Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Privacy, Ethics & Literacy

About this Expertise

At SMIT, we facilitate the process of integrating public values in the design and usage of innovations. Taking shared human values and concerns seriously from the start of the design process demonstrates to future users of the technology and to other societal stakeholders that you have their interests at heart and instills a strong sense of trust in your technology. While many values can be relevant, we have built up substantial expertise in supporting privacy, literacy and trust by design.

Value-sensitive design

At SMIT, we support value-sensitive design and responsible research and innovation. This means we promote the integration of shared human values in technological innovation. Our research serves to discover, implement and verify such values in the design and usage of digital technologies. While many values can be relevant, we have built up substantial expertise in designing for privacy, digital literacy and trust. For example, we explore how data protection and trust can be promoted in social media. Also, we investigate how media skills can be fostered, specifically among those at risk of exclusion.

Building confidence

Taking public values and concerns seriously from the start of the design process demonstrates to future users of the technology and to other societal stakeholders that you have their interests at heart. It can enable you to catch privacy, accessibility and ethical issues early on, even before they occur. Ultimately, this instills a strong sense of confidence in the technology that you are creating.

Conceptual, empirical and technical investigation

SMIT combines conceptual, empirical and technical investigations similar to Constructive Technology Assessment and Friedman and Kahn’s approach to value-sensitive design. Conceptual work involves, for example, a review of the governance of data use on online platforms (i.e. cooperative responsibility). As part of our empirical work, we deploy profiling tools (e.g. privacy literacy survey and profiles of digital inequality) and impact assessment tools (e.g. on perceived privacy impact and e-inclusion). Technical investigations include reviewing existing tools for privacy awareness and establishing how these tools seek to enhance that awareness.

Examples of services that we offer

  • Privacy by design: Is privacy an issue? Which requirements and risks should you take into account? How can you do so?
  • Literacy by design: Does your concept, product or service match the digital skills of your target group? How can you improve it?
  • Trust by design: How can you assess and promote the trust that your target users put in your technology as well as each other?

Key Results

Research Result Photo of Woman pointing at city model by Craig Whitehead on Unsplash
Smart Cities
5 Dec 2017
Privacy concerns and willingness to share personal information in location-based social networks
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Research Result Photo of Facebook on smartphone by William Iven on Unsplash
Smart Media
29 Nov 2017
EMSOC partners advise Privacy Commission in Facebook investigation
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Key Publications

  • Digital by default: Consequences, casualties and coping strategies
    Mariën, I., Heyman, R., Salemink, K., & Van Audenhove, L. (2016). Digital by Default: Consequences, Casualties and Coping Strategies. In J. Servaes & Oyedemi (Eds.), Social inequalities, Media and Communication: Theory and Roots (pp. 167–188). Rowman and Littlefield.
    Open publication

  • Grasping trust dynamics for online security as a service
    Van der Graaf, S., Vanobberghen, W., Kanakakis, M., & Kalogiros, C. (2015). Usable Trust: Grasping Trust Dynamics for Online Security as a Service. In Human Aspects of Information Security, Privacy, and Trust (pp. 271–283). Springer.
    Open publication

  • Providing trustworthy advice online
    Talboom, S. & Pierson, J. (2014). Providing Trustworthy Advice Online: An Exploratory Study on the Potential of Discursive Psychology in Trust Research, Paper at IFIPTM 2014 - 8th IFIP WG 11.11 International Conference on Trust Management, 7-10 July 2014, Singapore, 15. (Best Paper Award)
    Open publication

  • Changing faces of Facebook
    Heyman, R. & Pierson, J. (2015). Social Media, Delinguistification and Colonization of Lifeworld: Changing Faces of Facebook. Social Media + Society (Special issue ‘Perspectives on Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space’, edited by Thomas Poell & José van Dijck), July-December, 1-11. (ISSN 20563051)
    Open publication

  • Self-reflection on privacy research in social networking sites
    De Wolf, R., Vanderhoven, E., Berendt, B., Pierson, J., & Schellens, T. (2016). Self-reflection on privacy research in social networking sites. Behaviour & Information Technology, 36 (5), 459-469. (ISSN 1362-3001)
    Open publication