SYSTEM / UX/UI / TECHNOLOGY / FORESIGHT / STRATEGY
Node addresses the growing issue of data collection and lack of proper consent in smart cities.
This project utilizes user-centered design to promote meaningfully, informed, and dynamic consent for those living in technology-enabled public spaces. Node explores how we could engage users to take control of their data consent and have it meaningfully recognized by data collectors.
This project was completed as part of a year-long bachelor thesis for OCAD University. The advisors for this project were Jules Goss & Luis Angarita.
1 Problem Space
This project tackles the growing issue of obtaining data consent from every person interacting with technology-enabled public spaces. This problem space emerged while conducting research into the adoption of smart home technology, where a series of “what ifs” lead to greater research into an adjacent problem space; smart cities. My research began focusing on the user’s relationship with the terms and agreements of devices. A journey into understanding consent agreements and privacy law, a fascinating yet under-acknowledged issue emerged. Data consent, as it currently stands, is not consent and ignores the majority of users whose data is being collected.
Sidewalk Labs proposed a new archetype for a smart city in Toronto, Canada, however, pulled out of the project in May 2020. Sidewalk Labs, a company under the umbrella of Alphabet Inc., discussed implementing a smart city called Quayside for the 12 acres on Toronto’s waterfront. They pitched building a neighborhood “from the internet up” that could house over 5,000 people of all ages and economic backgrounds.
Despite its growing presence in everyday life, data collection remains somewhat of a mystery to the consumer, where they are unaware of what data is being harvested, what insights companies are able to gain on their behaviors and how these insights are being used and shared. Recently this has caused speculation that users are simply providing an “illusion of voluntariness”. The user has little choice in accepting the terms set out by a company given their two options; agree to all data collection and use described by the company or not use the service/ product at all, often referred to as a zero-sum model.
Did you know?
Less than 10% of people glance at consent agreements, let alone read or understand it.
2 Project Framing
The current system is built on a zero-sum model where one party gains from another party loss and user's sacrifice their privacy in return for access.
Extensive use of complicated and difficult to navigate legalese with the expectation of a yes/no answer once "fully read".
One-time agreements presented during time-sensitive periods for the user i.e their actively trying to access the product at that moment.
The time required to fully read a standard consent agreement for an app or device would require 40 minutes a day per agreement.
Use simple, accessible language
Be equal to or less time than the current model.
Accommodate a range of interests in data privacy.
Allow for customization of data consent.
Intuitive and simple to integrate into daily routine.
Technology is being integrated into both public and private spaces.
The upcoming tipping point of 1:N data interactions per person.
Data and privacy laws have started to improve globally.
Citizens are taking note of the recent surge in data breaches.
I had very little idea what data was or how it was being collected. The first step was to dive deep into the subject matter and interview both users and experts to understand the landscape.
My research made it clear there had to be a number of specific requirements to effectively propose a new change for data consent.
My goal while developing this project was to make it actually feasible, from the type of technology facilitating the system to how users would interact with the app.
I presented this project to multiple experts in the field to distill the aspects which could be improved. I intend to move this project forward, and see where it can go!
Node is a system that passively collects informed, meaningful, and freely given data consent for people who live in smart cities. The goal was to facilitate a system that could give access, control, and choice into the hands of the people whose data is being collected.
Node is a multi-part system creating a communication network facilitating the collection of meaningful, informed user consent. The system consists of an app, a small object similar to a key-fob, a cloud-connected database, and a single “digital layer” where all devices were programmed to receive a unique signal for consent agreements.
The system is facilitated through beacon technology. Always “on”, beacon tech allows for devices to emit continuous small packets of data that can be updated or changed according to its host system, similar to how a lighthouse behaves.
The app makes it as easy as possible to give data consent. Consent profiles are not all-or-nothing; residents can choose what and how they want to share their data in terms of the level of sharing, data types, and category of data, service, and/or technology. Node advocates that everyone should have a say in their data, no matter age or ability. The system understands that not everyone wants to track their data consent every moment of the day, but it also knows some people do.
Every resident in Quayside, from infant to senior, would be provided with a Node. They are small, customizable devices that function as a key to both the resident’s home and data by radiating a unique signal to all devices within range on the digital layer.
The network node is a connection point that can receive, create, store or send data along distributed network routes. Here, it is used to describe all of the components of the system which are integral for it's functionality, connectivity and interoperability.
Once a resident signs a lease to rent on a fixed basis or buys a home within the Quayside neighborhood, they receive a welcome package with the instruction to download the Node app and create an account. This package will be their introduction to the node system and all of the benefits it provides. They will be prompted to order a node for all registered residents to ensure they arrive before their possession date. As soon as the node is synced with the account, all access associated with the address is accessible through the node, including key access to your home, mailbox, and shared amenities.
Charlotte’s node de-identifies all personal information from her travel patterns but allows it to feed into aggregate city data.
Ali's facial features, weight and voice patterns are restricted for Quayside’s devices.
Ben’s node restricts targeted advertising when using Quayside's wayfinding.
Charlotte takes out her trash, and the analysis of its contents is de-identified from her apartment.
The crosswalk adjusts the time allocated for crossing the street according to Ben’s speed and movements.
Charlotte’s home hub no longer detects any nodes within range, and lowers all energy, heat and water sources.
Almost home, the door to Ben’s building unlocks, opens and informs his apartment to turn on the lights.
This was a step towards including users in the conversion of data. Node allows users the assurance that they can maintain a passive role to their consent while undoubtedly knowing their data is being handled correctly. It is imperative that every single person, no matter their age, is considered a data-generating person who deserves the right to privacy, security and choice.
The issue of data consent is massive, affecting billions of people and is only primed to become a greater issue. There is no one way for this problem to be addressed and will require a complete overhaul of how users and companies approach consent agreements. Node allowed me to explore how we could engage users to take control of their data consent and have it meaningfully recognized. The next iteration of the project will take this idea and distill each component to explore how they could translate to the larger system of devices we interact with on a daily basis.
Data consent can transform the digital world and how we interact with it, if we act now.