Our Research

We interviewed 41 people, from privacy experts to everyday people, to understand their views on privacy and the ways that different policies could impact their work.

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In this research, we focused on two key problems. First, operationalizing privacy policies into practice is nebulous and challenging. How do you translate, measure, and test values and high level aspirations into a user interface? Second, there is a natural silo between industries fortifying rare integration between industry, policy, and academic research.

The first objective for this work was to explore intersections of privacy policy and design through visual prototypes. The second was to understand the challenges of translating policy to platform changes based on the specific background and industry skill set of the interviewees. Finally, we sought to understand broader user perspectives of privacy and control on social media.

Our research was framed around three key questions:

  1. How do various roles use and think about privacy in their fields?
  2. Based on a variety of backgrounds, what are the strengths and challenges of the privacy bills and prototypes?
  3. What are the perceptions of privacy and technology practitioners on proposed legislation aimed at modifying social media design?

Our full report contains in-depth findings and analyses around these research questions, as well as recommendations and insights for policymakers and industry practitioners working in privacy-related spaces.

Who we talked to

We interviewed 41 people from different industries and backgrounds, including:

  • 8 academics
  • 8 nonprofits + advocacy organizations
  • 8 industry practitioners
  • 6 members of the public
  • 5 lawyers
  • 3 government employees
  • 3 policy researchers

Our recommendations

Based on our interviewees and research process, we came up with some recommendations for policymakers and industry practitioners.

Some things we recommend

Develop shared privacy language across industries.
This could assist in identifying overlapping processes, concerns, interests, and harms, as well as enable better collaborations between individuals from different sectors/professions.
Include insights from people from marginalized communities and data stewards.
It’s important and valuable to talk to those who know or have a good understanding of how they have been impacted by these systems & policies.
Implement human-centered practices in the policy design process.
Practices that could aid the policy design process include broadening engagement with industry practitioners, visualizing policies to prototypes when possible, exploring how to test policy and prototyping processes on a larger scale, and continuously integrating feedback.

Our 1-pager contains our full set of recommendations for policymakers and industry practitioners.

Download recommendations one-pager

What we heard

“What we really need in privacy is an immune system. The assumption is that everything gets through at least one part of the immune system--what you really want is enough interconnected layers so that it’s really hard to get through all of them.”

- John Wilbanks, Chief Commons Officer at Sage Bionetworks

Our process

We summarized, created visual prototypes, and collected feedback for three draft bills on online privacy and data governance.

Our team in action

Sketching mockup ideas during a website design sprint session!

Selecting the bills

Our team reviewed the latest public draft bills on online privacy and data governance from 2018 to 2020. We chose three bills to present and collect feedback on: the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, Online Privacy Act, and Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act. These bills were chosen based on our goals to represent a diversity of Senate teams, to show a variety of different policy levers, and to produce visual prototypes to illustrate the bills’ potential impacts.

Designing the prototypes

After narrowing our focus to 3 bills, we brainstormed ways to visualize how online platforms might change if these bills were passed. Through lots of sketches and ideation sessions, we produced a speculative visual prototype for each bill, imagining what a social media platform might look like in response to each bill. We chose to represent social media platforms given their widespread reach and high engagement across the general public.

Conducting interviews

We conducted 41 one-on-one interviews to gather insights around privacy and each of the individual bills. During the interviews, we showed participants a summary of each bill, visual examples to highlight the bill’s concepts, and our visual prototype for the bill. We probed into their reactions to the bills, aiming to identify what they saw as advantages and challenges for each. We also talked about privacy more broadly, asking participants how they viewed privacy both in their work and personal lives.

Creating a prototyping guide

We created a policy prototyping guide that outlines the process we used to prototype bills and gather feedback. The guide includes a high level diagram of the process, team role outlines, and a step-by-step framework on how to execute the prototyping process.

Download policy prototyping guide