Who knows What about us and Why?

How might we better showcase and educate users what data apps collect about us and why?
An interactive data visualization display
My Role
Data Visualization + Web/Visual Design

Under the guidance of Professor Jason Hong at Carnegie Mellon University, my teammate Rosie and I redesigned and built out a website that showcased what data third parties collect and why. My role in this project was redesigning the visual interface as well as the data visualization of the website. Rosie handled the implementation using Angular.

Project Background
Oct - Dec 2019

Many smartphone apps gather and send lots of sensitive data to various third parties around the Internet. However, it’s hard to know exactly what data apps are sending out and why. Having this kind of information would be helpful for privacy, in terms of informing the public, journalists, and policy makers.


First Steps: Evaluating the Current Website using Heuristic Evaluation.

Our first steps was each conducting a heuristic evaluation of the current website, followed by initial brainstorming of the data visualizations and user testing.

The Heuristic Evaluation discovered a lack of clean and functional design. Things were overly cluttered, and lots of information were repeated, thus preventing the user from easily finding the information that is pertinent to them.

Problems We Found:

Better data visualization to answer the questions people might have about their data: why do apps collect their data and why.


Homepage need to explain the purpose of the site. It should present interesting insights and findings as well as how we analyzed and classified the data.


Clearer interaction flow of pages.


Integrate our site stylistically with Privacy Grade (our website is a subside to Privacy Grade).

Data Visualization: What kind of questions are we answering with our website?

After establishing the problems, I needed to tackle the data visualization.

To make sure our redesign addresses the right questions, we started off reading papers, articles, familiarizing ourselves with data privacy and security.

We read the Mobipurpose paper by Haojian Jin, a PhD student at CMU whose paper served as the source for the data used in this website.

1. What apps are collecting xxxx (some data)? What are they collecting it for?

2. What is new and interesting about this data discovery?

3. How much data are the apps are collecting?

4. Why are companies collecting this data?

5. Who knows what about us and why?

Parallel Prototyping

My Approach in Visualizing the Data.

I separated the data viz into 2 views, where in one view I show the top 5 apps, and in another I show the top 5 data types.

I received some feedback regarding view 4 and 5. Users felt that view 4 is more visual, yet the multiple sized clouds are confusing, and it’s not clear why the data types are sized differently. But it is easier to consume and understand view 5, which had many repeated data icons.

I continued to iterate on view 5 based on user feedback while brainstorming the other views (6-9).

data types
data types
The 10th Iteration.

The final iteration used a brushing and linking method that combined two views into one, enabling users to explore details within the dataset.

Instead of splitting the views into 2, I used a tree-map view to display the data of what the top 5 apps are sending to the clouds. As the user click on a cloud, they can view detailed information such as the exact address of where their data is going.

Style Guide and Original Graphics

I create a style guide based off of Privacy Grade’s website to guide the style of our site. Since our site is a subside to Privacy Grade, our Professor wanted to make sure the styles of the two sites matched.

I also created original graphics in Adobe Illustrator, potentially to be used on the Homepage or FAQ page.

Displaying it all together on the Homepage


Initial Design


Linear graph view


Playing with varied grid layouts


Old Design


Final Design

Results and Takeaways

Our professor was very happy with the end product, and are aiming for deployment of the web site in January 2020. We believe the website is successful in educating people about the types of data apps are collecting about us and why. We hope this information will raise awareness for the general public about data privacy and security.

This was a great learning experience for me as well in terms of learning data drive design to convey information that is coherent and cogent. Also, working with fellow teammate who is a developer helped me gain empathy and collaborative skills to make an impactful product.