Corporations, governments, and individuals can increasingly collect new forms of personal data using pervasive technologies such as mobile tablets and phones. These always-on, always-present devices carried by billions can capture and transmit users’ location, images, motion, and user input. Mobile technologies could become a platform to document community needs and advocate for civic change, to understand personal habits and routines, or to document health problems and manage chronic illness. Simultaneously, new forms of data collection software utilize techniques traditionally employed by tools of surveillance: granular data gathering, sophisticated modeling, and inferences about a personal behavior and attributes.
There is a shifting and permeable boundary between data collection for individual or social goals, and corporate or government surveillance. This boundary invokes social values in design: the features, principles, or ethics we collectively value in the design of data collection technologies. Because technology regulation is often years behind the rate of innovation, this question is often answered, consciously or un-, by engineering teams.
This dissertation studies an influential engineering laboratory working in participatory sensing, a form of personal data collection utilizing pervasive mobile devices. The dissertation employs ethnographic methods to examine design practices and agents that promote social values, and particularly anti-surveillance values – privacy, equity, consent, and forgetting – in design. The multi-year study of sensing development reveals how such abstract social values were built into concrete technological features.
Anti-surveillance values became material as the design team built consensus around values such as privacy, consent, equity, and forgetting; and then translated those values into technological features. This process was enabled by values levers: practices that opened new conversations about social values, and encouraged consensus around those values as design criteria. While literature on values in design has previously suggested that values help construct the day-to-day work of design, my dissertation illustrates that the opposite is also true: the routinized practices of design work shape the values incorporated into new technologies. If anti-surveillance values such as privacy, consent, equity and forgetting are to be materialized in the design of pervasive sensing technologies, laboratories must be structured to encourage values levers, which facilitate and bolster the process of building values into technology.