Notes: Problem Domain

I’m having lots of trouble writing recently. I think this is because much of my writing is currently sitting around in private word documents. I think because you don’t see any progression that way the work never progresses. So, after a conversation with my professor I’ve decided to ‘dump’ whatever I’ve written while I’ve been thinking about things on my blog and stick a ‘this isn’t finished’ disclaimer on it. Here we go:

This work revolves around the following problem:

When using communications technology, data about the user is extracted and analysed by organisations, some of this data they may even be unaware they are giving away.  By leveraging the playful nature of communications technology against the information that they are extracting, organisations are able to manipulate them in to a positive feedback loop of emotionally-driven data collection.

Communication technologies, such as computers or mobile phones are constantly sending data to third parties. Some of this data we may be aware of, such as a message sent over a social network or a rating of an application to a software store. Other data we may not be aware of, such as our physical location or browsing history. This data can be used to make us engage further with the technology, which in turn revolves more data about ourselves. Often to achieve this game-like design elements are added to non-game contexts in an attempt to use our data to emotionally drive us to do tasks. For example, once an organisation knows our friends and relatives it can use compete us against them. While comparing us to our friends organisations may offer the ability to  ‘beat them’  in return for the user completing a task. The task may be a small payment, the users attention (in the case of advertising), or may involve the extraction of more data, which can then be used in further leverage.

When in the hands of organisations, this data is analysed to build profiles about us to tell organisations about our behaviour, as well as being used a lever for both emotionally driven task completion and data collection this information organisations are able to work out things such as:

  • The goods and services we are likely to want
  • Our physical movements, where we are likely to be or we will need to get to
  • Our circle of friends, who we in contact with, or if we are likely to have contact with certain people

This information is particularly useful to organisations that want to persuade our way of thinking, for example: advertising networks, sellers of goods and political parties. It is also useful to organisations that wish to control or monitor a population for example:  government and law enforcement agencies.

While this data is generated by the user of the technology, it is often not easily available to them for personal access, often requiring specialist knowledge to get hold of the data or to capture it themselves. If the user does manage to get hold of the data they are often unaware of how they can analyse it.  The fact that the user is generating this data, but does not control or fully understand it means they are at a disadvantage when engaging in discussions regarding its storage and use. Furthermore the user might benefit from having access to the tools; being able to use them for self-reflection on their own methods of practice

Recently there has been an increase in publicly available information regarding data that is being collected about us, in parallel to this data collection and analysis methods are becoming increasingly available for individual use; but it is often the case that both the information required to grasp the issues and analyse the data is out of a comfort zone for the average user of communications technology.

Based on the breakdown of the problem, this work explores the following hypothesis:

Giving users of communication technology skills and open access to the data collection and manipulation tools of organisations gives them an insight in their own behaviour and interaction with these organisations, the behaviour of organisations and the political backdrop.

To test this hypothesis the following questions need to be answered:

  1. Where are the examples of data collection and analysis in data communications technology?
    1. Which organisations are collecting and analysing data collected through communications technology
    2. Can we articulate which data is being extracted and how it is analysed?
  2. What is the role of communications technologies in collecting and manipulating data?
    1. What techniques are used to extract this data from users
    2. Are users aware of these techniques
    3. Does having access to the data or results collected by these techniques help them understand and critique this role
  3. Are any of these data collection and manipulation techniques in the public domain?
    1. If so, what are the barriers to use:
    2. Are people interested in using these techniques?
    3. What techniques are currently being used in the public domain?
  4. Will using these techniques shine a light on how playful techniques are used to put users in roles they are unaware of?
  5. Where are the lines drawn morally? How is what we are doing different from what the organisations are doing?