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Would you like a free coffee?

- December 17, 2020 in Bildung, Kantonal

We have asked this question at 11 locations in German-speaking Switzerland. The question and the free coffee are part of an awareness campaign called Data Café, which promotes a reflective understanding of the value of data in our society. Through this awareness campaign, we brought to the streets a deal most of us make every day online, by using for example Google search, Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp.Unlike on the Internet, where you can use many services in exchange for personal data, at the Data Café, you get a coffee if you are willing to share your first name, last name, gender, e-mail, date of birth and canton. You can get a live feeling for our campaign in this video but don’t stop to read further to learn about our discoveries during the journey through Switzerland. Imagine yourself, walking through the city on a cloudy afternoon. You see a coffee truck in front of you. “Would you like a free coffee?” a woman unexpectedly asks. You nod and say yes, already having the smell of coffee in your nose. “Great, I just need you to share some of your personal data with me”, the woman casually adds. You stare at her and hesitate.
Anger, indifference & interest – reactions were diverse The reactions to our offer were diverse. A few were angry and run off so quickly that we could not even explain the motivation of our offer nor ask them whether they used any free digital services. Some weren’t bothered by the deal at all, even if we tried our best to cause discomfort with critical questions like “Do you even know what we’ll do with your data?”. They just wanted to enjoy their free coffee. Most were interested in the offer, but critical. They asked: What happens to my data? One page of T&Cs is still too long The coffee lovers could read our terms and conditions (T&C) on the back of the menu. Even if our T&Cs were only one book page long, most of the people were too lazy to read them. In contrast  with online T&Cs, people could ask us to provide a summary, which is:
  • The collected data is saved anonymously on servers of the University of Zurich. 
  • The participants receive one email with a request to participate in an online survey.
  • The data of the survey are collected through Qualtrics LLC, a firm located in Utah, and are deleted at the end of this project.
  • In addition to the data you provide, information about IP address, location and the device used will be stored. 
What do you think? Are you still interested in that free coffee? 35% of people are willing to pay with their data We heard many arguments about why someone wouldn’t share data for a coffee, from lazy excuses to serious privacy concerns, to ambiguous answers such as not wanting to share data on the street at the data cafe, while at the same time noting that they share much more data online without thinking twice.
Among the people, we asked if they would like to have coffee, around 35 percent accepted the offer and enjoyed a coffee paid for with their personal data. When asked about the motives for revealing their data, many argued that their data is already available online, that they personally have nothing to hide or that they trust us. Are they aware of the potential misuse of personal data? What about you? Do you belong to the group of people who would have accepted our offer and drank free coffee?  Learn how to understand, protect and use data Regardless of whether someone has shared their data, we have encouraged people to visit our website, where we have summarized several tips on protecting, understanding, and using personal data.  For those who were interested in improving  their knowledge about data, we handed out the magazine “Wert von Daten” published by the Foundation Mercator. The magazine explores the topic through conversations with various experts taking on different perspectives. Interesting fun facts from survey To gain further insight, we sent a survey to each person who shared their data.
40% said that it is time to have a more in-depth debate about data and data protection. In response to the question why we pay so many services with our data, 59% replied that we are not aware of it whereas 9% said that they think we do not pay much with our data.
The most pressing questions Thanks to the Data Café, we were able to talk about the value, the changes and threats of data to many different people. A huge advantage of this project is that we were able to reach an audience that normally does not discuss the topic/ aware of the topic. Besides the decision of whether or not to drink free coffee, people had many questions about our data in general.
To name just a few: 
  • Why is it important to protect my data? Everyone has my data already anyways. 
  • How do companies earn money with my personal data? 
  • Can we use data to do x or y, 
  • Are there alternatives to… google, WhatsApp, Facebook? 
  • Should I stop using Facebook?
What’s next For next year we plan on further developing our campaign and continuing in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. Thereby we hope to further improve our approach, deepen our understanding of the behaviour of people towards data and finally to publish a Data Café handbook. 
This initiative is implemented by the non-profit association and enabled by the Mercator Foundation Switzerland.