Closing the Participation Gap: HotPETS Presentation Summary

I really enjoyed being part of the emerging-work track, HotPETS, at the Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium earlier this month. From meeting lots of great people to getting face-time with the Simply Secure team, Philadelphia was fun.

Scout and I presented “Human-Centered Design for Secure Communication: Opportunities to Close the Participation Gap” as part of a session on Privacy and Human Behavior. The session also included some nice qualitative work from Tactical Technologies covering the collaborative and social nature of privacy and ethical implications for researchers working with vulnerable populations.

The HotPETS presentation shared emerging findings from my Listening Tour — a series of semi-structured interviews reporting on perceptions and opportunities for security and privacy.

HotPETS presentation on Human-Centered Design for Secure Communication

The Listening Tour is a series of conversations — 27 so far — with designers, cryptographers, researchers, entrepreneurs, activists, and other potential members of Simply Secure’s community. This activity is part of a Human-Centered Design process to understand the needs and priorities of the stakeholders we serve.

The biggest surprise from the tour so far has been how poorly the phrase “secure communication” is understood outside the security community. The entrepreneurs and designers I spoke with at professional events — people with no particular interest or awareness of security concerns — guessed “secure communication” to be something related to anti-doxxing efforts, bitcoin, or specialized tools for doctors and lawyers. There’s definitely work to do in bridging this gap.

Stay tuned for more as the Listening Tour progresses, but emerging opportunities we have identified so far for closing the participation gap are 1) motivating lay-user adoption and 2) creating a shared vocabulary. The need for a shared vocabulary between designers and cryptographers resonated particularly well in the post-presentation discussion at HotPETS. We’ll be thinking more about how language can smooth collaboration and improve the accessibility of secure communication.

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