My privacy is your noise: Notes on a bias within Value-Sensitive Design

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


While I find Value Sensitive Design (VSD) helpful in my research and teaching, we must be aware of its limitations. In my presentation, I will explore some biases in Value-Sensitive Design (VSD). I will argue that engineers and designers are more likely to adopt design requirements if they align with their functional goals.
VSD starts by stating that engineering is a value-laden activity since it involves decisions between alternatives. In everyday practice, aiming to realise values such as safety and efficiency is common. Thus, for scholars like Ibo van de Poel, the question is not if we can design for values but if we can also design for non-instrumental values such as privacy or justice.
While one of VSD's strengths is that it shows how to do justice to non-instrumental values in design processes and turns them into design requirements, it is silently assumed that non-instrumental values require different design choices. However, the same design choice may sometimes promote instrumental and non-instrumental values.
For example, suppose we argue for an inclusive security system that does not raise a false alarm for people with disabilities. In that case, it may look like we added a design requirement (namely, inclusiveness) to the project. However, „minimising the number of false alarms“ is also beneficial for increasing the system's efficiency. Hence, an inclusive design of security technologies can promote both the instrumental value of efficiency and the non-instrumental value of inclusiveness.
Considering that VSD is a relatively resource-intensive process that may require significant design changes, it is easier to argue for such design changes where non-instrumental and instrumental values align. In other words, There are cases where VSD may add very little to the project and, thus, can lead to a form of ethics-washing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2024
Event10th Biennial Surveillance Studies Network / Surveillance & Society Conference, SSN 2024: Surveillance in an age of crisis - University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovakia
Duration: 28 May 202431 May 2024
Conference number: 10


Conference10th Biennial Surveillance Studies Network / Surveillance & Society Conference, SSN 2024
Abbreviated titleSSN 2024
Internet address


  • value-sensitive design
  • privacy
  • surveillance
  • ethics of technology


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