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Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous Computing Environments

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Abstract

Current developments in information technology are leading to increasing capture and storage of information about people and their activities. This raises serious issues about the preservation of privacy. In this paper we examine why these issues are particularly important in the introduction of ubiquitous computing technology into the working environment. Certain problems with privacy are closely related to the ways in which the technology attenuates natural mechanisms of feedback and control over information released. We describe a framework for design for privacy in ubiquitous computing environments and conclude with an example of its application.
Design for Privacy in Ubiquitous
Computing Environments
Victoria Bellotti* and Abigail Sellen*†
* Rank Xerox EuroPARC, Cambridge, UK
bellotti@europarc.xerox.com; sellen@europarc.xerox.com
†MRC Applied Psychology Unit, Cambridge, UK
Abstract
: Current developments in information technology are leading to increasing cap-
ture and storage of information about people and their activities. This raises serious issues
about the preservation of privacy. In this paper we examine why these issues are particu-
larly important in the introduction of ubiquitous computing technology into the working
environment. Certain problems with privacy are closely related to the ways in which the
technology attenuates natural mechanisms of feedback and control over information
released. We describe a framework for design for privacy in ubiquitous computing environ-
ments and conclude with an example of its application.
Introduction
Information technology can store, transmit and manipulate vast quantities and vari-
eties of information. Whilst this is critical to government, public services, business
and many individuals, it may also facilitate unobtrusive access, manipulation and
presentation of personal data (Parker et al., 1990; Dunlop & Kling, 1991).
The term “Big Brother” in the context of computing technology, seems to imply
two classes of problem. The first is due to the fact that computer technology may be
put to insidious or unethical uses (e.g., Clarke, 1988). All information systems, and
particularly distributed systems, are potentially vulnerable to covert subversion
(Lampson et al., 1981) and, although it can be made extremely difficult to tamper
with data in computing systems, protection mechanisms “are often only secure
in
principle
. They are seldom secure
in practice
.” (Mullender, 1989).
Deliberate or poorly considered design resulting in invasive applications and
sophisticated subversion of supposedly secure systems are discouraged by cultural
censure and law (although these forces trail behind the advances in sophistication
of the technology). However, software must still be secure in order to reduce the
risks of covert abuse of personal data and this is an important area of research. There
are already a number of useful software protection models and standards which are
designed to reduce the risks (see e.g., Lampson et al., 1981; and Mullender, 1989).
The second class of problem is related to very different concerns about a fast
growing, less well understood set of issues. These arise from user-interface design
features which interfere with social behaviour. These features may foster unethical
use of the technology but, more significantly, they are also much more conducive to
inadvertent intrusions on privacy (Heath & Luff, 1991).
Mediated interactions between people via technology are prone to breakdowns
due to inadequate feedback about what information one is broadcasting and an
inability to control one’s accessibility to others. This disrupts the social norms and
practices governing communication and acceptable behaviour. Our concern in this
paper is tackle the latter kind of problem in the context of systems design.
In attempting to design systems which reduce perceived invasions of privacy, it
would be useful to have a practical working definition of the concept. Unfortunately,
although privacy is widely considered to be an important right, it is difficult to define
this notion in more than an intuitive fashion (Anderson, 1991). Attitudes to what is
and what is not private data vary between people in different contexts and roles
(Harper et al., 1992). Codes of practice and the law offer inadequate guidance on
what actually counts as violation of privacy in technologically sophisticated envi-
ronments (Clarke, 1988) and it may take lengthy court proceedings to determine
what the case may be (Privacy Protection Study Commission, 1991).
Any realistic definition of privacy cannot be static. With the introduction of new
technology, patterns of use and social norms develop around it and what is deemed
“acceptable” behaviour is subject to change. Naturally evolving social practices
may interact with organisational policies for correct usage (Harper et al., 1992). In
addition, people are more prepared to accept potentially invasive technology if they
consider that its benefits outweigh potential risks (e.g., Ladd, 1991; Richards,
1991). In recognition of these facts we take privacy to be a personal notion shaped
by culturally determined expectations and perceptions about one’s environment.
The social practices and policies that determine any
rights
an individual has to
privacy interact with the technical and interface design aspects of the technology
they use. Technology is not neutral when it comes to privacy. It can increase or
reduce the extent to which people have control over personal data. Our concern is
to ensure that privacy should be a central design issue in its own right.
We present a framework for addressing the design of
control
and
feedback
of
information captured by multimedia, ubiquitous computing environments. These
two issues are fundamental to successful communication and collaboration amongst
users as well as to maintaining privacy. We ground our examples largely in the
domain of networked audio-video environments and in particular in experiences
with one such environment. However, our framework may also be related to the
design of CSCW systems and distributed computing environments in general.
