Data Washing Machine

The Data Washing Machine is an experiment in providing nuanced data privacy. It’s based on the principle that privacy should be a sliding scale, not just an on-off switch: there are many options between collecting all of the data and none of the data.

The Data Washing Machine has an adjustable feature – a privacy dial – that lets developers increase or decrease the type of information gathered by removing different levels of personally identifiable information. Developers can provide users a button for how much privacy they want, accompanied by an explanation of the benefits of each option. By understanding how varying levels of data sharing impact their user experience, users can control the data they share and also shape the experience they receive.

At the lower dial settings, the personal data that can be used to directly identify a person is removed. As the setting increases, the data that is removed cannot be used to directly identify a single person, but it can still provide additional information about an individual.

The Data Washing Machine is a prototype that hasn't been tested fully enough to guarantee that all personal data is removed, but it increases user privacy in the case where users are sending us data that contains personal information.

To read more about our approach, take a look at this article where Dr. Catherine Nelson explores the topic in greater detail.