Consider for example smart homes, with devices that manage energy usage, CCTV cameras for the garage and increasingly integrated IT components throughout the house. With such technology, the dynamics in families may change, for instance offering monitoring capabilities. This may results in harms that may include domestic violence, loss of privacy and gathering of disproprotionately large sets of population data by large industries.

This raises a number of questions: What is the role of the individual, friends and family to mitigate potential harms? How can one work with the device provider to minimize harm? Should the law interfere? The AGENCY project will use a number of case studies to answer these questions: HealthTech, Identity Management, Smart Homes and Online Disinformation.

Complex harms such as above tend to happen to citizens, and, in most cases, they are not purposely caused or easily controlled by citizens. The AGENCY project believes firmly that establishing citizen agency is an absolutely necessary ingredient for any transformative approaches that resolve these complex harms. Citizens need to be empowered through agency-enhanching technologies, behaviours and processes to gain a sense of control, ownership, security, and consequently trust in their online activities.

Protecting against complex harms is a wicked problem because so many stakeholder are involved, and because many harms are unintended consequences of the practical use and evolution of technology. Therefore, mitigating complex harms requires interdisciplinary co-design principles, technology foundations and collaborative governance procedures to assure online citizen agency in the presence of multiple stakeholder interests. The project brings together computer science, user-centered design, business, psychology, sociology, legal and ethical experts.

If AGENCY succeeds, it will provide a profound understanding of the role of online agency in protecting citizens and will deliver collaborative methods, technological building blocks and scientifically grounded best practices for our society to provide more proactive and structured approaches to protecting citizens online.

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