New paper: 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.

Download the full paper:

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.

Research in Practice: Observations and Surveys

In between my three “extreme interviewing Mondays” I have been to a European airport to conduct research for the FastPass project. The FastPass project aims to develop a harmonized, modular approach for Automated Border Control (ABC) gates. The first phase of the project focuses on key stakeholder needs and the documentation of operational-, system-, design- and security requirements to achieve more efficiency in all processes. The developed system should lead to harmonization of practices, positive passenger experience, and consistent security levels at different border crossing points (i.e. air, sea, land). Current installations and development projects are carefully examined to identify success factors and pitfalls. This means that we both observe and survey passengers using border control systems at several European airports and sea ports and that we interview border guards, staff representatives, ABC project & system managers, and border agency managers at these locations.

This week the emphasis has been on the passengers. For three days we had been granted permission to observe travellers using the automated border gates. We spent hours watching intently how travellers used ABCs in practice, taking notes of how they scanned their passports and went through the facial recognition system. We paid attention to the following issues: How do they approach the eGates (e.g. confident, hesitant)? Do they pay attention to the provided information leaflets? How easy/difficult do they find it to scan their passport? Do they know where to look to have their face scanned? Do they remove glasses and hats? How much luggage do they carry with them? Which part of the system causes problems? How often does the system reject people? Is help needed to get through the ABCs or are the gates easy to use without guidance? If help is needed, who provides it (e.g. other passengers, border guards, airport personnel)?

Besides observing the actual use of the system, we have also surveyed passengers about their experience with automated border control and biometric systems. We wanted to find out how they knew they were eligible to use the ABC’s, whether they were experienced or first-time users, why they chose to use the automated system instead of going through manual checkpoints, what problems they had encountered, and what their preferred biometric recognition method would be.

Our initial results show that there is clearly scope for a better designed system, with a more intuitive interface which will enhance the usability and increase the overall appeal of eGates for passengers.

Research in Practice: Extreme Interviewing

Together with colleagues from the University of Birmingham (Human-Computer Interaction Research Centre, Computer Science Department) and the University of Sheffield (Natural Language Processing Research Group, Computer Science Department) we have developed an application called Privacy Trends that queries Twitter, looking for stories written about a particular privacy risk or violation. It summarises the news articles it finds (using a natural language processing algorithm we have developed) so that users can get a quick overview of the issue. The aim of Privacy Trends is to engage Internet users with ongoing privacy problems that may be relevant to them, and to support their understanding of contemporary privacy issues more generally.

At the moment we are in the evaluation phase of this Google funded project and it is pretty full on! Today was the first day of the evaluation, with me and Principle Investigator Dr Mina Vasalou each scheduled to interview 10 participants. Although a couple of participants cancelled at the very last minute (this will always happen), we both still spent 8 hours with the remaining respondents. These 16 participants will be using the application daily in the coming two weeks and are interviewed on three consecutive Mondays.

During this pre-study interview we first explained the functionality of the Privacy Trends application, made sure that the participants have the right browsers installed on their laptops, and gave an overview of the Cookie setup for the study (which settings to tick, what information gets collected by us, and why). After these more practical issues, we needed to get an idea of their current technology use (e.g. What kind of mobile phone do you have? What do you use this phone for? Which Google products do you use? What do you use social media for? Who do you share information with? Have there been instances of misuse of the information you shared?). Their answers were sketched out in several models (see photo). The interviews were of course also recorded and will be fully transcribed.
Technology model

Besides reading a daily summary of news items and full texts of articles, the users are asked to annotate the news items with predefined labels and add stories to the site through which they can voice their own perspectives and reflections. Their use of the application is logged and will be used in the upcoming interviews as a prompt to recall and discuss their interaction with Privacy Trends.

