A Trustworthy Tech Challenge | Berkman Klein Center
February 12, 2024 – Cambridge, MA
A Trustworthy Tech Challenge, a research initiative from the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, the the University of Exeter, and the TUM School of Social Science and Technology in Munich, launched the public phase of this research initiative about privacy and big tech. Trustworthy Tech is spearheaded by Trisha Prabhu, a Harvard undergraduate whose work has been featured by Mozilla, Forbes, and TED.
Today the power imbalance between big tech and consumers is a huge liability for users and their personal data; without regulations or protective incentives in place, big tech can act without constraint or conscience with user information. The interdisciplinary research team designed two 10-minute surveys that ask them to think critically about their relationship to sharing data with apps; including what they would expect from a fictional dating and rideshare apps, respectively. The survey will reveal evolving user expectations on acceptable practices for big tech, grounded in personal beliefs about privacy and transparency.
Scholars and advocates have argued that tech companies can and should act as information fiduciaries, a role held by entities with similar responsibilities – such as medical or legal practices – which are legally bound to put the interests of people above their own. Unlike the historic uninformed consent “terms and conditions,” signoff example, the relationship between ISP and user would be based on trust.
One of the two surveys asks: What information would you want to know about your date on an app if you could? Should you know? Should an algorithm override your height minimum if the person is determined to be otherwise an excellent match? Should a user be dinged for ghosting a date in person?
Ultimately, the research seeks to gather a wide variety of perspectives on what attributes or decisions users would associate with a technology that is acting in their best interest. Because sensitivities about personal information vary, each respondent receives a “privacy persona” based on their answers to the questions.
This project has implications for industry as well. Some tech companies have expressed interest in the concept of an information fiduciary, but need more information on what exactly that commitment entails. Trustworthy Tech offers users an opportunity to not only register their expectations but also builds insight by asking them to roleplay as company CEOs — to see if and how their opinions might shift.
This project aligns with BKC’s continued work on the ethics and governance of AI, privacy and security, and justice, equity, and inclusion, among many issue areas and creates a space to explore the concept of information fiduciaries from the perspective of multiple stakeholders, including digital businesses.
Join the research and take the survey here.