Revenge (Law)

User Experience (and all its sub-domains) has a general focus in a sort of web or application atmosphere but I think a lot of its teachings can be applied across a range of subjects.  Since starting to write this blog post in months ago, I’ve become more aware of how Service Design influences our world and that this could be included here as well.  And this isn’t that surprising when we remember that we came from a gamut of professions.

I read a lot of law blogs with the majority dealing with first amendment and/or technology issues.  I find these subjects utterly fascinating for different reasons.  With the first amendment, rulings tend to be counter to my intuition or outside of what I would think would be covered but technology is about how the courts try to deal with a constantly changing landscape and fit their viewpoint within it.  Which doesn’t really cover everything about the situation…

Recently, I was reading about a law that was struck down and it made me think about the work we do in our fields.  Now, this law was about the sensitive and adult subject of revenge porn.  For the uninitiated, revenge porn is publishing pornographic images (?) of someone who has not provided permission for them to be posted and with the intent to embarrass the victim.  From what I know, it is generally, a relationship fails and a scorned lover posts the images somewhere to get back at the other.  I think we can all agree that this behavior is reprehensible and can cause quite the damage to an individual. 

As existing laws might not protect someone or not to the extent our lawmakers feel is necessary, a large number of laws have been passed recently or are being drafted to address this deficiency.

And this is where the problem arises.

How does one craft the law, how does someone define the offense in a way that does not make something illegal which isn’t illegal or arrest someone for legal behavior?  How does this new law reconcile itself within existing law to meet the needs it was written for?

Ok, an example.  I wrote out two that just seemed odd.  Go read this article

Essentially, existing images that contain nudity but the subject hasn’t provided explicit permission for.  Images in history books?  Current events?  All subject to the broad laws we’re discussing.

Our design work has similar trappings, how do we address users and respond to their needs in the most efficient way possible while not inadvertently ostracizing a user or two.  At some point we will make a design decision that upsets people and we’ll be forced to explain ourselves.

Going even further, what if our product is used in a non-flattering or even illegal light?  I can think of the drama that Peer2Peer, Bitcoin, and Tor have caused.  Are these concerns that you are aware of when you design?  When you interview?  When you test?

Thankfully, we usually aren’t responsible for crafting experiences that result in jail time?  But I think our roles can lead to ruined lives.  If we do any work within a financial or healthcare market this can be a concern.  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of angry customers calling for the head of UX though.  Beyond this guy, I mean.  I guess I can dream of the future.

So… The things we know.

Problems are problems.  Everyone is a UX designer.  I think it can be easy to dismiss lawmakers as corrupt and incompetent but this is unfair.  A lot just want what we want, the betterment of people we’re connected to.

We need to remember, and maybe this seems blatantly obvious, that problems can have significant uses.  That there is a balance that we need to remain aware of when we craft our designs.

To read a little more from famed 1st amendment activist Ken White: Go Here.

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