Conducting 8 one-hour interviews on a single day is rather hardcore, but also gets you into a certain flow. It is interesting to see the similarities and the differences between respondent’s answers and to notice emerging themes. We are curious to see what will happen in the coming two weeks and hope the participants will truly engage with the application. Only two more marathon interview sessions to go…

Call for Papers: Social and Ethical Implications of Biometric Technology (IJICTHD)

SUBMISSION DUE DATE: November 1, 2013

SPECIAL ISSUE ON: Social and Ethical Implications of Biometric Technology

International Journal of Information Communication Technologies and Human Development (IJICTHD)

Guest Editor: Dr. Anne-Marie Oostveen

Biometric identifiers such as digital fingerprints, retinal scans, facial characteristics, gait, and vocal patterns are distinctive to each and every person and are considered more reliable and capable than the traditional token-based or knowledge-based technologies in differentiating between an authorized and a fraudulent person. This has prompted the use of biometrics for non-criminal governmental and commercial applications including immigration systems, airport security systems, employee time recording, social security entitlement, election management, access to healthcare records, banking transactions, national identification systems, and driver’s licensing programs.

The motivations behind the introduction of biometric technologies differ per country and context. Some believe that the technology will bring convenience, efficiency, and improved security. Others think that the technology will improve human development. An example of this is the Universal Identification (UID) program in India which should make it possible for the countries’ poor to prove that they are entitled to government welfare schemes. The program is seen as the largest social inclusion project in history making the Indian state more transparent and accountable to its citizens. However, opponents worry about abusive surveillance, particularly of political, ethnic, or religious minorities and argue that the technology is an infringement on human rights and freedom.

Biometric systems are maturing, becoming increasingly more pervasive and widely deployed. Because biometric technologies are based on measurements of physiological or behavioural characteristics of the human body and the collection and storage of personal data, many questions are raised, which relate to the protection of individual values such as privacy, autonomy, bodily integrity, dignity, equity and personal liberty. The ethical concerns regarding this emerging technology need to be acknowledged and brought into the public discourse. The main objective of this special issue is to provide a platform to stimulate a discussion on biometrics use and its cultural, moral, and social ramifications.

This special issue calls for original papers describing societal advantages or disadvantages of biometrics, and the ethical implications of the latest developments of biometric technology and its applications. We especially encourage empirical studies. Topics of interests include, but are not limited to:
Public attitudes toward biometric technology:
o Privacy concerns
o Trust issues
o Religious objections to the use of biometrics
o Cultural perspectives
o The effects of non-participation
Issues surrounding the centralization of biometric identification information:
o Data protection
o Security
o Informed consent
Misuse or compromise of biometric data:
o Identity theft
o Function creep
o Covert surveillance/tracking
o Proportionality and appropriateness of biometric solutions
Physical intrusiveness of the technology:
o Integrity of the human body
o Risk to health
o Recognition of medical conditions
o Stigmatization
Case studies on various biometric technologies (e.g. facial recognition in smart CCTV systems in public places, fingerprinting of children in schools, biometrics for automated border control, biometric voter registration (BVR) systems to combat voter fraud)

Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit papers for this special theme issue Social and Ethical Implications of Biometric Technology on or before November 1, 2013. All submissions must be original and may not be under review by another publication. INTERESTED AUTHORS SHOULD CONSULT THE JOURNAL’S GUIDELINES FOR MANUSCRIPT SUBMISSIONS at All submitted papers will be reviewed on a double-blind, peer review basis. Papers must follow APA style for reference citations.

Information and communication technologies are directly influencing the way human beings are engaging themselves in their routine activities. The governance including socio-economic environment needs a catalyst for social change for human development. Currently, technologies are required to play the role of a catalyst to bring this social change for human development. The International Journal of Information Communication Technologies and Human Development (IJICTHD) will compile theoretical and empirical works that significantly contribute to the still unexplored field of how ICTs can make a difference in the lives of human beings and contribute to human development.

