INFO200: Response to User Research

As stated in the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, “information technologies may either support or undermine human values; sometimes they do both at the same time.” (769) As information technology advances, it is important that we reflect on how our personal values are being integrated (or not integrated!) into the designs we see around us every day.

The importance of value-sensitive design can be seen if we take a closer look at the FitBit, a health-tracking device worn around the wrist.

The FitBit supports human values of personal health and fitness. By collecting and organizing a user’s activity data, it helps its users more accurately and successfully track their health progress. Users can then more accurately craft a health regime that is effective and within their personal limits. The FitBit’s guidance allows users to do this in a more controlled and safe manner. The Fitbit also supports human values of knowledge. It can be hard for people to, on their own, collect various forms of data about their everyday health. Even if users were to manually log the exact distance walked/run, their eating habits, and their daily activity levels, it would be hard to aggregate this data into trends over time. Because the FitBit creates personalized data analysis for its users, it makes the process of collecting knowledge easier and more accurate.

While the FitBit can help support values, there are also many concerns involved. The major value that can be undermined by using the Fitbit is privacy. The device tracks the users movements and activity, while also often tracking their location. However, how is this data used? Is it shared? If it is shared, who is it shared with and for what purpose? These are all essential questions of privacy, and the answers to them can determine if Fitbit is infringing on a user’s rights to privacy. If users are not of how their information is being used and shared, or if they are not informed of how their data is being used prior to use (for example, in a privacy policy), Fitbit could be violating the user’s rights since they did not obtain informed consent. This would mean that the user was not aware of what was being taken from them, and so they could not agree to the use of their information in that way. The way that FitBit uses a user’s location information can also directly concern the value of safety. If a user’s location is not securely protected and stored, the threat of strangers knowing their location can put them in danger.