Mozilla Festival 2019: The VIRT-EU Sandbox – Design Dilemmas in Connected Technologies

The 10th anniversary Mozilla Festival was held in Ravensbourne University in London at the end of October. Irina Shklovski and Alison Powell held an emergent session to challenge the attendees to consider the ethical ramifications of technology design and development. The setting was a company concerned with employee well-being that had designed a wearable tracking device to support work-life balance. We asked participants to imagine themselves being part of a developer team in a small company charged with making important decisions about their product. 

“Think about it this way: we’re looking for an employer who would love to use our product and distribute it to all the employees. Now, the question is: how do we deal with data?”

– Irina Shklovski

This role-play workshop gathered a group of diverse participants to discuss a range of options developers have to choose from when they face design dilemmas. These dilemmas are connected to how their technologies will intervene in people’s lives. In this case, we focused the discussion on data storage, access and use options, which then defined what services we could offer. 

“If we are a company that is typical of the companies that we studied in the VIRT-EU project, we either have external funding that is not venture capital funding, angel investor funding, or venture capital funding … Most typically, if you have venture capital funding, when you are making this decision you are also making this decision about how the VCs are going to see the growth of your business. They’re going to be expecting the decision you make here as a design decision to also be a business decision about how much return the venture capitalists are going to get on this device.”

– Alison Powell

After a brief presentation of the company, the participants were to choose between a set of options concerning the data management of the device:

A) Track but store data locally on the device
B) Track but store data temporarily
C) Track but don’t share with company. Share only with WearWell for A/B testing
D) Full data-sharing. Both with company and Wearwell.

Option D is the most common option for these kinds of products – the company has all the power to decide what they want to do with the data. It is also the option that gives the greatest possible return.

“The data itself becomes a product”

In this workshop scenario, the developers’ position is unique in that they have the power to influence the company strategy of managing data. What are they going to decide? More importantly, how are they going to get to that decision? Watch our video to find out more about the discussion!