Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain

Recently, my fiancée received an email from Spotify telling him he was eligible to receive a Google Home. He blindly hit “accept” and in a few days’ time, we had a brand-new Google Home set up in our apartment. I thought nothing of it until much later when I wondered, why us? Did all Spotify Premium users get a Google Home? What’s in it for Spotify? Wait – what’s in it for Google?

These are exactly the questions Caroline Sinders encouraged users to ask during her visit to NC State. As a design researcher, artist, and digital anthropologist, Sinders has worked tirelessly to demand transparency and promote user agency. She continually referred to data as a precious material. We should always question the mining of it – who is asking for the data? What will be the data be used for? How is the data stored? Tech companies like Google, Apple, and even Spotify should no longer be allowed to secretly collect our data with no apparent rhyme or reason. We as designers can play our part by imagining how systems might look with more transparency. We need to consider not just the beautiful end product produced, but the intention of the product we are designing. Humans make the decisions and choices behind AI – we are behind the curtain – and it’s about time we take ownership of that knowledge.