Privacy Advisor

How UI and UX can KO privacy

June 27, 2013

By Sam Pfeifle
Publications Director

“UX design wins,” said Will Dayable from the stage of Navigate 2013. “If it’s bad, it doesn’t work…UX trumps all. If you do really good UX, it’s not about the interface or the method of doing things with human beings. It’s whether you respect what people want to achieve.”

For the uninitiated, UX stands for User Experience, and Will Dayable is co-director at Squareweave, a developer of web and mobile apps, plus an all-around entrepreneur and proud Aussie. Dayable joined with Jason Hong, associate professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon, to provoke the nearly 300 attendees at Navigate into thinking about how UX and UI (User Interface) affect the way people experience and understand privacy.

Will Dayble begins his provocation at Navigate 2013.

“What are the gaps between what something does and what people expect it to do,” asked Hong. “If it’s a big surprise, that’s bad for privacy.” Did you know that Angry Birds collects your location data? That the Holy Bible app does? That the Flashlight App does? Heck, the Flashlight app wants to be able to access the Internet without you knowing.

Why would it want to do that? Using Dayable’s logic, it’s easy to see that people want to achieve the ability to see better in the dark with the Flashlight app, and that likely doesn’t require location data and access to the Internet.

In fact, one of Dayable’s UI mottos is “Design Like They’re Drunk.” Web and app users are highly distractible, he noted, often in the middle of a number of other tasks. Much like a drunk you might have to help put on shoes and get into a taxi, an app user needs explicit instructions that are easily followed. How explicit and easy-to-follow is your privacy policy? How easy is it to find on your site? Is it buried at the very bottom of your homepage in six-point font?

Further, what is the UX when a user actually finds the policy? Hong brought up the privacy policy of The New York Times, praising it for being concise and being FAQ-oriented. However, the text is aimed at a reader with more than a high school education—can the Times safely expect that much education from all of its readers? Hong also noted that the full Times privacy policy is more than 10 times the length of what you see initially. It would take nearly 15 minutes to read all the way through. How likely is it that a user would take that time?

In fact, his team at Carnegie Mellon did a study to see how long it would take to read the privacy policies of every website the average web user visited in a year.

“It would take 25 full days if you were to read every single one,” Hong said. “Obviously, this does not scale.”

Not that anyone would do that. He joked that the only time anyone reads a full privacy policy is when he assigns it for homework.

So, what to do?

Hong proposed, for example, something akin to the nutrition labels on food in the United States, where a quick glance lets you know what’s being collected and used and how far that might be from your expectations. He also noted when there is an explanation given for why certain data is being collected, it makes the user much more comfortable with that use. Maybe a dictionary app uses location data to deliver definitions that are regionally optimized, for example—“wicked” has a very distinct local meaning up here in the Northeast United States….

In the end, argued Dayable, good privacy UX and UI is about actually trying to communicate with users rather than slip one past them.

“The solutions that work,” he said, “have simple, transparent interfaces that are built with respect for the people using them.”

Read More By Sam Pfeifle:
IAPP Members in the News PRIVACY IN POPULAR CULTURE: This NSA PRISM Story Isn’t Funny … Except When It Is
EU Regulation Roundup: Move Toward Business-Friendly; May Be No Vote until December
Lane Powell LLC Launches Privacy and Data Security Practice