Notes on “Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing Environments”

November 25, 2008

Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing Environments: Victoria Bellotti and Abigail Sellen

Design for Privacy explores how ubiquitous computing applications change existing privacy conventions and expectations. It focuses on the media lab at EuroPARC, where nearly everything is recorded and transmitted widely. The authors extract the privacy design principles that have emerged from EuroPARC.

The two broad principles are control and feedback. Control is about what the user can do about information collected. Feedback is about what the user knows about information collected.

The paper talks about how the researchers at EuroPARC have adapted to having every aspect of their working lives watched and transmitted. It doesn’t bother them. Yet, visitors to the lab are disturbed. To me this shows that even highly intelligent people can be convinced to give up a great deal of privacy. Since privacy is necessary for security, I interpret this fact to mean that we must be vigorous in  our opposition to privacy violations, lest we stop noticing them.

The paper talks about Disembodiment and Dissociation. To cut through the academic jargon, even PhD researchers who spend all day thinking about recording devices make mistakes about when they’re being recorded and where that information is going. What hope is there for the rest of us?

Furthermore, they talk about a problem they call “Breakdown of social and behavioural norms and practices.” To quote from the paper, 

For example, breakdowns associated with disembodiment include a tendency for users to engage in unintentional, prolonged observation of others over AV links.

In other words, the researchers got creepy.

To remediate these problems, the authors propose a list of design principles. If obeyed, these principles ought to safeguard against abuses of a ubiquitous information capture system.

I’d be very interested to see if systems designed with the principles really solve the problems.

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One Response to “Notes on “Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing Environments””

  1. Ian Says:

    …so that’s where Reality TV footage editors come from … creepy researchers who have a highly developed ability for prolonged observation of others over AV links 🙂


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