you to check out the website ‘Van A naar Beter’ for the latest traffic information, road projects, and travel alternatives. This website is an initiative of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment and has been advertised on motorways for years. showimage.phpHowever, directing citizens to websites (no matter how well-intentioned) is perhaps no longer advisable with over 4 million people owning a smartphone? And what can be done about the Quick Response (QR) codes that are popping up along the roads and on other vehicles? Many companies have discovered the new dimension that QR can bring to their consumer advertising. These barcodes link directly to text, websites, phone numbers and more. But scanning a QR code is pretty demanding stuff to be doing while at the wheel. You have to keep the camera steady and wait for the code to be scanned. If that isn’t an accident waiting to happen…

LeiderdorpIn Leiderdorp (NL) a large billboard displaying such a QR code and the message ‘WIN €10.000’ was removed because it proved to be too distracting for drivers. Invented in Japan in 1994 to track vehicles during manufacture, the codes are now displayed on cars and trucks as a marketing strategy (see pictures below). Should the law forbid the use of these QR codes along the roadside and on vehicles? Or should we assume that drivers will wise up and leave internet usage to their passengers? As the world around us changes rapidly, it will be difficult to keep up with appropriate policy and regulation!

QR_Auto[QR codes on a car in the Netherlands and on trucks in the United Kingdom and Japan]

The Great Switch-Over

Among my friends it is known that I am not one for big changes. I like to keep things the way they are (not taking into account the fact that I migrated to another country). I am also not one to care much for the latest gadgets. I have no digital television, no hands-free in the car, no tablet, no e-book reader, and no smartphone. This has caused many raised eyebrows among people I have met at conferences and project meetings. How can anyone working at the Oxford Internet Institute not be online 24/7? And yes, I probably am one of the very few at the OII who does not own an iPhone or Android phone (although I know of one Research Fellow who doesn’t own a mobile phone at all). In awe I watch people swipe their touch-screens and tilt their applications to change the orientation of the screen from portrait to landscape. I am old-fashioned, I am behind the times. I am the ultimate laggard. The end of the S-curve.laggard

When I interviewed students about privacy issues a couple of weeks ago I asked them a question about their phone use: what kind of phone do you have, and what do you use it for? It turned out all of them had a smartphone and used it for an endless list of applications (e.g. games, directions, texting, Facetime, Skype, downloading music, online banking, etc). However, several of the respondents forgot to mention the phone calls they make and receive, which for me is clearly the primary function of a mobile.

But times are changing. Even for a laggard like me. At the start of my new project I made the decision to change from a Windows laptop to a Mac. I felt it was time to learn how to use a Mac as most of the colleagues I work with have one. Whenever they ask me to do some simple task on their machine I get confused, as I have no idea how to use the touchpad, where to find the close button, or how to copy/paste a bit of text. So now I have been the proud owner of a gorgeous looking MacBook Air for a couple of months. And do I know how to use it yet? Am I typing this blog post on my fancy new apparatus? No. My excuse is that I have been too busy with ‘real’ work to find the time to become confident enough on the Mac to use it for my daily job. I watch BBC iPlayer programmes on it, I check my emails, I take it to project meetings as it is lovely light-weight, and I have been randomly fiddling about with it, but I have yet to create any documents on it or work on anything serious.

Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations theory attempts to explain which factors will influence the adoption of IT [1]. In order to use new technology end-users need to be convinced of its relative advantage, its ease of use, the way it might enhance their image or status, etc. Well, I don’t need to be convinced of how good-looking the Mac is, it is clear for everyone to see. And I have been told (repeatedly) by Mac-users how much better and more secure it is than any Windows laptop, and how easy it is to use once you get the hang of it. And that is precisely the problem. I think the Mac has quite a steep learning-curve when you have been a lifelong Windows user. It is not like buying a new car, getting in, and being able to drive off immediately because all the basic functions are the same as in any other car you’ve ever driven. It does take time to learn how to use the Mac proficiently, and hopefully I’ll find some time over the summer to get to grips with it.

[1] Rogers, E. M. (2003) Diffusion of Innovations, 6th edition, New York: Free Press.