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Our habits and behaviors create patterns, and when we agree to the ever-changing terms and conditions of the products and services we use, what and to whom are we granting our permissions?
In Terms and Conditions May Apply, director Cullen Hoback examines the ways that billion-dollar corporations, such as Google, Facebook, and AT&T, learn about our interests, finances, and our friends and family. A closer look at the evolution of these corporations’ user terms and conditions—from the early day of Internet through the aftermath of The Patriot Act—unsurprisingly, we all have opted-in since the very beginning: allowing our privacy to be sold to the highest bidder, shared and utilized by government agencies.
Most of us are aware, on some level, of the data-mining and tracking practices on the Internet; as users we have become accustomed to providing information while giving our consents to share, no questions asked. In 2013, around the same time Terms and Conditions May Apply was released, we learned from Edward Snowden that corporations were not the only ones keeping a tag on our movements beyond our eyeballs: the NSA have been tracking all forms of networked communications – just in case criminal intents ever cross our minds. The truth is I do not know which to fear and loath more – that I am a participant in making myself a commodity for the capitalists, or a willing resident of a surveillance state as I submit to yet another round of fingerprints and retinal scans whenever I make my re-entrance to the U.S. soil.
As a designer, the privacy issue becomes a tightrope to walk on – user data plays a big part in the developing, designing, and marketing of everything we touch and experience, and it is a designer’s job to know. Data enables designers to anticipate, create, and see beyond the matters of usability; it allows designers to make good on the promise of design: serve human needs and desires in exchanging ideas and information, provide tools so that we can engage better with our cultural and natural environment. What happens when the same data that was meant to inform becoming a threat to our civil liberties?
I was reading Richard Buchanan’s essay Human Dignity and Human Rights: Thoughts on the Principles of Human-Centered Design, when a passage caught my attention:
The implications of the idea that design is grounded in human dignity and human rights are enormous, and they deserve careful exploration…… We should consider what we mean by human dignity and how all of the products that we make either succeed or fail to support and advance human dignity.
Design is not everything, and we can not expect to design our ways out of every problem we face. However, here is a baseline in which design can begin and end: to what moral, and intellectual purpose do we want to direct our aesthetic vision and artistic skill? As our networked society expands, access to individualized data sets will only increase. There must be ways to utilize data for good while creating provisions to protect individual liberties and demand corporations and governments to honor the social terms and conditions that bind us all – it is only fair, right?