Democratizing Data

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Abstract

In 2018, Cambridge Analytica tampered with U.S. elections using targeted ad campaigns. Simultaneously, 2018 also marks the year when the flow of data has enabled us to access information anywhere, anytime through connected networks of devices. So, do we reject data and abandon our technology, or accept being online all the time monitored by a vast network that may know more about us then we do ourselves. Data Control Box is a product that helps people navigate this journey. Found in homes and workplaces, it allows individuals to control their data by placing their mobile devices into its acrylic container.

Inspiration and Method

The separation from a mobile device manifests a physical type of data control that becomes immediately apparent to the user of Data Control Box creating the opportunity for self reflection on what control of data is and how it works. For example a user of Data Control Box can still create data using another device such as personal computer despite having placed their mobile device inside Data Control Box. This process of revealing aspects of the larger systems can then be used to guide discussions on what kinds of controls might be needed in the future of data production and would not have been made apparent without Data Control Box. Moving to shared discussion users of Data Control Box are encouraged to share their reflections by tweeting to the hashtag #DataControlBox. These tweets are displayed through Data Control Box's 1.5 inch OLED breakout board connected to an Arduino micro-controller. Data Control Box can interface with any network connected computer using a usb cord which also serves as its power source. The connected feature of Data Control Box allows units found around the world to become nodes in network of a larger ongoing discussions about finding the balance of data as a part of everyday life.

Result

The deployment of Data Control box serves two purpose: to help people reflect, share, change and create new forms of data control but also to help designers probe the interaction between people and data in the wild. Once deployed I was able to collect a vast amount of qualitative research in the form of informal interviews and tweets available through the twitter hashtag #DataControlBox. This qualitative research turns theoretical ideas about how data exists in the wild into insights that designers could use in participatory design sessions involving major stakeholders in data production and collection. These insights could also be used more tangibly by applying them directly in the design process of data driven interfaces.