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Educating People About Data

It's impossible to talk about digital services today without talking about data. We talk constantly about the pros and cons, the dangers and benefits... but do we talk enough about what data actually is?

We all know that personal data usage is one of the more contentious internet issues. The vast complexity of the digital data ecosystem doesn't make it any easier. Policymakers, product designers, and people often understand just one piece of the puzzle.

Through Design Jams and research around the world, TTC Labs has explored ways to increase our collective understanding of how our information is exchanged, processed, and used. Data comprehension is critical if we want to build real trust between people and services.

The complexity is daunting and ever-evolving. The approaches we use to inform people about their data barely touch on the interconnectedness of the data ecosystem. How might we change that?

Meet jane

Meet Jane

Jane, like most of us, is online all the time.

Even though Jane knows the basics about online advertising, she occasionally sees an ad that seems to know her a little too well.

She has a sense that, somehow, she’s being tracked.

Here is what's happening

A week ago, Jane went to her local Supermarket X and bought a banana.

She paid in cash and used her store loyalty card.

This created an offline data point.

Later in the week, Jane opens the Supermarket X app on her phone and sees recommendations for fresh produce.

Supermarket X knows that Jane bought a banana using her loyalty card, so they make an educated guess that she also enjoys other kinds of produce. This guessing is called inferred data.

In the app, Jane adds her weekly shopping to the cart, and arranges delivery to her home.

Those items that she’s purchased are stored by the app as onsite data.

The app also stores Jane's address for grocery delivery. Her personal address stays private, but parts of this data (like the area code) might get used elsewhere.

Supermarket X uses an ad platform to get Jane's attention online.

Supermarket X creates the ad by inputting its own data. The ad platform now has offsite data about Jane: she buys fresh produce at Supermarket X.

Now, Supermarket X can create customized ads based on the offsite data.

So when Jane is reading the news and sees an ad that’s tailored to her, she’s actually seeing a whole ecosystem of data at work.

Both Supermarket X and ad platforms need to ensure that this data ecosystem is visible and understandable for Jane.

People can control their data more effectively when they understand the ecosystem

How can we provide transparency around the data ecosystem?

How might we instill within our digital services the education that people need?

Fostering a deeper understanding of the data ecosystem is just one in a series of efforts needed in order to ensure that people are truly educated about their data.

With digital services growing in both adoption and complexity, the industry has a collective responsibility to go beyond notifications. Instead, we must strive to embed ongoing education in products and services.

TTC LENS Educating people about data

Viewpoints Educating People About Data

Here are some ways product designers, privacy experts and policy makers have been exploring the problem, with TTC Labs.

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Report Data education as an integral part of people's experience

The primary experience can easily break when educational messages are tacked on incoherently. Embedding concepts in context must mean providing access to information without disrupting the main experience.

Read more in this detailed report 'Explaining Data Concepts to Your Audience'

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Florian Schaub

"Do you actually read an app or website’s privacy policy before clicking to accept the terms? Most of us don’t – and that means privacy policies are missing the mark."

Florian Schaub

Assistant Professor, University of Michigan

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"While people want more transparency and control around the data that businesses collect, there is also a substantial and understandable educational gap among consumers. Technology has developed quickly, and we can’t expect people to learn all of this overnight."

TTC Labs

Data education for business and audiences London Design Jam

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Verena Kontschieder

"Testing policy-based services in a detailed design stage would provide an essential step toward a more flexible and experimental policymaking process."

Verena Kontschieder

Design, Policy & Innovation Practitioner & Researcher

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Report Take extra care to explain new and unfamiliar data types

We can do better at explaining the traffic flow of information: from how it’s stored within a single company to how it gets passed between companies. When the specifics of data sharing are highlighted clearly, and relate directly to the choice in front of you, no one gets surprised.

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Design Make data controls more human

It's difficult for people to keep track of what data is being shared, much less understand how that information is being processed and used. How can we allow people to choose how much they "care" about sharing certain information, so that they can make privacy decisions they feel good about?

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Tools Deconstruct transparency

Preparation: 30 mins; Delivery: 15 mins

Ready to analyze? Examine these privacy notices to gain a deeper understanding of what data transparency is (and identify what good transparency looks like).

Learn more by trying our exercise from the TTC toolkit.

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TTC LENS Educating people about data

Prototypes Design Solutions In Action

These design prototypes demonstrate how Design Jam participants have designed for trust, transparency, and control.

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Vouch

Singapore 21st May 2019

Problem

Conversational interfaces present unique challenges in educating people about their data.

Solution

This solution could allow people to review app-collected data about themselves in a time-efficient way, by reviewing a compiled 'type of traveler' profile.

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Lemon

London 18th Jul 2019

Problem

Data education for teens can be especially challenging as they might be less patient to put in the effort to understand data privacy.

Solution

This solution could help teens understand their privacy choices with help from a conversational character. This kind of interaction could proactively encourage teens to adjust settings based on their evolving behavior.

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Jam

Brussels 21st Jun 2017

Problem

How can we help people understand the use of cookies in the most engaging way possible?

Solution

This solution explores music-related language in order to demonstrate all possible privacy options in a clear, human, and playful way.

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