Towards User Centric Regulation

Towards User Centric Regulation

It’s been a busy few months since my last update on this blog! I submitted my PhD and I’ve now started a new job too!  A couple of weeks ago I moved desks from the MRL over to Horizon to start as a Research Fellow in Information Technology Law. This shiny new role will involve working between IT Law and HCI across a range of topics and projects within Horizon.

Given all the recent activity, the rest of this post is a bit of a round-up of things I didn’t manage to blog about over the last months…hence, at times, it reads a bit like a stream of consciousness!

In the end, my PhD was titled “Towards User Centric Regulation: Exploring the Interface between Information Technology Law and Human Computer Interaction” and was in on time on the 30 September. I’ve attached the abstract below for anyone interested in the work. I’m doing a talk at the Law School, University of Edinburgh (room/time TBC) on 2nd December called “User Centric Regulation for The Domestic Internet of Things” for anyone who wants to hear more about it.

I’ve also got a couple of articles I’ve been working on that are coming out soon.

The first, co authored with Tom Rodden, is called “New Directions in Information Technology Law: Learning from Human Computer Interaction” and is coming out in the International Review of Law, Computers and Technology as  part of a special edition on Algorithms and the Law (edited by Joseph Savirimuthu). The paper looks at ways to bring conceptual tools from HCI, like provenance, affordances and trajectories, into IT law by re-framing these as mechanisms to situate the role of technology designers in regulation.

The second is a chapter I’ve written for a new book called Future Law, edited by Lilian Edwards, Burkhard Schafer and Edina Harbinja. This will feature a range of contributors from the wonderful annual Gikii conference and should prove to be a brilliant edition. My chapter is called “White Noise from the White Goods: Conceptual and Empirical Perspectives on Ambient Domestic Computing“.

I’ll add more in depth blog posts on these papers in due course, including links to the working paper versions on SSRN.

On that note, the paper “A Legal Turn in HCI…” that I posted on SSRN earlier this year was picked up and given a great review in the online journal, Jotwell, by Daithi MacSitigh from Newcastle University. He provides a fantastic summary and some rather encouraging comments on this exploratory, multidisciplinary piece!

Less related to my PhD, and more in fact to my Masters (!), is my longstanding paper with Lilian Edwards on legalities of social media policing and open source intelligence eventually came out in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology – it’s available here🙂

Lastly (promise), here is the PhD abstract:

Towards User Centric Regulation: Exploring the Interface between Information Technology Law and Human Computer Interaction

This thesis investigates the role of technology designers in regulation. Emerging information technologies are complex to regulate. They require new strategies to support traditional approaches. We focus on the use of technology design as a regulatory tool. Whilst this solution has significant conceptual traction, what it means in practice is not clear. Deeper investigation of the role of the design community in regulation is necessary to move these strategies from theory into practice. We structure our analysis by asking: how can we understand the role of designers in regulation of emerging technologies?

We answer this question from four primary perspectives: conceptual, legal, practical and design. We situate our investigation within the context of the domestic internet of things and information privacy by design. We adopt an overtly multidisciplinary approach, critically assessing how to bring together the human computer interaction and information technology law communities. To do this, we utilise a range of qualitative methods, including case studies, documental and legal analysis, semi structured expert interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, workshops, and development, testing and evaluation of a design tool. Our contributions are as follows:

Conceptually, we provide a critical investigation of the role of technology designers in regulation by consolidating, evaluating and aligning a range of theoretical perspectives from human computer interaction (HCI) and information technology (IT) law. We draw these together through the concept of user centric regulation. This concept advocates a user focused, interaction led approach to position the role of designers in regulation. It draws on the turn to human values and societal issues in HCI, and the increasing reliance in IT law on design for regulation of emerging technologies.

Legally, we present two detailed case studies of emerging technologies (domestic internet of things and smart metering) mapping the emerging legal landscape and challenges therein. We situate the role of designers, as regulators, within this space, and show how they can respond accordingly through their user centric focus.

Practically, we analyse experiences from leading experts in technology design and regulation to understand the challenges of doing information privacy by design (PbD) for the IoT. We present our findings within the framing of technological, business and regulatory perspectives.

Lastly, we present a design tool, ‘information privacy by design cards’, to support designers in doing PbD. This tool has been designed, tested and refined, providing us with a practical approach to doing user centric regulation. Based on our findings from using the cards, we provide the concept of regulatory literacy to clearly conceptualise the role of designers in regulation.


User Centric Regulation; Information Technology Law; Human Computer Interaction; Privacy by Design; Internet of Things; Smart Metering


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