VIDEO: The Future of Digital Privacy: Legislating to Preserve Human Autonomy

Digital technologies are slowly becoming an integral part of everyone’s lives, and this is particularly poignant for children and young people. There are many negative aspects of digital technologies commonly discussed in the media, such as ‘addiction’ and filter bubbles, but the overarching issue of impacts on human autonomy has received less focus. For instance, technology companies are developing algorithms that are capable of detecting user emotions, which will likely have a number of significant functions in the future including digital mental healthcare provision (e.g., helping combat symptoms of anxiety or identifying patients’ emotional states for suicide prevention) and assistive technologies (e.g., helping children in the classroom or aiding patient decision-making). Nevertheless, there are also important psychological challenges with these technologies that are often overlooked by designers and developers, besides for the obvious risks of increasingly specific target advertising. It is unclear what the use of technologies that are continuously adapted to our emotional states does for children’s ability to explore, a pivotal part of autonomy development. This talk will explore important autonomy considerations for future digital technologies and provide a commentary on creating a generation of people who are incapable of making their own decisions.

Digital technologies are increasingly capable of deriving information about how users are feeling, thereby making us perfect targets for advertising and slowly chipping away at young people’s autonomy development.

Dr Nejra Van Zalk is a lecturer in psychology and human factors at Design Engineering, Imperial College London, where she leads the Design Psychology Lab. Her research focuses on understanding psychological mechanisms that govern human behaviour, emotions, and decision-making processes related to designing products, services, and behavioural interventions that benefit mental health. She recently edited an academic volume identifying state-of-the-art research on young people’s online engagement entitled “Online Peer Engagement in Adolescence: Positive and Negative Aspects of Online Social Interaction”.