Dan Hon
Dan Hon
Jun 8, 2018 · 4 min read

Here’s a story about how subtly things that seem “good” can also be harmful. (It also appeared earlier on Twitter. I have re-written it slightly.)

I logged into Facebook this afternoon and at the top of my feed was a dialog asking if my workplace was also my business (it is):

Facebook desktop newsfeed prompt for business ownership, June 8 2018

There’s two things to notice here:

First, the direct question: “Is Very Little Gravitas, LLC your business?”

Second, the two dialog buttons. The dialog appears — whether intentionally designed to do so or not — to allow two routes to proceed, two route to resolution.

  • Yes, this is my business; or
  • No, this is not my business.

There’s some copy in the middle (“If this is your business, you can claim its Facebook Page to help grow your business on Facebook.”

But, the question being asked isn’t “Do you want to grow your business on Facebook?”

The question being asked is “Is this your business?”

“Is this your business?” feels like an innocuous question. And we’re a social species — generally speaking, we like to be helpful.

As I’m presented with this dialog, I’m aware of being very minded to answer “Yes,” and this isn’t just because “Yes” is highlighted and encouraged to be the default action.

Then, I figure out what’s unsettling me about this dialog, given the current context (technology in 2018!) and the context in which Facebook currently operates.


It feels like I don’t have the right to remain silent.

It feels like I may only respond to the question by saying “yes” or no”.

If I say yes — this is my business — then I’ve told Facebook something that maybe I didn’t want them to know. Or that I don’t care about them knowing. And, crucially, I am telling them the truth. I remind myself: they (Facebook, a company) are not entitled to my truth. My truth is mine to give, freely and willingly.

If I say no — this is not my business — then I am lying. Lying feels bad. I think of myself as a Good Person, and Good People do not lie and Good People do not conceal.

So I’m sitting here, staring at this dialog.

Facebook desktop newsfeed prompt for business ownership, June 8 2018

I am getting increasingly upset that I’m being politely asked an “innocent” question to which I want to be “helpful”.

(At the same time — I know my business! I know who I need to reach. Having a Facebook page for my consulting business would not be a good use of time, and is unlikely to be a good return on investment.)

Then, finally, I notice the x in the top right.

Close.

The close icon. At least it’s still there.

I can just close the dialog.

I have the right to remain silent.

As a designer — all of us technologists, we are all designers, remember! We make choices about the things we make and those things affect people — I start to get angry.

I am aware of being guided. Shepherded. Nudged.

This is worse, I start to think, than not being able to say no. Or at least, it feels just as bad in a qualitatively adjacent way.

(I wrote in 2017 in my newsletter about the increasing number of dialogs that prevent you from saying no and the potential cumulative effect of those design choices).

And just yesterday, Reddit didn’t let me say no:

“GOT IT” — Reddit for iOS Legal Update (presumably GDPR related, given the new Privacy Policy effective 25 May), June 7 2018

De-emphasizing my right to remain silent is worse than not letting me say no because now I’m starting to feel like I can’t say anything. Neither option is good. Both options rob me of agency.

Anything I say or do will provide you with more data.

“But!” people will cry. “But! There’s a privacy policy!”

A privacy policy doesn’t matter when you can’t be silent, when silence is discouraged, when participation is mandatory.

So. I am old enough now that most of the advice I see about interactions with police are along these lines:

Don’t. Say. Anything.

Use your Miranda rights.

What might our Miranda rights be for software?

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say or do can and will be stored indefinitely and used to target and profile you.

What will happen when we design software that removes our right to remain silent?

Dan Hon

Written by

Dan Hon

I come from the internet and I can type.

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