Least Authority hosted a workshop with Simply Secure at Internet Freedom Festival 2018.

Least Authority along with Simply Secure hosted a workshop ‘Communicating the importance of privacy’ during the Internet Freedom Festival (IFF) held from March 5-9, 2018 in Valencia, Spain. IFF brings together journalists, activists, technologists, policy advocates, digital safety trainers, and designers around the world. This one-of-a-kind gathering in the Internet Freedom community gave us an opportunity to get people talking about how the “privacy” message should be delivered. The workshop triggered a vibrant and engaging dialogue with the community about possible actions – both online and offline – to communicate the importance of privacy.

Why we hosted this workshop?

Privacy advocates such as ourselves have had many conversations in the past with people who think they have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to fear. Despite hard evidence of the disregard for private information online, from data breaches to commercial use, many people continue to have a blasé attitude towards privacy. While conversations are important, we believe that change only takes place when individuals take action. It’s time we pushed ourselves to educate people why privacy matters.

Discussion around privacy issues often involve a multi-step system. To understand the context, we must first explain how data is processed in today’s ecosystem, then explain the consequences of that for our privacy. Only then can we get to the point of convincing people why their privacy matters, and then possibly offer a way out with alternative tools and platforms. In this workshop, we wanted to explore what it means to rethink this technology-first approach and begin with the question of why we should care about privacy at all.

Target Audience

The workshop was for anyone who values privacy and needs to convince others that they should, too, such as journalists, software developers, security trainers, designers, advocacy/policy professionals, communications professionals, academics, and frontline activists.

The Workshop

At the start of the workshop, we introduced some initiatives taken to spread awareness about current trends and future issues for privacy. For example, The Glass Room London offered a space for reflection, experimentation, and play that takes a critical look at how our personal data is shaping society, as well as ourselves.

We talked about how data visualization can be used to maximize the effectiveness of the communication by giving the example of a new tree diagram created by the designer and researcher Rebecca Ricks. Ricks is a 2017-2018 Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow at Human Rights Watch and focuses on issues related to online privacy and internet freedom. Her tree diagram shows how and what kind of data PayPal shares with third parties? How is that data being used? “I think people don’t realize their data is shared with third parties. For me, a DataViz is a really easy way for people to see what information is shared about them,” says Rebecca. According to Ricks, you can make the info sitting in a spreadsheet more palatable, interesting and relevant to people by using data visualization. “When you can present it in a way that’s engaging, you can draw people’s attention to how data is organized that they probably wouldn’t have been looking at in a spreadsheet,” Ricks says.

In addition to pop-up stores and data visualization, we also referenced the use of media to discuss issues around privacy. The two examples were – “do not track” – a personalized documentary series about privacy and the web economy by Brett Gaylor and “Black Mirror” – a British TV series that explores the dark side of privacy by Charlie Brooker.

The Exercise

To practice telling people more about privacy, we designed a session that puts fictional people in situations where their privacy is compromised. The task is to have a conversation with those people that focuses on privacy – rather than technical aspects and jargon.

Use of Personas

We used personas representing people from different walks of life. By creating personas we wanted to stress the point that knowing the audience that you intend to communicate with is very important. You can talk about the importance of privacy until you are blue in the face but your message will fall on deaf ears if it is not tailored to the audience.

The five personas we created were:

  • an on-the-road truck driver
  • a teenager
  • a retired electrical engineer
  • an investigative journalist
  • a blogger

We gave each of the above-mentioned personas specific key characteristics. Personas had

  • Name
  • Age
  • Job/profession
  • Interests
  • Personal characteristics
  • Goals and motivations
  • Work/Home environment
  • Needs with regard to privacy
  • Computing/technical likes and dislikes
  • Quotes

We also prepared different situations or scenarios for each of the personas: everyday scenarios they might face on any typical day, such as using internet to meet people, joining a dating site, sharing photos and videos with friends and family on an online platform, sharing location, using smartphone to learn and share information, signing up for discount card services at a grocery store, sending confidential information over Facebook et cetera.

The attendees were split into small groups. Each group was assigned a persona and was asked to suggest what persuasive strategies they would use to tell their respective persona to change their behavior online – to consider their privacy and refrain from giving information away. The participants were engaged in a lively discussion and came up with practical suggestions and strategies specific to their personas. We particularly liked the following suggestions.

Positive approach for the tech-savvy

Rather than scaring people from the use of technology, we can show them what awesome tools exist out there as alternatives. This approach should aim to empower people, especially those who enjoy using technology and learning new things.

Physical privacy as a parallel

Privacy in the physical world can be used as a metaphor when talking about privacy. As an answer to the “nothing to hide” argument, we could ask people how they’d feel about disclosing the content of their personal diary to the public. Or how they would feel about having a couple of hundred salespeople follow them around as they shop for groceries in a supermarket.

Highlight the risk for other people

Another suggestion was to emphasize the consequences of your privacy settings for your entire network. For example, if you grant third-party apps access to your Facebook, you’re not only disclosing your data, but also the data of your friends. Can you really make that decision responsibly?

At the end of the session, we all agreed that how we talk about privacy matters. We have been bemoaning the loss of privacy but appealing to privacy itself is not enough. The argument has to be more convincing than privacy for privacy’s sake. We agreed that we need to find other ways of talking about what we are losing. We also need to find positive ways of bringing privacy back.

We came back from the festival energized and encouraged by the vibrant and passionate community, and we look forward to taking more initiatives to help people shun indifference around issues of privacy and security.