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Communications of the ACM


Is a Privacy Crisis Experienced, a Privacy Crisis Avoided?

Project Amelia promotional image

Credit: Bricolage

In 2019, in a former railroad terminal in Pittsburgh, PA, a small tech start-up revealed its groundbreaking AI technology. They were met by a company whistleblower and an untimely zero-day hack on their system. This series of events would go on replay to audiences of 50 people for eight weeks, each night with a slightly different ending.

The immersive theater production that caused these events, Project Amelia,a was written by a technologist (and the first author) and supported by a group of Carnegie Mellon University researchers to expose the public to the potential crises of our technical future and learn from their reactions. Project Amelia tried to challenge the incongruence between people's privacy preferences and behaviors. People's beliefs about privacy and data sharing are often not informed by lived experiences that align risk perceptions to reality. Our hypothesis was that a performed encounter with a plausible privacy crisis may push people to act before facing a real crisis—an identity theft, an arrest, a stalker, or a stark realization that your data may be baked into a new product that appears to be dystopian.


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