Ethics

The Reduced Motion Media Query

Sites all too often inundate their audiences with automatically playing, battery-draining, resource-hogging animations. The need for people being able to take back control of animations might be more prevalent than you may initially think.

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Remember: we're all just temporarily-abled. Feeling a little dizzy might not seem like that big a deal, but that moment of nausea might be a critical one: losing balance and falling down, a migraine during an interview, nausea-triggered vomiting while working a food service job, passing out while operating a car UI, etc.

So what can we do about it?

Permalink to this heading.Enter a new Media Query

Safari 10.1 introduces the Reduced Motion Media Query. It is a non-vendor-prefixed declaration that allows developers to “create styles that avoid large areas of motion for users that specify a preference for reduced motion in System Preferences.”

The syntax is pretty straightforward:

CSS

@media (prefers-reduced-motion) {
  .background {
    animation: none;
  }
}

Safari will parse this code and apply it to your site, letting you provide an alternative experience for users who have the Reduced Motion option enabled. Think of this new Media Query like @supports: describe the initial appearance, then modify the styles based on capability.

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People’s Names That Break Websites

The intersection of rushed (or careless) development and unintended consequences:

We're doing a story about people that have names that websites and computers don't seem to like - for example, we spoke to a guy named William Test, and a woman named Katie Test, both of whom can't seem to keep a hotel or airplane booking because the name "test" is flagged by internal systems.

We also spoke to a guy named Christopher Null who had the same problem, and woman named Joan Fread, who can't use paypal because her last name is the same as a PHP command.

I'm curious if there's anyone in the dev community that is thinking about this, and how to deal with it. Is it even considered a problem? Is the population that this affects so small that people don't even think about it?

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The Bias in What We Build

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our biases and their influence on what we build and how. We’re all biased in some way—it’s an inevitable side-effect of living. We experience certain things, we live in a certain environment, we have certain interactions and over time all of these experiences and factors add up to impact the way we view ourselves and the way we view others.

These biases come into play over and over again in our work, and can have devastating consequences.

There was an interesting post on The Coral Project about anonymity and its impact—or rather, non-impact—on online behavior. A frequent refrain heard when we try to understand why online behavior is so frequently so poor is that the ability to be anonymous is one of the primary reasons for the problem. J. Nathan Matias argues differently, though:

Not only would removing anonymity fail to consistently improve online community behavior – forcing real names in online communities could also increase discrimination and worsen harassment.

We need to change our entire approach to the question. Our concerns about anonymity are overly-simplistic; system design can’t solve social problems without actual social change.

While the article cites a little bit of research questioning our assumptions about anonymity online, the bulk of the article is focused on reframing our perspective of the discussion. We often consider the question of bad behavior online from the perspective of the people misbehaving. What is it that makes them feel free to be so much more vindictive in an online setting? Matias instead builds his case by focusing on the victims of this behavior.

Revealing personal information exposes people to greater levels of harassment and discrimination. While there is no conclusive evidence that displaying names and identities will reliably reduce social problems, many studies have documented the problems it creates. When people’s names and photos are shown on a platform, people who provide a service to them – drivers, hosts, buyers – reject transactions from people of color and charge them more. Revealing marital status on DonorsChoose caused donors give less to students with women teachers, in fields where women were a minority. Gender- and race-based harassment are only possible if people know a person’s gender and/or race, and real names often give strong indications around both of these categories. Requiring people to disclose that information forces those risks upon them.

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[O]ne thing we can state about removing anonymity is that it increases the risk for people on the receiving end of online harassment.

Removing anonymity online, then, is yet another example of how we reflect our own biases in the decisions we make and the things we build.

It is our biases that lead us to overlook accessibility or how an application performs on a low-powered device or spotty network.

It is our biases that lead us to develop algorithms that struggle to recognize women’s voices or show more high-paying executive jobs to men than women.

And it is our biases that lead us to frame the problem of online behavior from that of the attacker, leading to solutions that are dangerous for the people on the receiving end of that harassment.

In each of these situations, our biases don’t just lead us to build something that is hard to use; they cause us to actively, if unintentionally, exclude entire groups of people.

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Alex Feyerke: Step Off This Hurtling Machine | JSConf.au 2014

I thought this was an excellent talk on the hard questions we should be asking ourselves as developers. Why do most people use closed, proprietary systems and devices, if the open web is so wonderful? Even as developers, we still use them ourselves, and depend on them. How can we be more empathetic to what the average user needs and wants? How can we lock open the web, so the future isn't entirely dependent on huge corporations and services, which is where we seem to be heading?

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We Must Assume Malice

On December 15th, 2016, someone attempted to assault Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek journalist, through Twitter. They sent him a GIF known to trigger photosensitive seizures because Eichenwald has photosensitive epilepsy, and had reported highly unfavorable information about Donald Trump.

Let’s make this clear. This is assault. A seizure is dangerous. Every single person with epilepsy lives with the specter of SUDEP — Sudden Unexpected Death in EPilepsy. Attempting to cause a seizure in someone is dangerous and could be lethal.

(Small aside — a test for epilepsy involves trying to trigger a seizure with strobe lights, and this is done under medical supervision while hooked up to diagnostic machines. I’ve been through it. I did not have a seizure. You should never subject someone to such a test without informed consent and medical supervision on hand.)

The problem is not that Eichenwald failed to use a setting available to him. There are two culpable parties here — Twitter and Eichenwald’s assaulter.

Twitter is culpable in a moral sense, not legal. Twitter allows auto-played GIFs by default. A strobing GIF is easy to identify with an algorithm. The website could have made it impossible to assault Eichenwald this way. But Twitter never considered that its service could be used maliciously. It never assumed malice.

There was a widely held concept on the early internet that should have been carried forward to today. Bandwidth was limited, and computer users felt they had a right to control exactly what was put on their machine, so early internet applications allowed users to decide what images to download, and what GIFs to play. In that early internet experience, assaulting Eichenwald would have been impossible.

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