The Centre for BOLD Cities at Expeditie Next
Last month the Centre for BOLD Cities participated at Expeditie NEXT, the national science festival for children up to 12 years. Located in the central library of Franeker, Merlina Slotboom and Miyabi Babasaki organized (virtual) data walks, during which the children showed what they know and how they feel about collecting (personal) data in public spaces.
Expeditie NEXT is one of the projects of the National Science Agenda (Nationale Wetenschaps Agenda), in which the bundling of forces of many knowledge institutions, businesses and civil society organization is stimulated. The aim of the National Science Agenda is to make science more accessible for a broader audience by organizing several activities. This was the second time that Expeditie NEXT had been organized, after a successful first time at the Maassilo in Rotterdam where the Centre for BOLD Cities also participated.
This time the decor for the festival was the historical centre of Franeker, the first university city of the Netherlands. During this festival children had the opportunity to visit 113 different activities and programs from a huge variety of organizations and disciplines. The programs were divided into 6 expeditions that children could carry out, setting out routes along related stands. The setup of the Centre for BOLD Cities, which was named ‘Jouw Buurt, Jouw Data’ (your neighbourhood, your data) was part of the ‘Techniek op hol!’ (Technique out of control!) expedition.
Jouw buurt, jouw data
During Expeditie NEXT we talked to children about their awareness of data, data-collection and privacy in their daily lives, by doing short data-walks and playing and discussing the online game ‘Jouw buurt, Jouw data’ with them. In the game, players go on a 'virtual data walk' in a fictional town. With a combination of questions and assignments in various parts of this town, players reveal what they know about smart technologies and data collection, while other parts of the game ask participants about their opinions. In doing so, players compose a 'privacy profile', which is shown to them at the end of the game and provides them with feedback on the 'data points’ they encountered along the way.
Before going on a (virtual) data walk, the team started by asking if the children knew what data is and if they could give examples. Then they continued asking them whether they could think of what a data-point could be and what a smart city is. There was a big difference in how many of these concepts the children knew, depending on several factors, but mainly on age. We had children participating from the age of 6 – 13, resulting in a big differentiation in how we approached the subject and the activities.
During the data walks, we walked around the town square and the church, which was right next to the library, with two or three children at a time. Together with the participants we tried to identify data points and talk about which data is being collected, why the data is being collected and how they feel about this.
Inside the library the children went on a virtual data walk by playing the game, which was displayed on a large LCD-screen. The outcome of the game shows each player their 'privacy profile', giving them insight into what kind of data sharer they are. With the older children we briefly talked about the different types and asked them what result they expected. One child, about 12 years old, worryingly called us after he finished the game and said that ‘something was wrong’. The result was that he is a ‘generous data sharer’, meaning that he recognizes a lot of data points, and shares a lot of personal data. Before playing the game, he was convinced that he would be a frugal data sharer (identifies many data point, shares little personal data) and he couldn’t believe the outcome. Together we looked at the results and discussed the several points in the game during which he choose to share his personal data. Even though he still seemed a bit upset, we explained that there is no good or bad outcome in the game, it is just important to think about what personal data you want or do not want to share and that you should be aware of when you are sharing personal data.
Spread out during the day we were surprised by the many critical thinking children that participated in the game and data walks. One girl that was 9 years old noticed a camera in the shopping street during our data walk. When asking how she felt about the camera being there she said that she understood it’s importance for security reasons and didn’t mind that she might be on camera, but then also added that it depended on who can see the footage. If it is visible online, she wouldn’t want to be filmed, but if it was ‘protected’ and only used for safety, it was okay. Her friends, however, didn’t mind it at all.
Another participating child, one of the oldest of the day, needed help with answering the question in the game that asked ‘whether you think that there are enough regulations and laws in place to protect our privacy in The Netherlands’. He said that the regulations and laws that are in place are fine, but that the ways in which they are carried out by the Dutch government are what makes it problematic, while referring to the Dutch childcare benefit scandal (Toeslagenaffaire). At another point we had two children, a brother and sister, that separately from each other were very critical when they were asked to register the place they live. One just inserted ‘Why do you need to know this’ and the other asked us if she could leave it blank. While on other occasions, some kids entered their entire home address, even though this wasn’t asked for.
We noticed that the relatives or caregiver of the children with a more critical mindset oftentimes also worked in the field of data, technology or research. Overall parents seemed to have a pretty big influence on the way children approached this topic. Some accompanied the children throughout the game or data walk, giving them advise along the way, while others let them figure everything out by themselves.
Outcomes of the day
Overall, it has been a great experience to start this dialogue with younger people, that in many cases had not before reflected on this topic at school or in another structured setting. Also, many parents showed interest in the game and recognized the importance of talking about data sharing and privacy with their children.
We kept track of the outcomes of the game, as can be seen in the picture. The top left corner represents the ‘naïve data sharer’, the top right corner the ‘frugal data sharer’, the bottom left corner the ‘impartial data sharer’ and the bottom right corner the ‘generous data sharer’.