Consent practices and disclosure interactions in the context of digital platforms

A design proposal to improve current practices by leveraging value similarities and resolving value tensions

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Digital platforms harvest end-users’ data for providing personalised recommended content. However, this data is also used to predict individual end-users’ behaviours and hook them to the content, eventually influencing their worldviews. This raises ethical debates related to the development of serious societal issues, such as fake-news diffusion, increasing polarisation and threats to democracies. On the individual level, end-users are affected by data leaks and privacy intrusiveness. People are therefore increasingly concerned about sharing their data without knowing what they reveal, for what purpose and to whom, and are consequentially unable to exercise their digital right to privacy and consent, as also concluded by the European Commission (2015).

This thesis investigates how consent practices and disclosure interactions can be redesigned to instate future data practices and digital platform relations which both digital platform organisations and end-users desire. This thesis adopts a sociotechnical perspective on digital platforms, as in de Reuver et al. (2018) and Tilson et al. (2012). The hypothesis is that future visions on 1) digital platform relations, 2) data practices, and 3) consent practices and disclosure interactions, from digital platform organisations and end-users should be explored, defined and compared to identify commonalities that provide a foundation for solution exploration, and to identify fundamental tensions that need to be resolved to create the conditions in which new practices can be effective and meaningful.

Future visions are defined through semi-structured interviews and Context Mapping conducted with eight field experts and eight (sensitised) end-users, led by the Path of Expression line of inquiry and analysed accordingly to the Grounded Theory Method. For every future vision topic, one theoretical framework is made to extract values and sources of friction. While the first are the drivers of the future visions, the latter contain conflicting interests to resolve before they can occur. By comparing the values extracted from the future visions on consent practices and disclosure interactions from the experts and end-users, it is concluded that some values match and others clash, which are defined as value similarities and value tensions respectively.

Methods to leverage value similarities in consent practice redesign are investigated through creative sessions with (former) design students employing How To – Questions, Brainwriting and Creative Confrontation. As all values can be leveraged in different ways, strategies for creating new consent practices are defined by using a Morphological Chart. A similar creative session employing Personal Analogy, Role-Play and Scenarios is used to investigate how to resolve value tensions in a consent redesign. All common tactics used to reach agreements on the value tensions are analysed and applied to the redesign for resolving the value tensions. Eventually the design objective of the thesis is reached by creating new (aspects of) consent practices and disclosure interactions based on the design propositions, for a total of 21 design directions including 88 different ideas from several ideation activities.

The digital platform organisation Flickr served as a real-life case for applying the research insights and design directions. A new consent journey proposal which balances privacy considerations from end-users and interests of the AI community is created for obtaining users’ photos to create image data sets. The proposal is validated with representatives from Flickr, Flickr’s end-users and the AI community, and evaluated as desirable, sufficiently feasible and viable, with part of it effectively contributing to solving the design case. Additionally, the proposal enables the exercise of end-users’ digital right to privacy and consent. It’s effect on individual-level relations also contributes to solving data practice-related societal issues.

This thesis concludes that consent practices and disclosure interactions can successfully be redesigned by leveraging the set of identified value similarities and resolving the set of identified value tensions. It is also found that ensuring a match between desired practices and reducing opportunities for dissension allows redesigning consent practices to be effective and meaningful. The early assumption that the identified sources of friction are solved limits however this thesis’ effective implementations, possibly requiring future research and investigations in these regards.