“Privacy by design” has come to mean a lot of things. For many, it has boiled down to simply thinking about privacy and data protection from the outset of a project and all the way through to completion. It’s getting privacy in at the “whiteboard stage.”
Lost, perhaps, in that way of thinking, however, is the “design” piece. How do organizations literally design and engineer their products and services to emphasize privacy and bring user control over their data to the fore?
That’s the question being presented to participants in an inaugural Design Jam in Berlin, Germany this week, March 10 through 12, hosted by Facebook, Ctrl-Shift, Work Play Experience, and the University of Southampton. The event will gather policymakers and operational privacy professionals with researchers, designers, and product developers to attack a common question: How can organizations use design to provide users more transparency and control over the way their data is collected and used, thereby establishing more trust between the consumer and the organization they’re working with?
The hope is that the collected participants will emerge with design patterns, templates, code, and other tangible pieces that can be developed further, perhaps spurring open source libraries or the basis for new start-ups to provide commercial solutions.
“As far as companies like Facebook and Google go,” said Stephen Deadman, deputy CPO at Facebook, “we’ve got hundreds of the best designers in the world working on these kinds of problems. But what about the 99 percent of companies with less than 50 employees. How do they figure this out?
“The challenge I’ve been thinking and talking about is how we make this scalable,” he continued. “How do we make this stuff off-the-shelf, and not have everyone have to be a design expert to solve these sorts of challenges. That’s the goal behind this whole thing.”
Rather than each organization that collects and uses personal data having to create their own effective privacy notices or just-in-time notifications from scratch, wouldn’t it be great if they could just grab some code and plug it in?
“You need creative design types, people who worry about how a person’s eyeball tracks across a screen. Lawyers don’t do that. It’s not their thing. So, how do you make that kind of thinking accessible?" — Stephen Deadman, Facebook
The idea of the Design Jam is to apply design-based methodologies to these privacy challenges. Designers and engineers “tend to make incremental improvements and then other members of the community add to them and then publish the results so that we all benefit,” Deadman said. “This is often the case in environments where there isn’t a competitive advantage, but a need to find a common way of doing things.”
The privacy world, essentially, needs more standards. Whether it’s HTML 5 or the USB drive or the headphone jack, having a common way of doing things can spur innovation and growth throughout an industry. What might be the equivalent of the headphone jack for providing notice or gathering and managing consent?
Will this Design Jam produce a headphone jack? Almost definitely not. “There will be outputs,” Deadman said, “but if you speak to the organizations that run these kinds of things, you’ll find you can’t just take the outputs and apply them right away. But there are ways to start taking these outputs and making them available to companies, and we want to stimulate that. The aspiration is that we take that model and then scale it, either by making the outputs available in a common model, or to stimulate a market for taking the output and applying it in a commercial context.”
Often, an organization’s first privacy hire is a lawyer or a compliance expert. They are likely to solve privacy problems in lawyerly and compliance-like ways: with policies and documents and processes. “What we want the Design Jam to do,” said Deadman, “is push toward opening up the design-based solutions so that they are cost-effective and affordable and accessible to hundreds and thousands of companies, not just the big tech companies.”
“You need creative design types,” he continued, “people who worry about how a person’s eyeball tracks across a screen. Lawyers don’t do that. It’s not their thing. So, how do you make that kind of thinking accessible? … Design thinking is much more iterative. It has much more testing involved. This is typical innovation stuff. And that’s the type of thinking we need to use to solve these problems. Privacy by design is a mindset and a methodology. It’s not something you can do once and move on. We have to be really focused on the UX, how the human being interacts with the data.”
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