Straight Talk: Surveillance and Mobile Messaging in NYC

Understanding perceptions of surveillance and mobile messaging.

Lived Surveillance in New York

In December 2015 we talked with twelve New Yorkers from Harlem and Brownsville, meeting with people in libraries, offices, restaurants, and homes. We spent an hour listening to each participant talk about how they currently message, their privacy concerns and security practices, and their opinions on secure messaging. These conversations provided insights into how to design secure communication tools for a mass audience.

Our findings indicate a significant gap between the priorities of the low-income African-Americans in our study and much of the security and privacy community, both academic and industrial. This report shares how social, economic, and technical systems shape priorities for secure communication among our participants. Against a backdrop of inevitable surveillance, participants shared their: concerns about physical device security, particularly shoulder surfing, negative consequences of family-plan group billing arrangements giving unwanted access, and renter’s mindset that the handset is controlled by an adversarial carrier.


Blog post with emerging findings.

Tech Report Straight Talk: New Yorkers on Mobile Messaging and Implications for Privacy.

Internet Freedom Festival 2016 presentation Lived Surveillance in NYC: Design Implications for Mobile Messaging.

Everyday Surveillance Workshop at CHI 2016 Design Implications of Lived Surveillance in New York.

HotPETS 2016 paper Respecting Participants in Privacy-Related User Studies: A Case Study of Mobile Messaging by Low-Income New Yorkers.

Usenix Security 2016 invited presentation Privacy and Threat in Practice: Mobile Messaging by Low Income New Yorkers.