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[liberationtech] tips for a study involving encryption users?

Courtney Loder cloder at
Mon Jul 1 20:48:09 PDT 2013

Hi all,

I'm in the process of designing a qualitative study looking at the way
people learn to use encryption tools (PGP and Tor, specifically). This is *
not* a usability study--more an exploration of the social practices
involved in selecting a tool and then figuring out how to configure and use
it properly. The purpose of this project is to begin developing an
understanding of how users at varying levels of technical expertise
navigate this process, which may eventually inform user experience design
in the future.

The current plan is to do a pretty typical deployment of a survey (n =
100-?) and conduct interviews (n = 20). I would love to get some input from
this group about how to collect and store this data as securely as
possible/feasible. I expect to have participants with a wide range of
technical expertise, and want to make sure my collection and storage
practices will meet the standards of the most security conscious among us.
(FYI - I'm not interested in what participants are encrypting or why, and
will not be asking about these activities.)

To get the ball rolling, I'll throw out some of the options I've been
considering. Nothing is set in stone at this point--I welcome
recommendations to improve upon this:

   - Store all data, audio recordings, transcripts, notes, etc., locally in
   an encrypted hard drive partition (TrueCrypt). Any backups would also be in
   encrypted directories on external storage devices (nothing in the cloud).
   - Interviews: conducted in person whenever possible; when not possible,
   agreeing upon a voice or video system with participants individually.
   Interviews will need to be recorded, and I will be the only person with
   access to the recordings.
   - Survey: this is where I'm a little stuck. SurveyMonkey is pretty
   standard in this area, and they've at least thought through a security
   policy. If taking a survey run through them is a non-starter, I would
   greatly appreciate recommendations for other options.

Thanks in advance for your advice, it is very much appreciated.

Courtney Loder
PhD Student
Department of Informatics
Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences
University of California, Irvine
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