On the 28th and 29th September we held a virtual Design Jam on the subject of “Privacy and Research Ethics” with stakeholders in Singapore including prominent academics and thought leaders from the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technical University, the Singaporean data regulators IMDA and PDPC, industry groups (VR AR Association) and startups working on AR products.
A few months ago the Reality Labs Research team at Meta who work on Project Aria approached TTC Labs with a set of questions around ethics and data collection for research which they wanted to explore with external experts in Singapore due to the project’s expansion to that country, announced in September. These questions were wide-ranging, but centred around a common goal: to ensure that Project Aria is executed in a way that is responsible, transparent, and protects user privacy at all times - while enabling data capture that can support learning and innovation at Meta.
This topic is interesting to the TTC Labs team (a hybrid policy and design team within Meta) as it is one that is central to the work of product and service innovation: to deliver people services which they will find useful, digital creators and technologists must have access to information which helps them understand people’s needs and interests. However, oftentimes they face hard trade-offs: they want to reach a thorough understanding of the challenges people face and the opportunities to help them with technology, but they also want to respect people’s privacy while doing the research to develop solutions. This means that often they will have to limit the data that they capture or perform anonymization or de-identification processes on it, and while this protects the privacy of those whose data is captured, it can also strip the data of some depth and important context which would provide key insights and unlock innovation.
WHY A DESIGN JAM?
Design Jams are a method we use to help us facilitate conversations among experts and gather feedback with respect to ideas, policies, products and services. Design Jams help these contributors to explore tensions within the product development process, and in this case a technology research process, as they try to balance the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders.
With Project Aria, the Reality Labs research team has already implemented a number of policies and features which respect privacy and limit data collection (you can read about these here), but they are also committed to ensuring that they continue to capitalize upon opportunities to expand and enhance these protections in the future. With this in mind, they wanted to hear from a diverse slate of experts in privacy and tech policy who could help them explore some of their ideas around designing privacy-aware research experiments.
We decided to create three fictional research scenarios based on Project Aria, and, using six bespoke personas, we explored these scenarios together to brainstorm potential approaches and considerations for each one. (To learn more about personas and how we use them, click here).
The virtual Jam was run across two VC sessions of two hours each in length, and the aims were to:
Gather feedback from the external privacy community on any additional privacy or safety measures which would be beneficial when conducting field research for Project Aria);
Discuss and explore Meta’s Responsible Innovation Principles, and how we are applying them to research and the development of new technologies.
Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic we have been using virtual whiteboards and video calls to work with stakeholders all over the world on a variety of privacy and design questions. For this Jam, we wanted to strike a balance between making sure that the participants had a good understanding of Project Aria and how it was being rolled-out in Singapore, without wanting to influence the direction of their thoughts and feedback with respect to privacy.
We used Mural to create an online canvas on which we could move around in small groups and work through a series of scenarios in which the Project Aria device was being used. We asked what additional measures could be useful for the public who are in the vicinity of research data collection, and how best to communicate with onlookers and people within range of the device about the data collection taking place.
[The Mural Boards used during the Jam allowed us to capture everyone’s feedback and ideas and reflect upon how we can respond in the context of our ongoing Project Aria initiatives in privacy and safety].
The conversations which took place at the Design Jam underlined three areas where we can continue to learn and iterate Project Aria in Singapore and other regions in the future:
1/ When people aren’t clear on what Project Aria glasses are recording, they project their privacy concerns onto the technology.
2/ Adopting an approach that includes community engagement along with clear signalling and explanations is key to enhancing public trust.
3/ People have different levels of interest, context and digital literacy - our communications about the project must be designed with these different levels in mind.
So what does this feedback mean, and how does the Project Aria team plan to move forward from here?
It’s clear that people in Singapore are excited about the research being undertaken and the future technology it could power, but they would like more clarity around the current data collection practices, and how these are feeding into Meta’s understanding of the world and development of new technologies.
There’s an opportunity for the Project Aria team to incorporate new ways of communicating the work and involving people in the data capture and research process so that we can ensure the greatest possible amount of clarity around what the device does (and does not) do, and the team will continue to explore and validate these opportunities and identify best practices.
As well as exploring the above measures the Project Aria team are also planning to work with TTC Labs on further Jams in the EU and The Americas, so that we can start to build a picture of how different cultural norms might also affect people’s experience of - and expectations around - public research in the context of Project Aria.
Facilitating conversations about data collection, privacy and research is critically important in both improving current digital services and creating new ones, and the TTC Labs team is excited to be partnering with the Project Aria team on this effort into 2022.