Spidey project class review (ACLU & The Guardian Project)

During the class review of our project we got a lot of useful feedback. The presentation outlined my project partners, the ACLU and the Guardian Project, and their missions — leaving some of the detailed information to Kade and Nathan who were in class to talk after presentations. I then gave a quick overview of the cellular topology and how cell phones connect to the network and trasnmit data back and forth — again leaving out specifics as Nathan was giving a talk specifically on this. I then talked about IMSI-catchers or Stingray devices, and how they can be used to intercept data. To put our project into context, I went over our team values and project goals and talked about the various user personae. Finally, I went over a few of the design candidates that we’re considering and talked about the one that we have started to implement.

The feedback from the class was really helpful. After the presentation a few questions led to the discussion of what would happen post-discovery of an IMSI-catcher or Stingray device. This is something that I hadn’t really thought of as an important aspect of the project/application. Initially I saw the main value of the application to be the alerting feature — purely a technological/engineering approach. It turned out that the audience didn’t know what they should do given the information that their signal is possibly intercepted. One member told us to consider suggesting to users where safe places are. Another asked specifically in what ways they should they react to finding out that they are being spied on. This is something to really think about and sort out going forward. A naive solution would be to present a set of steps that informs the user of things to do — such as turn off the phone, move to a safe location, and report the behavior.

Some of the feedback around sharing the information recorded was a little unexpected. We initially hypothesized that people would not want to necessarily share their data — the data pertaining to the possibility of an IMSI-catcher detection. It turns out that this seems to be an incredibly useful feature — and one that people would want. Specifically one member of the audience suggested, “Consider sharing publicly when an IMSI catcher is found via FB, twitter, with a hashtag”. This brings additional benefits such as alerting as many people about the issue as possible and increasing awareness of the subject, and letting law enforcement know that we know what they’re up to.

Finally, the biggest thing we learned is that there are a lot of people who don’t really know what the issue it or why it should matter to them. A suggestion was made to make it more friendly to people who aren’t aware or who don’t care about being under surveillance. A member of the audience suggested that we “make them somehow more aware of why it’s important”, and someone else agreed with this. This is something that we are addressing and will test in the next phase of our design process. It’s also something that we hope to address before people get their hands on our application. Hopefully we have a website or description of the app available and why people should care.