Freedom versus Protection in the Age of Networks


The first generation of Apple iPods shipped with a piece of cellophane over the screen bearing the words "do not steal music" in four languages. If it were not already obvious, the message indicated that here - potentially at least - was a music stealing machine. Like makers of video recorders, Apple argued that the device was intended solely for legitimate uses, although the device did not and could not enforce the law. This defence didn't work for early file sharing sites like Napster and Kazaa and, increasingly, digital service providers are expected to constrain and restrict their users.

However there are many instances where openness in design has led to unexpected developments. Second Life was built as a space for game designers to try out ideas; nobody planned for it to be colonized as an online world. During the plane crash in the Hudson River, the users of Twitter provided images and eye witness accounts before any of the media: again the site's founders never planned for it to be used in this way. These media support old human activities in new ways but there are also instances of technology development allowing for unexpected forms of human behaviour as in, for instance, new forms of sexual interaction.

The manner in which we design determines what flexibility and discretion stays with users. Web 2.0 and other network phenomena bring with them new opportunities and risks and different potential for managing them. Medical, social care and educational systems link up people considered vulnerable by society with technology in ways that are protective, but could also be read as normative. Benjamin Franklin said "Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one." But HCI as a discipline has successfully used a protective approach to challenge human cognitive limitations and no one would argue that safety critical systems need more latitude for human error. This workshop will consider the tensions and the many dimensions of a protective stance as ubiquitous computing and the "internet of things" bring new challenges to the embedding of social relations in software.

Position papers that address this tension are invited on topics, such as, but not limited to:

  1. Intellectual Property and the Right to Share

  2. Security vs Privacy and Anonymity

  3. Designer Intent and User Appropriation

  4. Human Computer Sexual Interactions

  5. The Social Implications of Digital Networks

The day will include an invited keynote, short presentations and discussion. Both academic and industrial researchers are invited to reflect across domains on their practice: any aspect of the theme will be of interest so long as it relates to networked life.

To participate, please submit a two page position paper to by May 1st.

The workshop will take place on 6th Sept in Cambridge, UK, to follow the British HCI conference (2nd-5th).

HCI 2009 Workshop, 
6th September
Cambridge, UK

Important Dates:

  1. Bullet  5 June, Submission deadline

Organising group:

Ann Light, Sheffield Hallam University

Chris Frauenberger, University of Sussex

Louise Valgerður Nickerson, Queen Mary University of London

Mark Blythe, University of York