This journal is an official publication of the Information Resources Management Association

Editors-in-Chief: Dr Susheel Chhabra and Dr Hakikur Rahman
Published: Quarterly (both in Print and Electronic form)

All submissions should be directed to the attention of:
Dr Anne-Marie Oostveen
Guest Editor
International Journal of Information Communication Technologies and Human Development

Call for Papers (PDF version)

Don’t miss MuseumNext

If you are in Amsterdam this week, don’t miss MuseumNext at the Beurs van Berlage. MuseumNext is Europe’s big conference on innovation and technology in museums. The aim is to provide a clear insight into how technology and media are shaping museums and the world around them. This year MuseumNext focuses on ‘What’s Next’. My colleague Dr Kathryn Eccles who is an expert on Digital Humanities and the role of crowdsourcing in the arts, will be talking about her case study “Your Paintings“, a collaboration between the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC.

If the conference presentations about technology in museums have given you an appetite for a cultural excursion, you might want to pay a visit to the Rijksmuseum which has reopened after a decade-long renovation process. Both the building and it’s contents are impressive. Instead of displaying the one million objects by material (e.g. a gallery for glass, a gallery for porcelain, a gallery for paintings), more than 8,000 objects are now mixed, illustrating 800 years of Dutch history across the Rijksmuseum’s 80 galleries.

However, if you are unable to visit the Rijksmuseum in person, then an online visit is also highly recommended. The museum won 3 awards at the 2013 Best of the Web awards organized each year at the Museums and the Web conference. The ‘Rijksstudio: Make Your Own Masterpiece’ project has been online since October 2012 and invites the public to enjoy and explore more than 125.000 high resolution images of the Rijksmuseum’s collection: you can zoom in, save, manipulate and share them. Users are actively encouraged to download the images and to do something with them: use Johannes Vermeer’s The Milkmaid to wallpaper your kitchen, create a tattoo based on some Delft blue porcelain, or decorate your scooter with van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The Rijksmuseum Lets You Remix Its Art.

According to the MW2013 site the Rijksmuseum is “democratizing” its collection: “In the first three months alone, over 32,000 Rijksstudio portfolios were created, more than 112,000 artworks from the Rijksmuseum’s collection were downloaded and 28,000 sets were made. The amount of visitors has grown 34% since the launch of the new version of the website. The duration of each visit has increased from an average of 3 minutes to 10 minutes and specially iPad users spend a significant amount of time exploring the site (19 minutes!). The number of visitors using iPads or other mobile devices has also risen by 90% more”. It is therefore well-deserved that the digital efforts of ‘het Rijks’ (as the locals call it) has won the museum the Innovative / Experimental, the Best of the Web, and the People’s Choice categories.

New book chapter: User Involvement in Future Internet Projects

We have a chapter in the FIA 2013 book to be published by Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) next month [1]. In this chapter we address user involvement in the Future Internet community. We were interested to find out whether current FI projects support user-led innovation and in this way empower ordinary people, citizens and non-commercial entities. To determine actual attitudes and practices of those working in the Future Internet industry towards user involvement we involved participants at the 2012 Future Internet Assembly (FIA) in Aalborg, Denmark by organising a focus group and by distributing a survey.

Using a small number of participants, the focus group discussed in what way end-users could or should shape the Future Internet. It investigated whether current Future Internet projects are user-centric and what kinds of methods are used to give users an active role – a voice – not just as commentators on new developments, but as innovators and shapers of technology. The focus group discussed whether FI projects need to assign as much importance to the needs of ordinary users as to the requirements of industrial players. We asked what is more important: user needs or technical possibilities. We also examined whether involving users stifles creativity and innovation. The survey asked similar questions as the focus group.

Overall, the research participants value continuous user involvement, arguing that it will maximise the societal benefits of Future Internet solutions. However, a large number of survey respondents admitted to being not very knowledgeable about standard user-centred design tools and just over half of the FI projects they work on apply a user-centred approach. Those who do employ such an approach consider it to have a positive impact on the project’s output, often leading to major new insights which influence the final product.

