[messaging] Let's run a usability study (was Useability of public-key fingerprints)

Joseph Bonneau jbonneau at gmail.com
Sun Mar 9 20:10:22 PDT 2014

I'm interested in helping out as well if I can, glad to see there's some
movement here! In particular I can help with data analysis/significance
testing if that's something needed, though sounds like the sample size will
be low.

> For the tests, I could imagine giving users pairs of fingerprints which
> are either identical or a close match, and have them choose same/different
> after X seconds, where X is tuned to produce a significant error rate.  I'd
> also try having one value on a screen, and the other in different formats
> that might be used for fingerprint exchange:  e.g. printed on the front of
> a business card, displayed on a separate screen, read aloud, written on a
> napkin, etc.

I think I've made this point before but I think the main challenge is
seeing how users perform not just in a quick check time wise, but one in
which they have no reason to suspect an error, because most of the time
most users don't think they're being attacked so they just check the
beginning for a gross error then click through. If you tell users to check
for errors, it may not represent very well how they'd do in practice.
Perhaps the only way around this is to show users fingerprints which match
in 99% of cases and see if they catch the 1% when they are mind-numbingly
bored and their prior is low. But that probably has to be an mTurk study...
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