What DO YOU CONSIDER?On by
Every few months, a major information outlet will an “expose” about data collection on museum visitors. These articles tend to portray museums as Big Brother, aggressively tracking guests’ activities and passions across their visit. We’re aiming to personalize. We’re endeavoring to adapt. We’re wanting to be responsive. Nonetheless it can still come off as creepy. In a world of iteration, prototyping, and A/B testing, do we need a fresh ethical litmus test for social experimentation? I came back to this question as I listened to the newest RadioLab podcast about Facebook’s mass interpersonal tests on users. For a long time, Facebook has teamed up with interpersonal psychologists to perform social experiments through small changes to the Facebook interface.
HUGE press kerfuffle when individuals were shocked to discover that they had been “lab rats” for Facebook designers researching the way the News Feed content could impact people’s moods. If you ask me, this was amazing. Sure, I get the ick factor when my own data can be used as money. But I know (mainly) what I’m buying with it. Facebook is a totally socially-engineered environment.
- Fear of looking bad if the reason for the problem is my responsibility – “blame” culture
- Tap “Switch to Business Profile”
- Strong Financial Resources
- The False Good Samaritan
- Airport Lounge
- Give us a call to learn more
- Tap Search. It is the magnifier icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen
Facebook chooses what content the truth is, what ads the truth is, as well as your personal ratio of puppies to snow warnings. And now people are outraged to find out that Facebook is publishing research predicated on their continuous tweaking. It’s as if we are OK with a company using and manipulating our experience as long as they don’t reveal about any of it.
It seems that the ethical objections were loudest when the objective of the test was to impact someone’s mood or experience. And then I started thinking: we do that on a regular basis in museums. We change brands predicated on what visitors survey that they learned. We change designs predicated on timing and tracking studies of where people go and where they dwell. We juxtapose artifacts to evoke psychological response. We tweak the language and seats and lighting–all to impact people’s experience.
Do we are in need of consent forms to design an event? I don’t think so. That seems over the top. People come to the museum to enjoy what the invisible hands of the curators have wrought. So that it brings me back to my original question: if you are in the business of delivering curated experiences, where is the ethical line?
Consider the following situations. I’d say the majority of them are just fine–good ideas, probably. I suspect we live in an era where in fact the recognized value of experimentation outweighs the recognized weight of the unseen hand of the experimenter. Then again, I was surprised by the laboratory rat reaction to the Facebook experiments. It’s hard sometimes to differentiate what’s a test on humans and what’s a test to improve your projects for humans. As the Facebook example shows, just claiming your intention is to boost isn’t enough. It matters what the humans think, too. I guess that’s why is us more than lab rats–we can speak up and issue these issues. What do you consider?