In the following sections we first introduce the context and nature of the technol-
ogy which is the focus of our interest, we then go on to outline our design
framework and provide a brief example of its application.
Maintaining privacy in a media space
The need to understand and protect personal privacy in sophisticated information
systems is becoming critical as computing power moves out of the box-on-the-desk
into the world at large. We are entering the age of
ubiquitous computing
(e.g.,
Weiser, 1991; Lamming & Newman, 1991; Hindus & Schmandt, 1992) in which our
environment comes to contain computing technology in a variety of forms.
Increasingly, we are seeing such systems incorporate sensors such as micro-
phones, cameras and signal receivers for wireless communication. These sensors
have the potential to transmit information such as speech, video images, or signals
from portable computing devices, active badges (Want et al., 1992), electronic
whiteboards (Pederson et al., 1993), and so on. These devices can be networked so
that multimedia information can be stored, accessed, processed and distributed in a
variety of ways. Services include audio-video (AV) interconnections, information
retrieval, diary systems, document tracking and so on (e.g., Lamming & Newman,
1991; Gaver, 1992; Eldridge et al., 1992).
Ubiquitous computing usually implies embedding the technology unobtrusively
within all manner of everyday objects which can potentially transmit and receive
information from any other object. The aims are not only to reduce its visibility, but
also to empower its users with more flexible and portable applications to support the
capture, communication, recall, organisation and reuse of diverse information. The
irony is that its unobtrusiveness both belies and contributes to its potential for sup-
porting potentially invasive applications.
In light of these developments, it is dangerously complacent to assume that social
and organisational controls over accessibility of personal information are sufficient,
or that intrusions into privacy will ultimately become acceptable when traded
against potential benefits. Such a position could leave individual users with a heavy
burden of responsibility to ensure that they do not, even inadvertently, intrude on
others. It also leaves them with limited control over their own privacy.
“Media spaces” (Stults, 1988) are a recent development in ubiquitous computing
technology, involving audio, video and computer networking. They are the focus of
an increasing amount of research and industrial interest into support for distributed
collaborative work (e.g., Root, 1988; Mantei et al., 1991; Gaver et al., 1992; Fish et
al., 1992). EuroPARC’s RAVE environment is just one of several media spaces
which have been set up in various research laboratories around the world.
In RAVE, cameras, monitors, microphones and speakers are placed in every
office, to provide everyone with their own personal RAVE
node
. This allows one to
communicate and work with others and to be aware of what is going on in the build-
ing without leaving one’s office. Various kinds of flexible video-only and AV
connections between nodes are set up and broken by central switching devices
which are controlled from individual workstations.
Whilst media space technology improves the accessibility of people to one
another, some may feel that their privacy is compromised. The very ubiquity of such
systems means that many of the concerns with existing workstation-based informa-
tion systems are aggravated. A much wider variety of information can now be
captured. People are much less likely to be “off-line” (inaccessible) at any given
moment. Further, the design of many of these systems is such that it may not be clear
when one is off- or on-line and open to scrutiny (Mantei et al., 1991; Gaver, 1992).
People also express concern about their own intrusiveness to others when they try
to make contact without being able to determine others’ availability (Cool et al.,
1992). Concerns about such problems have strongly influenced the installation and
ongoing design of RAVE, as well as the way in which people use it.
Feedback and control in RAVE
At EuroPARC people generally do not worry much about privacy. They feel that the
benefits of RAVE outweigh their concerns. This is because the design has evolved
together with a culture of trust and acceptable practices relating to its use. Individual
freedom was fostered to use, customise, or ignore the technology. Design was
informed by studies of how collaborative work is socially organised and how such
technology impacts it (e.g. Heath & Luff, 1991; 1992). Users’ views and reactions
were obtained via questionnaires and interviews. The varied individual feelings
about privacy were accommodated by ensuring that users could decide how acces-
sible they were to others via the media space (Dourish, 1991; Gaver et al., 1992;
Dourish, 1993).
In designing for privacy in RAVE, two important principles have emerged (Gaver
et al, 1992). These are
control
and
feedback
, which we define as follows:
Control:
Empowering people to stipulate what information they project and who
can get hold of it.
Feedback:
Informing people when and what information about them is being cap-
tured and to whom the information is being made available.
RAVE users can control who may connect to them and what kind of connections
each person is allowed make. If they omit to do so, automatic defaults are set to
reject connections. User control via the workstation is supported by “Godard”, the
software infrastructure which provides the primary interface to the complex AV
signal-switching and feedback mechanisms (Dourish,1991). These mechanisms
comprise the kinds of connections which can be made between people, to different
public areas, and to media services (e.g., video-players).
