Balancing Giving and Getting

Provide reciprocal value to people who share their data

This is part of a series to provoke dialogue and provide concrete ways to help people ethically design intelligent systems. Read our introduction.

In many cases, human systems rely upon clear, fair, and discrete exchanges of value between people and a product or service (e.g., I give you money and you give me pizza). Other human systems may rely upon contributions from participants and highlight evident in-kind benefits of collaboration (e.g., a potluck dinner). But exchanges of value can be distorted when a system is tracking behavior, monitoring clicks, and stockpiling detailed personal information, because people may never learn the true value of information they have contributed, and so not be able to truly benefit from the exchange.

To maintain trust and integrity over the long haul, we should always examine the detail and degree of the benefits being exchanged and explore what is valuable to those whose information is being used.

Activities to try

_As a team, list in one column information you’re receiving from people and in another column the benefits that you are providing in return — this could be anything from a smoother experience, to honoraria, to promoting with social change. Is the give-get loop is balanced? Are the benefits obvious to people when they share their information? How could the benefit be more evident to the people for whom it’s intended?

_Interview potential users to learn how fair your system feels to them. You might develop a “trading game” (see Project Vignette below) to determine a mutually agreeable exchange.

_Create a map of existing systems in a simple 2x2 framework, with the axes being “Active Data Collection” vs. “Passive Data Collection” and “High Personal Value of Data” vs. “Low Personal Value of Data”. Map existing systems you might use (Netflix, Facebook, Amazon Prime etc.) onto the framework. Where does the system you are designing fit in this framework? Is it in a good place? Where would you like it to be? Can you move it to that position by giving more or taking less?

Project vignette

A client who hosts thousands of public events annually wanted to improve the attendee experience. During research, the team noticed that event staffers spent an enormous amount of energy capturing data on event goers, which slowed the event registration and sign-in process. Attendees also complained about having to give personal information just to attend events, but also said they didn’t mind giving up information if they saw a benefit. So the team created a game, turning data such as email addresses and credit card numbers into “currency.” Playing the game, attendees “bought,” benefits they felt were most relevant to their needs. For example, one person bought a free ride to the event by giving his name, email, address and zip code as currency. This exercise helped the client see data capture from the event goers’ perspective as well as how they could use data capture to actually serve event goers’ needs, creating a better overall experience.

Explore the other posts in this series: