Sensing: Participatory or Opportunistic?

A paper from Dartmouth and Columbia, funded by Intel and the Dept. of Homeland Security, Urban Sensing Systems: Opportunistic or Participatory?, distinguishes opportunistic vs. participatory sensing, and advocates the former:

With opportunistic sensing, the custodian may not be aware of active applications. Instead a custodian’s device (e.g., cell phone) is utilized whenever its state (e.g., geographic location, body location) matches the requirements of an application. This state is automatically detected; the custodian does not knowingly change the device state for the purpose of meeting the application request. To support symbiosis between the custodian and the system, sensor sampling occurs only if the privacy and transparency needs of the custodian are met. The main privacy concern is the potential leak of personally sensitive information indirectly when providing sensor data (i.e., the custodian’s location). To maintain transparency, opportunistic use of a device should not noticeably impact the normal user experience of the custodian as he uses it for his own needs.

They appear to be using the term ‘transparency’ differently than we would? —Chris Peterson

5 Responses to “Sensing: Participatory or Opportunistic?”

  1. Carl Burke says:

    Seems that way. They’re concerned that the gathering of information be transparent (invisible) to the user of the “sensor”. Your concern here seems to be that the process of sensing and applying the data be transparent (visible) to society as a whole. In the first case, the user needs to see through the sensing process; in the second case, we need to see into the process. At least, that’s my take on it.

  2. J. Andrew Rogers says:

    One of the major problems with their version of “transparency” in the paper is that it maintains the illusion of privacy without providing it in fact. Sampling sensors like this to the standards they are suggesting would seem to be eminently exploitable by the rapidly improving field of de-anonymizing algorithms for this type of data i.e. the privacy would be more pro forma than real over the long term. This is particularly true once they start fusing data from a diverse set of sensor sources.

    The opportunistic system may be convenient for them, but the promises of privacy are not enforceable by the individual in the way they are with a participatory system.

  3. Terminology is important. One role we can play is to get things clarified, so at least people can communicate without talking past each other.

    We see that people in the sensor space are using the term “transparency” differently. One or the other of the two meanings needs a new term.

    In principle, one could have both meanings true at the same time: users could have the ability to know how the sensor works, and yet not have to see it working all the time. I think.

  4. Michael M. Butler says:

    Yes, they’re using “transparent” and variants to mean “unobtrusive” or “frictionless”, with a connotation of “desirable”. Well, to point to another case, opt-out functions of websites or other programs are unobtrusive and frictionless but they are often anything but desirable–to an informed participant.

    I have no idea how to make them choose a different word. They have every reason to want to pick a nice-sounding word like “transparent” and use it to really mean “invisible”. :\

  5. It is possible to gain informal control of a word or term by consensus. If we define “transparent sensing” a particular way, and that definition catches on, then our ideas win. First we need to decide if we want to try — if it is a good idea to try at all. Then we think of our definition and we come up with a term to describe the other meaning. Then we starting using them and see what happens.

    My first thought here is that we do need to take back the word ‘transparent’ with respect to sensing. The other meaning can use one of the terms Michael Butler suggests. But let’s see what others think.

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