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Thursday, June 8 • 5:00pm - Saturday, June 10 • 7:00pm
Terms of Service Fantasy Reader – landscapes of consent

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Terms of Service Fantasy Reader is a multimodal participatory performance and research project that interrogates the relationship between the regulation and negotiation of digital selfhood in contemporary interface culture, applying practice based performance methods such as sociopsychodrama (Moreno, 1965). Its goal is to offer an embodied approach for broadening the conversation on ethical postulates of interface design practice and approaches for unlearning harmful and discriminatory design practices. This practice is done through locating and enacting instances of ambiguity, misleading or for any reason striking language as subtle dark patterns, the practice of unethical user experience design implemented in order to enforce a desired user behavior based on concepts from behavioral economy. Participatory performance in this space acts as a site of interrogation and vocalizing responses in order to fill in the elements that are missing in an interface design narrative. As a collective vocalization of soft (de)codification, the public ad hoc readings of chosen Terms of Service sections feed over time into a growing web archive. Invested in the processual aspect of critical making and its action based research potential, this exhibition explores an embodied experiential form of critical engineering (Oliver, Savičić, Vasiliev, 2011) for contemporary interface design frameworks. As a social justice oriented practice, it argues for sociodrama methods as a valuable asset for the critical making process, establishing potential ground for experiential feedback within design justice (Costanza Chock, 2020) oriented user experience (or rather community experience) research and a form of socially-engaged collaborative learning.
Terms of Service agreements are legal documents that define the grounds upon which someone can engage with a certain service, but they are conceptually demanding, long and often hermetic to read. In fact, the Pew Research center found in a 2017 study that 91% of people don't read TOS agreements. At the same time, they are one of the main battlegrounds for user rights. These legal difficult-to-read documents get "signed" on a daily basis, when downloading and installing an app, with their default settings often unquestioned. With options to either accept all the conditions and participate in a world of affordances of platform selfhood, or decline and be left out of social circles, these formats effectively facilitate a consensus based on a lack of choice. Terms of Service Fantasy Reader is a devoted space to allow the "luxury" of time to collectively explore our unspoken relationships to technology. It provides a framework for perceiving these underlying documents as scripts that both define and reinforce the invisible borders of the user's options for self expression and consequently, definitions of the self, creativity, and freedom. In this sense the space of interface design is perceived as the extension and visible aspect of the enforcement mechanism of terms of service agreements and the public rehearsal format opens space for creating nuance in how the qualities of users are described and moreover, how they are negotiated and transformed through lived experience.
This exhibition proposes to look deeper into the gray space of user consent applying the method of surplus reality to interrogate the options that have been offered, as well as the narratives that are created between the user and the app. With a design justice lens, terms familiar to user experience design such as affordances, disaffordances and dyssaffordances (Wittkower, 2016) will be discussed, naming particular instances in which language and user interface design is weaponized, affecting different social groups in different ways, in order to form of reverse critical engineering method of critical making for social justice oriented interface design.

The workshop will serve to:
-develop a common understanding among participants around the concept of dark patterns and how the development and implementation of TOS agreements relate to dark pattern design
-generate and voice user responses and develop alternative models for TOS agreements
-explore sociodrama as a social justice oriented form of user experience action based research
The workshop will consist of:
-the introduction to the practice of dark patterns and existing examples of discriminatory TOS enforcement principles, affecting specific communities (Real Name Policy, algorithmic censorship and banning of accounts)
- collective locating and reading out specific sections within Terms of Service agreements that have an explicit connection to discriminatory practices
-classifying these examples within dark pattern taxonomy
-developiing collective responses to existing forms of TOS agreements, voicing reactions and reimagining them in forms that support a more just and consensual experience
The workshop will feature existing starting TOS fragment examples that participants can choose from as well as introduce new examples from an active app on their personal device (phone, tablet, laptop) to explore on location. As this workshop works with public contributions through voice and sound data, participants will define their desired level of contribution, with options to anonymize/attribute accordingly. Participants will receive additional resources and results from the workshop, including their own Terms of Service agreement examples to reflect the taxonomy landscape of redefined boundaries of data and attention consent.

Moreno, J. L. (1965). Therapeutic vehicles and the concept of surplus reality. Group Psychotherapy, 18, 211–216.

Costanza-Chock, S (2020). Design Justice: Community-Led Practices to Build the Worlds We Need. Cambridge: MIT.

Wittkower, D. E. (2016, 13-14 May 2016). Principles of anti-discriminatory design. 2016 IEEE International Symposium on Ethics in Engineering, Science and Technology (ETHICS)


Darija Medić

University of Colorado Boulder

Thursday June 8, 2023 5:00pm - Saturday June 10, 2023 7:00pm EDT
PS 202 (Design Center)