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Designing for ubiquity: the perception of privacy

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1 Author(s)
Beckwith, R. ; People & Practices Res. Group, Intel Res., Hillsboro, OR, USA

Ubicomp researchers have long argued that privacy is a design issue, and it goes without saying that successful design requires that we understand the desires, concerns, and awareness of the technology's users. Yet, because ubicomp systems are relatively unusual, too little empirical research exists to inform designers about potential users. Complicating design further is the fact that ubicomp systems are typically embedded or invisible, making it difficult for users to know when invisible devices are present and functioning. As early as 1993, ubicomp researchers recognized that embedded technology's unobtrusiveness both belies and contributes to its potential for supporting potentially invasive applications. Not surprisingly, users' inability to see a technology makes it difficult for them to understand how it might affect their privacy. Unobtrusiveness, nevertheless, is a reasonable goal because such systems must minimize the demands on users. To investigate these issues further, I conducted an ethnographic study of what I believe is the first US eldercare facility to use a sensor-rich environment. Our subjects were normal civilians (rather than ubicomp researchers) who lived or worked in a ubiquitous computing environment. We interviewed residents, their family members, and the facility's caregivers and managers. Our questions focused on how people understood both the ubiquitous technology and its effect on their privacy. Although the embedded technology played a central role in how people viewed the environment, they had a limited understanding of the technology, thus raising several privacy, design, and safety issues.

Published in:

Pervasive Computing, IEEE  (Volume:2 ,  Issue: 2 )