Background for IDC 2020 Full Day Workshop

From its advent, computer technology has transformed our world more than any other force [13]. In 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that Generation M2, that is children (8-18 years), spend about 7.5 hours a day using digital media [19] and has since increased. In industrialized nations this generation grew up with no memory of life before the internet and smart phones [16] and this digital revolution increasingly impacts children’s everyday lives in developing countries. For example, UNICEF found that 40% of Vietnamese children in rural areas used the internet for educational purposes [25], and likely many more have access through family members’ cellular phones.

Through design, research and development, the HCI community is linked to children’s use of interactive technologies. The speed of innovation in research combined with the heightened importance of involving children as participants in research (e.g. [4,5,22]) raises longstanding and emergent ethical concerns that may not be known to the HCI community [8]. Children’s rights to participate and be protected in research has been guided by declarations for over 50 years (e.g. United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child [1959]; Declaration of Helsinki [1964]; United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [1989]) [11]. Yet research in emerging interactive technologies creates new ethical scenarios that cannot be addressed using existing guidance. Consider the case in which a wearable EEG-based mobile neurofeedback app is developed to help young children living in poverty learn to self-regulate anxiety and attention in order to improve educational outcomes [3]. The case raises longstanding issues around social justice and children’s rights to participate, such as: How to adequately get assent from a population that cannot fully understand the risks or benefits of research into this new form of technology? More importantly, the case raises new questions that move beyond available guidance. For example: How does these children’s interaction with neurodata, which represents internal brain states that may or may not be modifiable, impact (both positively and negatively) their sense of agency, identity, and epistemic authority? Addressing such questions requires methods that focus on the in-situ exploration of impacts [10] and consideration of trade-offs between children’s rights to protection, participation and provision [20]. What is needed is guidance that can help researchers both anticipate future issues and impacts of these new classes of technologies, as well as be sensitive to unforeseen emergent issues.

As the research community expands to include researchers from a broader spectrum of nations and cultures, and as researchers work with children from diverse populations, other underexplored issues emerge from the cultural and philosophical lenses that we as researchers have with regards to science, technology and children, either implicitly or explicitly, when we plan and implement research [27]). For example in [7], Frauenberger makes a compelling case for a critical realist conceptualization of disability (e.g. autism) that … “serves the project as a guiding principle in planning and conducting workshops or studies in an ethically and morally responsible way.” Scholars of childhood also urge for the consideration of how children’s interactions with new technologies are firmly located in the wider settings of cultural and social processes: the institutional organization of childhood, schooling, family, and the different uses of private and public space [16,21]. It is imperative that we develop ethics guidance that is sensitive to the (multiple) cultures of childhood and does not assumes either a techno-determinist or utopian vision of the future.

It is clear that ethics in HCI for children cannot keep up with the speed in which new ethical scenarios emerge, often in situ [10]. Yet over the last few years there has been rising awareness in the CHI community through keynotes, panels, and SIGs highlighting the importance of proactively considering ethical issues and moral perspectives in HCI for children (e.g. [1,8,9,15]). The challenge to address ethics in HCI is shared with the rest of the HCI research community – as the CHI 2018 roundtable indicated in terms of its goals … “the development of community norms for research ethics in the face of evolving technology and methods.” We argue that the time is right for this workshop – it is imperative to conduct research and develop guidance purposefully and prospectively; leading to the establishment of community norms based on actionable and situation-sensitive guidance for those creating interactive technologies with vulnerable populations, such as children. Our motivation for this workshop is this need for a holistic, situated, culturally sensitive, and value driven approach to ethics, as part of what has been called the third paradigm in HCI [10,14].

This workshop is the first formal gathering to address these challenges within the broader HCI community. In alignment with the SIGCHI Ethics Committee our aim is to facilitate discussion around research ethics within the community, yet drawing on previous works in other communities (e.g. [6, 11,17,21]). We seek to bring together individuals who work closely with children in various contexts through research, design, and deployment of interactive technologies in both industrialized and developing countries. Specifically, our goals are to:

  • – Bring forward and discuss cases that reveal new ethical challenges that may arise during research and after deployment;
  • – Identify ethical priorities (see themes below) to direct the development of a research agenda in ethics of HCI and children;
  • – Identify and adapt existing guidance and begin to develop new guidance where possible;
  • – Highlight the role values, culture and philosophical perspectives play in developing guidance;
  • – Formalize a preliminary working group with members from HCI and other concerned communities
  • – Commit to the dissemination of results (e.g. ACM Interactions, special issue of IJCCI on Ethics).

