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UX: Privacy

Government snooping. Identity theft. Sale of personal data. Privacy is out there in a big way. But it’s not in here, meaning on most product development teams.

Privacy is one thing, but security is another. The latter is something that most of the companies care about. If user’s information gets stolen or governments snoop on it than it is bad for business, trust and reputation. Many companies do encrypt their data, because they care about secure user data. But even companies that do encryption, receive data in an un-encrypted fashion, so there is nothing that can stop them from making the most out of it for their own purposes or selling the information to other companies.

Privacy question arises when companies start collating or snooping on user’s behavior and messages and these data is passed to others. Presently, health and financial data are subject to more legal scrutiny under HIPAA and the Financial Services Modernization Act, respectively. Everything else falls under the purview of the FTC.

There are many flavors of online privacy violations. Last year, Uber singled out a journalist and tracked her movements without consent, which was a violation of policies and may allow for legal recourse. Of course, Facebook and Google do have access to all the messages their users write.

There are few things that aren’t technically illegal, but are questionable, like companies collecting information on behavior that users are not aware of and cookies are one example of that. With some of the data available, companies predict something personal even before we know it.

These data is made up of a combination of user-entered values and behavior tracked in the background. Companies do claim that they are not interested in knowing user behavior individually but instead in aggregate.

Privacy Affects Lives

One of the most common thing you would hear when raising issues around privacy is “What are you so scared of? There are very real things to be afraid of- things that we, as user experience designers who care about empathy, should also care deeply about. It really sucks when health insurance companies start getting data from Fit-bit to raise their premiums. If we believe that treating the users with respect and honesty is essential to a good experience, then we owe it to them to ponder this issue.

We spend a lot of time on designing features – features that users experience. This that takes place in the background can still constitute bad UX. Bringing privacy is very challenging. The data generated isn’t an evil in itself because they hold possibilities for wonderful insights and improvements to life. There are users who seem to sort of care about privacy, but sort of don’t. Most of us are aware and concerned about third party accessing the data, but still we agree with this statement: “I am willing to share some information about myself with companies in order to use online services for free. It you are not paying for the service, then you are the product.

The fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Just as we have a responsibility to design accessible products, even when it would be easier not to, we have a responsibility to consider privacy. We all have a role in shaping the way products are delivered, so let’s do it mindfully, not limiting our considerations to features that users see. Let’s reach further into the future and think bigger about what user experience is.

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