Ethnography of ongoing secure messaging projects – what lessons for development, uses and governance?

Within NEXTLEAP, the Institute of Communication Sciences at CNRS (ISCC - WP3 lead) undertakes a project-long effort of including in a dialectical manner the socio-economic dimension, and the methods of interdisciplinary social sciences, in the devising, development, implementation and adoption of privacy-aware and privacy-preserving decentralized architectures.

To do so, it builds on recent work to learn from previous failures and success stories in the field of decentralized network architectures (see for example the work of the ADAM project, well exemplified by Musiani & Méadel, 2016). This includes a number of qualitative methods drawn from sociology of technology and science and technology studies, which include in-depth case study analysis, ethnography of innovation processes, ethnography of software development, ethnography of software development, “early user” and “power user” adoption.

During Year 1, CNRS has led a survey of thirty potential candidates for in-depth analysis [D 3.1; see also Ermoshina, Musiani & Halpin, 2016], and has eventually moved on to detailed case studies in D 3.3 and 3.5, to be completed in Year 2. For the technical team, lessons will be drawn from this case study work in terms of factors favoring or preventing the adoption of decentralized architectures by large masses of users, user awareness of privacy-enhancing components of such technologies, developers’ awareness of the variety of threat models users have.

In the final part of the project, throughout Year 3, CNRS leads an effort to bring closer – in both conceptualization and policy implications – (de-)centralization and Internet governance.