Archive for the ‘People’ Category

The main reason to care who gets sensing data about you

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

An ITU paper spells out the main reason to care who gets sensing data about individuals:

From a political standpoint privacy is generally considered to be an indispensable ingredient for democratic societies. This is because it is seen to foster the plurality of ideas and critical debate necessary in such societies…

• Privacy is also a regulating agent in the sense that it can be used to balance and check the power of those capable of collecting data…

Lessig’s list of reasons for protecting privacy belongs to what Colin Bennett and Charles Raab have called the ‘privacy paradigm’—a set of assumptions based on more fundamental political ideas: ‘The modern claim to privacy … rests on the pervasive assumption of a civil society comprised of relatively autonomous individuals who need a modicum of privacy in order to be able to fulfil the various roles of the citizen in a liberal democratic state.’

So the main reason is to protect our political freedom. This is why I hope to find an alternative to the word ‘privacy’ in our discussions. While a useful word, it has connotations of guilt or shame, which are inappropriate in this discussion of how to preserve and strengthen our freedoms. Any ideas on alternative terms? —Chris Peterson

Intuitive control, by you, of data sensed about you

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

David Kotz over at Dartmouth has been doing some interesting work on helping individuals control data sensed about us:

As pervasive environments become more commonplace, the privacy of users is placed at increased risk. The numerous and diverse sensors in these environments can record users’ contextual information, leading to users unwittingly leaving “digital footprints.” Users must thus be allowed to control how their digital footprints are reported to third parties. While a significant amount of prior work has focused on location privacy, location is only one type of footprint, and we expect most users to be incapable of specifying fine-grained policies for a multitude of footprints. In this paper we present a policy language based on the metaphor of physical walls, and posit that users will find this abstraction to be an intuitive way to control access to their digital footprints. For example, users understand the privacy implications of meeting in a room enclosed by physical walls. By allowing users to deploy “virtual walls,” they can control the privacy of their digital footprints much in the same way they control their privacy in the physical world. We present a policy framework and model for virtual walls with three levels of transparency that correspond to intuitive levels of privacy, and the results of a user study that indicates that our model is easy to understand and use.

Sounds great! One quibble about “Users must thus be allowed to control how their digital footprints are reported to third parties” — who is the second party, and how do users control what that party gets? The sensor itself, or the sensor operator? In either case, that is also something to address up front.

I was interested and admittedly surprised to see that this research was funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice. —Chris Peterson

Quick intro to Ubiquitous Sensor Networks

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

For a 25-minute slide-show-and-lecture intro to this topic from an industry perspective, check out Ubiquitous Sensor Networks: The benefits of smart dust and mesh technology by Joy Weiss of Dust Networks. Her presentation helps get across why these systems are arriving so fast.

Joy Weiss photo from ETC Conference

Sousveillance as citizen “undersight” raises tough questions

Monday, July 13th, 2009

Worth reading: h+ Magazine is featuring a piece by well-known wearable computing pioneer Steve Mann on the concept of sousveillance. It begins:

When Canadian police tasered Robert Dziekanski –- a man who had arrived in Vancouver International airport in October 2007 from Poland – it was not the surveillance cameras that helped bring the incident to light. It was witness Paul Pritchard who captured the killing on his camera phone. Dziekanski was tasered at least twice and then beaten by police.

This is but one example of citizens capturing their ordinary day-to-day life activities and uncovering crimes that have previously escaped capture by surveillance that looks only “from above.”


Sousveillance is a form of “reflectionism,” a term that describes the use of technology to mirror and confront bureaucratic organizations.

Sounds good. Now we need to look at the hard questions: where does one person’s ‘right to sense’ interfere with another’s right to privacy, where do we draw that line, and how will it be enforced? Tough questions, but we need to take them on now. If you find examples of work on this, please let us know here at —Chris Peterson

The Economist on mobile phone sensing pluses & minuses

Friday, July 10th, 2009

Alexandra Carmichael, co-founder of the open source health research site CureTogether, brings our attention to a piece in The Economist summarizing *some* of the current work on sensing using mobile phones. It concludes:

The technology is probably the easy part, however. For global networks of mobile sensors to provide useful insights, technology firms, governments, aid organisations and individuals will have to find ways to address concerns over privacy, accuracy, ownership and sovereignty. Only if they do so will it be possible to tap the gold mine of information inside the world’s billions of mobile phones.

This may be true, but these projects seem to be moving ahead in any case… —Chris Peterson

Scenarios of pervasive sensing & intelligent environments

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Prof. Vic Callaghan of University of Essex (UK) brings to our attention a paper addressing issues of privacy and intelligent environments, which includes a number of scenarios that help make vivid what the future is bringing. His email is worth a read:

I just watched the video of your talk “Open Source Physical Security: Can we have both privacy and safety?“.

I think you raise a number of very important points about the potential for misuse of technology. I research in pervasive computing (Intelligent Environments, Pervasive Sensing, Digital Homes, Smart Homes etc) having previously been heavily involved in robotics. In this work I became aware of how technology could be misused, in a similar way to the nanotechnology you describe. We became so concerned that we gave a talk to the UN (as we felt it needed legislation or guidance at a very high level). More recently we wrote this up as an academic paper which suffered some opposition and modification before we were able to find and outlet willing to publish it (its a rather unpopular message). We are mainstream researchers in intelligent environments, that spent most of our life promoting this technology so it was, perhaps, a little unusual that we wrote an article that might be counter to its unfettered deployment. (more…)