Themes for IDC 2020 Full Day Workshop

Our themes build on issues, opportunities and ethical questions that were identified in the authors’ previous works as well as through previous panels, SIGs, and roundtables. We see a preliminary set of themes to address as follows:

1. Benefits of Co-Design and Evaluation Participation

HCI researchers who work with children in design or evaluation processes have rarely focused on ethical aspects of their work (see [21,27] for exceptions). In [2] Antle raises a fundamental question – rarely addressed openly, which is: what do children gain from participating in our research and what constitutes evidence of those benefits? Despite the Interaction Design for Children (IDC) Conference requirement for authors to include a section discussing ethics (e.g. selection and participation), most IDC papers cite formal ethical procedures designed to assess risk such as those required by many ethics board applications (which vary across countries: e.g. IRB – USA, REB – Canada, or no formal ethics committee in parts of Europe). Following from [19], we see a need to educate and encourage researchers to examine and document the trade-offs between children’s protection and participation alongside provision and benefit in these discussions. In parallel, we see a need to move beyond static, formal ethics processes, which do little to guide situated ethical dilemmas that arise and judgements that must be made during research [9]. For example, in a mental health study young children quickly became strongly attached to an smart toy prototype; requiring researchers to reframe the deployment narrative and change the target age for subsequent research [22].

2. Data, Privacy and Security 

In a recent CHI SIG [14], participants discussed and debated how ubiquitous computing and big data are impacting the lives of children. Questions arose including: What are the ethical issues of children’s rights to control and own data about themselves? How does that changes as they age? How does the information that is tracked affect children’s values? While some guidance can be taken from medical ethics, the impact of private technology companies versus health authorities complicates this one among the many issues that have entered the discourse around data, privacy and security (e.g. [27]) and must be addressed relative to children.

3. Identity, Agency, and Authority

Research has shown that technological artifacts, like medical devices (e.g. glasses, inhalers) that predate interactive technologies play an important part in the construction of identity [15]. Ethnographic studies in schools suggest these objects can both have an impact on their context of use and be modified by the complex layers of practice encountered there. Both participation in research and use of new technologies can impact children’s sense of who they are [11], raising ethical questions such as, what is the impact of big data that effectively quantifies children and impact on self-perception and epistemic authority? Or the previously mentioned question, how might neurodata impact a child’s sense of agency [16]?

4. Equity, Access and Social Justice

Another important theme involves social justice, which requires community norms that ensure that children who may most benefit are included in research even if they are difficult to access or work with [1]. This again raises the need for ethical guidance, which may be adapted from non-HCI sources (e.g. [25]) but must also be responsive to situational specific factors. For example, in one author’s work in sensitive settings conducting activities with marginalized children, they were confronted with moral dilemmas in real time, which were not foreseen in formal ethical reviews and required them to make judgements on the spot, which may contradiction to overarching ethical principles [23].

5. Impact of Researcher’s Philosophical Stance 

A researcher’s philosophical position, and associated values, whether explicit or implicit, includes assumptions about how they view and value science and technology (e.g. beneficial, neutral, deterministic). This in turn impacts how they view their research and/or design problem and how they think about the impact of their work on children. As a result, their stance forms a foundation for what they see or do not see as ethical issues. We include this theme in order to highlight the philosophical foundations of ethical issues rather than focus merely on the pragmatics of ethics.


1. Alissa N. Antle. 2017. Crazy like us: Design for vulnerable populations. In Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’17), 3–4. https://doi.org/10.1145/3078072.3078074

2. Alissa N. Antle. 2017. The ethics of doing research with vulnerable populations. Interactions 24, 6: 74–77. https://doi.org/10.1145/3137107

3. Alissa N. Antle, Leslie Chesick, Srilekha Kirshnamachari Sridharan, and Emily Cramer. 2018. East meets west: A mobile brain-computer system that helps children living in poverty learn to self-regulate. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing: 1–28. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00779-018-1166-x

4. Laura Benton and Hilary Johnson. 2015. Widening participation in technology design: A review of the involvement of children with special educational needs and disabilities. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction 3–4: 23–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijcci.2015.07.001

5. Jerry Alan Fails, Mona Leigh Guha, and Allison Druin. 2013. Methods and Techniques for Involving Children in the Design of New Technology for Children. Foundations and Trends® in Human–Computer Interaction 6, 2: 85–166. https://doi.org/10.1561/1100000018

6. Casey Fiesler, Jeff Hancock, Amy Bruckman, Michael Muller, Cosmin Munteanu, and Melissa Densmore. 2018. Disability and Technology. In Extended Abstracts of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI EA ’18), panel05. https://doi.org/10.1145/3170427.3186321

7. Christopher Frauenberger. 2015. Disability and technology: A critical realist perspective. In Proceedings of the 17th International ACM SIGACCESS Conference on Computers & Accessibility (ASSETS ’15), 89–96. https://doi.org/10.1145/2700648.2809851

