Public Technology Observation – LinkNYC

In observing how consumers utilize LinkNYC, my cynicism and disdain for this public technology have been affirmed. On the surface, LinkNYC is benign, if not handy; built so that its buttons and touch screen sit at a height that is accessible to all, adults and children alike. As LinkNYC is a New York City initiative, Link booths are presumably ADA compliant. However, LinkNYC is a private piece of surveillance technology, and like all surveillance technology, it has a disparate impact on who is “targeted” by its true purpose. LinkNYC booths and their private parent company have been at the center of many lawsuits surrounding data privacy violations. The ease and inviting aesthetic of LinkNYC obfuscates its nefarious, similarly opaque practices of data collection and sale.

In my observation of how this technology is used, the majority of peoples who gave “links” more than a passing glance were individuals who appeared unconventionally housed. Were LinkNYC a public good, with no perverse incentive to collect and monetize the data of its users, I would take no issue with this dynamic. However, the fact that LinkNYC (in my observation) almost exclusively appeals to vulnerable peoples in our society, one must consider how features that may seem convenient at first glance, are ultimately predatory. For instance, LinkNYC has phone charging ports that, in keeping with the interaction trends I witnessed, unconventionally housed peoples utilized the most, and longest. Bear in mind, these are individuals who may not be able to charge their phones at home, at work, or even in a private business due to stigma – convenient design features for the more privileged can be lifelines for these individuals. 

The majority of people I witnessed using LinkNYC used these booths to charge their phones – these transactions took the longest, almost definitely contingent on the user’s battery charge.  I did not witness anyone use LinkNYC to place a phone call, perhaps this speaks to how little people place phone calls in general.

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