While it is common knowledge in the HCI field that user involvement correlates both with higher acceptance of new technologies as well as with better designed devices, it is important to recognize that some technologists are of the opinion that user involvement is a hindrance which creates more work, stifles creativity and innovation, or is too expensive. It is therefore essential to first of all create awareness of the benefits of user-centred design within the Future Internet community to persuade developers of the advantages of adopting such principles; our paper tried to make that contribution.

Addressing the practicalities of user involvement is the next step in making the Future Internet community more user-centred. There is a need for practical guidance and advice on how developers should conduct user-centred design. Furthermore, there is a need to “create easy and context-specific access to common technical and non-technical resources and capabilities that can be shared for complex experimentation and innovation projects” [2] integrating for instance FI testbeds and Living Lab environments. The challenge remains to move beyond the idea of the ‘user’ as a problem or barrier, and instead to investigate ways to work effectively with technology users and consider them as key stakeholders and co-creators in the design of the Future Internet.


[1] Oostveen, A., E.T. Meyer and B. Pickering (2013) User Involvement in Future Internet Projects. In: A. Galis and A. Gavras (Eds.) Future Internet Assembly 2013: Validated Results and New Horizons. Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS) Vol. 7858, pp. 310-322.

[2] Schaffers, H., Sallstrom, A., Pallot, M., Hernandez-Munoz, J., Santoro, R. and Trousse, B.(2011) Integrating Living Labs with Future Internet Experimental Platforms for Co-creating Services within Smart Cities. Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Concurrent Enterprising.

Dagstuhl Seminar on Insider Threats

This week I attended a Dagstuhl Seminar on Organizational Processes for Supporting Sustainable Security. This seminar at Schloss Dagstuhl was the third in a series on ‘Insider Threats’.   The “insider threat” is cited in many studies as the most serious security problem threatening the sustainability of an organization’s security policy. Insiders have legitimate “inside” knowledge of, access to, and/or trust from an organization and its systems, and thus many traditional protection and detection approaches fail. The previous two seminars in 2008 and 2010 concluded that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to define exactly what an insider threat is. And the question was asked whether in the era of massive, “always-on” network connectivity, the notion of “insider” is redundant in terms of system and organizational design. The concept of insider loses its meaning when organisational structures change dynamically (staff mobility, outsourcing, etc.) and the definition therefore needs to evolve and keep pace with the changing environment.

Although tackling the insider threat relies partly on computer science-based security solutions, it is clear that insider threats to computer systems involve more than just computers (people!). That is why the organisers chose to make this third seminar more explicitly multi-disciplinary than the previous ones, including in that way more ideas and experts from outside of computer science. This approach proved fruitful and allowed us to focus on considering processes and procedures that would actually work in the real world (sustainable, usable, etc.) .

The three-day meeting started off with some provocations. Debi Ashenden (Cranfield University, UK) introduced a scenario on the military, describing how young soldiers pose insider threats by using social media while in a war zone. By often unwittingly over-sharing personal information or location information, soldiers can compromise their missions. Another provocation, introduced by Trish Williams (Edith Cowan University, Australia), focused on health care, pointing out that there is an explosion of mobile health (mHealth) and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) which results in a blurring of healthcare devices and software, and has an impact on the insider threat.

During the seminar there were several break-out sessions in which the participants chose one of the provocations and brainstormed about how organisational processes could be designed to be resilient and sustainable from a security perspective. The technical people contributed engineering and computer science perspectives on resilience and sustainability while at the same time social scientists reflected on those concepts from a human-centred perspective. Besides having these multi-disciplinary activities (with lots of coloured markers, large sheets of paper, sticky notes, drawings and even an empty chocolate wrapper which symbolised something I can’t quite remember…) there were also interesting presentations. Hopefully the three intense days will result in some tangible outcomes. There are ideas for a book and some form of knowledge exchange on different research methodologies (yet to be decided). I am for one, definitely looking forward to taking this further!