From Utility to Capability: A New Paradigm to Conceptualize and Develop Inclusive PETs

Partha Das Chowdhury, Andrés Domínguez Hernández, Marvin Ramokapane, Awais Rashid

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference Contribution (Conference Proceeding)


The wider adoption of PETs has relied on usability studies – which focus mainly on an assessment of how a specified group of users interface, in particular contexts, with the technical properties of a system. While human-centred efforts in usability aim to achieve important technical improvements and drive technology adoption, a focus on the usability of PETs alone is not enough. PETs development and adoption requires a broadening of focus to adequately capture the specific needs of individuals, particularly of vulnerable individuals and/or individuals in marginalized populations. We argue for a departure, from the utilitarian evaluation of surface features aimed at maximizing adoption, towards a bottom-up evaluation of what real opportunities humans have to use a particular system. We delineate a new paradigm for the way PETs are conceived and developed. To that end, we propose that Amartya Sen’s capability approach offers a foundation for the comprehensive evaluation of the opportunities individuals have based on their personal and environmental circumstances which can, in turn, inform the evolution of PETs. This includes considerations of vulnerability, age, education, physical and mental ability, language barriers, gender, access to technology, freedom from oppression among many important contextual factors.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNew Security Paradigms Workshop
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2022


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