Protecting your digital rights: a co-design event

Digitale rechten en co-design (2)

Websites placing cookies on your computer to track your browsing behaviour. TikTok storing your personal data in China. Are you aware of what products, services, and organisations do with your personal data? It is often not obvious. Perhaps it’s possible to design a 'label' that shows you at a glance how companies respects your digital rights. Researchers from the Digital Rights Research Team, along with students from various programmes at Inholland University of Applied Sciences and MBO Media College took part in a co-design session exploring the idea of a digital rights label, and some of the wider issues of digital rights.  "What I realise now, is that if an online service is free, then I am the product" says one participant. “And that has implications for my rights as a consumer, and as a citizen”.

Read more about the co-design session and digital rights in this publication.

The tables are full of coloured Post-it™ notes, Lego™ models, Styrofoam™ balls and the room is strewn with yellow crime scene barrier tape. Students following creative-or technical-studies mix with professors, researchers, and field partners such as the design collective, Idiotes. Drawing on their own backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences, the participants visualise and analyse how governments, organisations, and citizens relate to digital rights. Importantly, they discuss what needs to happen to make those rights more recognisable and tangible.

Pictures taken by Iuliia Naumenko and Wina Smeenk.

Important labels  

Think about the colourful labels that reveal how energy-efficient a building is or how healthy certain foods are. How your digital rights are respected is not (yet) so transparent. Wina Smeenk is a Professor of Societal Impact Design, a founder of the Inholland Digital Rights Research Team (DRRT), and a board member of the Digital Rights House Amsterdam. She is also the person leading this project. “We want to learn how students and young people stand on this issue, and how far along they are in their digital awareness process” says Smeenk. “We will take the outcomes from today’s session, and the Digital Rights Research Team and the Digital Rights House will use them to further investigate the possibilities for a label."   

Working with multiple disciplines  

Didi Baas, a third-year student in Creative Business, is building a 'planetary system' of digital rights together with a Media College student and an Information Technology student. "A student who is doing an ICT course thinks very differently to me – based on their expertise – than a student who is doing a creative course” says Baas. “It clashes and causes friction sometimes, but you learn a lot from one another. You explore together; and ask questions such as 'what happens if we do this?' That produces great results. “I am surprised that there is so little legislation and regulation around digital rights” Baas continues. “It’s kind of a Wild West even though it’s related to human rights. That's why working on guidelines is so important." 

To what extent are young people aware of their digital rights? This co-design session gives the research team insight into where they stand in the process of digital awareness. 

Professor Wina Smeenk, founder Inholland Digital Rights Research Team

Awareness is the first step
Ander de Keijzer, Professor of Data Driven Smart Society and co-founder of the DRRT, engages in lively discussion and is filling coloured Post-it™ notes with his thoughts on digital rights. De Keijzer sees awareness among students as one of the first steps towards protecting their digital rights. "To your phone, to Google home – to all your digital devices actually – you are constantly giving away information about yourself. At the very least, you need to be aware of the digital trail you’re blazing and what the consequences are of that" says Keijzer. 


A better foundation for digital rights  
Digital Rights House Amsterdam focuses on protecting citizens' digital rights by conducting independent research, providing advice, and sharing knowledge. Their first State of Digital Rights report, is due for release in May 2023.  "Citizens are often unaware that their data can remain online forever or that personal data are linked," says board member Jake Blok. "In State of Digital Rights, we present the state of protection of citizens' digital rights in the Netherlands and the effects that digitalisation has for citizens." 

Sharing knowledge with one another  
The busy conversations, sketches, and model constructions have generated plenty of ideas among the students present about the protection of digital rights. Jim Bezuijen, a third-year Media Designer at Mediacollege Amsterdam acts out a situation relating digital cookie legislation using Lego™. "I know quite a lot about the digital trail I leave behind and am pretty aware of what my rights are” says Jim. “But it's nice to be able to talk about this with others. Then you can share knowledge with one another, and you are even more aware." 

I am surprised that there is so little legislation and regulation around digital rights. It’s kind of a Wild West even though it’s related to human rights.

Didi Baas, third-year Creative Business student

Presentation of concepts  
The students present their concepts at the end of the morning. Their ideas include an AI bot that goes through all the terms and conditions of apps and websites and indicates via a traffic light system whether the app appropriates a lot or little data from you. Another team assigns a big role to the government to create guidelines around digital rights. Ben Wagner is co-founder of the DRRT and Professor of Media, Technology & Society. Wagner points out that we should not overestimate the power of government to protect us. "Given that even governments struggle to regulate large technology companies, how can we ensure strong protection of digital rights that protect the most vulnerable in society?" Asks Wagner.  

Digital rights in the Sustainable Media Lab  

In addition to the label research project, from February 2023, students at the Inholland Sustainable Media Lab will start working on the topic of digital rights. Protecting the digital rights of the vulnerable is one of the issues that they will take forward and consider. Project leader and researcher Susannah Montgomery is gaining a lot of inspiration for the upcoming semester from the collaboration day.  “Today's outcomes are a great starting point for the new students. We are building on these discussions and will also be using the results of this co-design process” says Montgomery. “We have learned that by working creatively and combining many different insights, it points us in the direction of more ideas.” 

Are you a student and would you like to collaborate with students from other courses? Then check out the Platform Inholland-wide electives!

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