8. Christopher Frauenberger, Alissa N. Antle, Monica Landoni, Janet C. Read, and Jerry Alan Fails. 2018. Ethics in interaction design and children: A panel and community dialogue. In Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on Interaction Design and Children (IDC ’18), 748–752. https://doi.org/10.1145/3202185.3210802

9. Christopher Frauenberger, Marjo Rauhala, and Geraldine Fitzpatrick. 2017. In-action ethics. Interacting with Computers 29, 2: 220–236. https://doi.org/10.1093/iwc/iww024

10. Urs Gasser and Sandra Cortesi. 2016. Children’s rights and digital technologies: Introduction to the discourse and some meta-observations. Handbook of Children’s Rights: Global and Multidisciplinary Perspectives (M. Ruck, M. Peterson-Badali & M. Freeman, eds., Taylor & Francis), Forthcoming.

11. A. E. Guttmacher. 2011. Invited address: A vision for the future of child development research.

12. Yuval Noah Harari. 2018. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Spiegel & Grau, New York.

13. Steve Harrison, Phoebe Sengers, and Deborah Tatar. 2011. Making epistemological trouble: Third-paradigm HCI as successor science. Interacting with Computers 23, 5: 385–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intcom.2011.03.005

14. Hourcade, Juan Pablo, Anthony, L., Fails, J., Iversen, O.S., Rubegni, E., Skov, M., Slovak, P., Walsh, G., and Zeising, A. 2018. SIG Report back to the community: Child computer interaction, ubiquitous technologies and big data. ACM Interactions, November + December.

15. Ian Hutchby and Jo Moran-Ellis. 2013. Children, Technology and Culture: The Impacts of Technologies in Children’s Everyday Lives. Routledge.

16. Judy Illes, Alissa Antle, Hayami Lou, Holly Longstaff, Vasiliki Rahimzadeh, Patrick J McDonald, and H F Machiel Van der Loos. 2019. Involving children with neurodevelopmental disorders in biomedical research. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health 3, 3: 143–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2352-4642(19)30022-7

17. UNICEF Office of Research- Innocenti. Ethical Research for Children. UNICEF-IRC. Retrieved August 15, 2019 from https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/1809-ethical-research-for-children.html

18. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2010. Daily Media Use Among Children and Teens Up Dramatically From Five Years Ago. Daily Media Use Among Children and Teens Up Dramatically From Five Years Ago. Retrieved October 7, 2018 from https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/press-release/daily-media-use-among-children-and-teens-up-dramatically-from-five-years-ago/

19. Eva Lievens, Sonia Livingstone, Sharon McLaughlin, Brian O’Neill, and Valerie Verdoodt. 2018. Children’s Rights and Digital Technologies. In International Human Rights of Children, Ursula Kilkelly and Ton Liefaard (eds.). Springer Singapore, Singapore, 1–27. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-3182-3_16-1

20. Sonia Livingstone, Giovanna Mascheroni, and Elisabeth Staksrud. 2018. European research on children’s internet use: assessing the past and anticipating the future. New Media and Society 20: 1103–1122.

21. Brenna McNally, Mona Leigh Guha, Matthew Louis Mauriello, and Allison Druin. 2016. Children’s Perspectives on Ethical Issues Surrounding Their Past Involvement on a Participatory Design Team. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 3595–3606.

22. Petr Slovak, Nikki Theofanopoulou, Alessia Cecchet, Peter Cottrell, Altarriba Bertran, Ella Dagan, Julian Childs, and Katherine Isbister. 2018. “I Just Let Him Cry. . . ”: Designing Socio-Technical. In International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Work and Social Computing, in press.

23. Katta Spiel, Emeline Brulé, Christopherher Frauenberger, Gilles Bailly, and Geraldine Fitzpatrick. Micro-Ethics For Participatory Design With Marginalised Children. In Proceedings of the 15th Participatory Design Conference: Full Papers – Volume 1 (PDC ’18), 12 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3210586.3210603

24. Unicef Report. At a Glance: Vietnam. Retrieved October 7, 2018 from https://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/vietnam_statistics.html

25. 2016. What We Know about Ethical Research Involving Children in Humanitarian Settings: An Overview of Principles, the Literature and Case Studies. https://doi.org/10.18356/ce5b9789-en

26. Ethical Research Involving Children, ERIC, Child Ethics. Ethical Research Involving Children. Retrieved August 15, 2019 from https://childethics.com/

27. SOUPS 2018 Workshop Report: Designing Privacy and Security Tools for Children and Teenagers – Privacy Education and Research Lab (PEARL). Retrieved August 15, 2019 from https://pearl.umd.edu/2018/10/soups-2018-workshop-report-designing-privacy-and-security-tools-for-children-and-teenagers/