Most consumer-facing personalization today is rudimentary and coarsely targeted at best, and designers don’t give users cues for how they are meant to interact with and interpret personalized experiences and interfaces. And when personalization gets us wrong, the net effect is a negative experience.
Too much of personalization relies on assumptions about users’ needs rather than giving users opportunities to express their intent. Sara Watson makes the case for personalization signals that give context to personalization and expose levers of control to users. The line between personalization and discrimination is a blurry one. As this becomes more apparent to the public, more interactive approaches to personalization will be necessary to build consumers’ trust and account for the appropriate uses of their data.
Sara M. Watson is a technology critic and writer in residence at Digital Asia Hub. She is also a Research Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University and an affiliate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.
Her work explores how we are learning to live with, understand, and interpret our personal data and the algorithms that shape our experiences. She investigates the ways that corporations, governments, and individuals use data from wearable sensors, the internet of things, and other digitally processed systems. Sara immerses herself in emerging technologies to understand its personal impacts firsthand. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Wired, Gizmodo, Columbia Journalism Review, Harvard Business Review, Al Jazeera America, and Slate.
Sara has previously worked as an enterprise technology analyst at The Research Board (Gartner, Inc.), exploring implications of technological trends for Fortune 500 CIOs. Sara holds an MSc in the Social Science of the Internet with distinction from the Oxford Internet Institute, where her award winning thesis used ethnographic methods to examine the personal data interests of the Quantified Self community. She graduated from Harvard College magna cum laude with a joint degree in English and American Literature and Film Studies. Sara is currently based in Singapore, and keeps close ties to Cambridge and New York. She tweets @smwat.
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