What is Human-Data Interaction?

Like it or not, we are implicated in Human Data Interaction every day of our lives.  Our data is everywhere.  Some of it you’ll know about – your credit history, passport details, and all the things that are kept on you about your health by the NHS.  There are usually strict regulations about their use.  For example, if an insurance company wanted your medical details without you asking, you’d be upset, and there are laws in place to stop that.  But there are other cases where the law does not shield you, and where it’s less clear what is at stake.

HDI hopes to help make things not only transparent, but legible.

Data about you is generated by what you buy, your web search activity, by cookies tracking where you go, by search engines tracking your searches, and by data that ‘leaks’ as you use the apps on your phone.  It would be overwhelming to be shown all the data about you that is collected, i.e. transparency.  Instead, to be useful, we have to get something in a form we can understand, i.e. the data collection, and the use of that data, should be made legible.

HDI means the ability to interact with the data you give out in a meaningful way, going beyond legibility, towards agency and negotiability. 

HDI is about understanding, and having control over, how our data is used by applications and by other people.  What if these applications were used to monitor you in unexpected ways – for instance, to build detailed profiles of you that banks might use to change your credit card limits?  How would you change that?  In HDI, agency means a system designed to help you change how it collects and uses data about you, and negotiability means a system designed to help you work with those who receive data about you, so as change how they use that data.

This is where we need general guidelines for, as well as specific and practical examples of, interacting with the systems that collect data about us, and with the people who use that data, in a meaningful way.  There can only be agency or negotiability if there is legibility… and there can be neither unless there are meaningful choices available.

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