Greetings from Portsmouth, NH!
During the IAPP’s 2017 Global Privacy Summit, Tristan Harris, co-director at Time Well Spent and former design ethicist and product philosopher at Google, gave a compelling keynote presentation on how apps, websites and other digital technologies are designed to addict users. Social media newsfeeds, timelines, friend notifications, and activity monitors, in essence, imitate casino slot machines, making us hungry for another notification or response from our friends or colleagues. Though in many respects these products bring with them benefits, all of these services are competing for users’ screen time to the ultimate detriment of the user.
Speaking from personal experience, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve “quickly” checked my Twitter feed just before going to bed, only to realize an hour later that I’m still going through my Twitter feed. You hear of children going to drastic lengths to keep their Snap streaks alive. A little bell icon “rings” every time you get a Facebook notification. And, of course, there are video games. For Red Sox fans like me, star pitcher David Price (who makes $31 million a year) missed a needed start against the hated Yankees this week because of a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome, allegedly from playing too much … wait for it … Fortnite.
Just a few years ago, default settings prompted heated battles in the privacy community with regard to the do-not-track default in web browsers. The design of default settings is clearly a touchy and significant topic.
Design is important. Privacy by design is important. It significantly affects how we interact with our devices and, by extension, the world and people around us. Prof. Woody Hartzog is well versed in this area and has just published a new book on the power of design called “Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies.” In it, he argues that design is not value-neutral, that law has a place here that should require privacy by design, perhaps through incentives. Though I haven’t read it yet, I’ll be adding it to my summer reading list, for sure.
I was also heartened to see Google is thinking about how their design can affect users. At their I/O conference this week, they announced at least three initiatives to help engage users while limiting smartphone addiction. According to Fast Company, “Shush” will automatically silence Android phones when the screen is flipped over, facing down. “Wind Down” — and this could potentially help my pre-sleep Twitter addiction — shifts the screen color at night. “It essentially turns your device into a Mac from 1985.” Finally, Android will feature a “Dashboard Data View” or “a personalized data visualization of your actual phone usage, from how many times you checked it in a day, to how many push notifications your received.”
Kudos to these design modifications. Hopefully this is just the beginning for Silicon Valley and beyond. Our online-offline life balance depends on it.
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