Feedback depends on the type of RAVE connection being made. Three kinds of
interpersonal connection are “glance”, “v-phone call” and “office-share”. Glance
connections are one-way, video-only connections of a few seconds’ duration. V-
phone and office-share connections are longer two-way AV connections. For
glances, audio feedback (Gaver, 1991) alerts users to onset and termination of a con-
nection and can even announce who is making it. For the two-way office
connections, reciprocity acts as a form of feedback about the connection (if I see
you, you see me) and, in the case of an attempted v-phone connection, an audio
“ringing” signal is given and the caller’s name is displayed on the workstation,
whereupon the recipient can decide whether to accept or reject the connection.
Office-shares, being very long term, do not require such a protocol.
Public areas have cameras which can be accessed by a glance or a “background”
connection which is indefinite, one-way and video-only. We provide feedback about
the presence of a camera in a public place in the form of a video monitor beside the
camera which displays its view.
Control and feedback also figure strongly in the design of RAVE’s architecture.
Connection capability lists and an access control model define who can connect to
whom and provide long term, static control over accessibility. Providing distinct
connection types can also allow users to exercise discriminating dynamic control
over their accessibility as in the v-phone call (for a fuller description of these fea-
tures see Dourish, 1993). Our concern, however, is with the moment-to-moment
continuous control that people exercise over how they present themselves in public
as respectable, social beings (Goffman, 1963). In the next section we indicate why
people, especially newcomers and visitors to places with media spaces and other
kinds of ubiquitous computing technology, can feel uneasy about their ability to
monitor and control their self presentation and consequently their privacy.
Disembodiment and dissociation
A number of problems with RAVE relate to the extended duration of v-phone calls
and office-shares. Users tend to forget about their existence and associated implica-
tions. Even seasoned users can get confused about the nature of their connections.
For example, if a colleague with whom you have an office-share switches off their
camera or moves out of shot, it is easy to forget that they can still see you.
Problems in public areas include the fact that monitors next to cameras only sug-
gest (and then only to those familiar with a media space) that a video image may be
being broadcast to many people, via background connections. They cannot inform
people when or to whom the image is being sent. For most EuroPARC “regulars”
this is not a major concern, but for newcomers to the building, it may be.
The underlying causes of such problems lie in the fact that the technology results
in
disembodiment
from the context into and from which one projects information
(Heath & Luff, 1991) and
dissociation
from one’s actions. These phenomena inter-
fere with conveying information about oneself or gaining information about others.
Conveying information:
In the presence of others you convey information in
many ways. These include position, posture, facial expression, speech, voice level
and intonation, and direction of gaze. Such cues influence the behaviour of others.
For example, they can determine whether or not others will try to initiate communi-
cation with you.
In CSCW and ubiquitous computing environments disembodiment means that
these resources may be attenuated. So you may not be able to present yourself as
effectively to others as you can in a face-to-face setting. For example, in an AV con-
nection, you may only be a face on a monitor (Gaver, 1992) with your voice coming
out of a loudspeaker, the volume of which you may not be aware or able to control.
You may only appear as a name (McCarthy et al., 1991) or a name associated with
a room displayed on a screen (e.g., Harper et al., 1992). At worst (e.g., in a RAVE
background connection) you may have no perceptible presence at all. On the other
hand, disembodiment also means that you may be unaware of when you are convey
information to others because of a lack of feedback from the technology.
Dissociation occurs in CSCW applications when only the results of actions are
shared, but the actions themselves are invisible. In other words when you cannot
easily determine who is doing, or did, what (e.g., ShrEdit, a shared editor with no
telepointers; McGuffin & Olson, 1992).
Gaining information:
In face-to-face situations, cues given by others influence
your judgements about whether to attempt conversation, what to say and how to act.
In media spaces, there is usually no way to gauge how available someone else is
before connecting to them (Louie et al., in press). Once connected, awareness of the
person at the other end of the link or their actions is likely to be limited to the fixed
and narrow field of view of a camera, and whatever a microphone picks up (Gaver,
1992). That person also has a reduced, disembodied presence. In turn, you are likely
to receive fewer cues when someone is observing you, or your work.
Breakdown of social and behavioural norms and practices
The effects of disembodiment and dissociation manifest themselves in a variety of
breakdowns in behavioural and social norms and practices. For example, break-
downs associated with disembodiment include a tendency for users to engage in
unintentional, prolonged observation of others over AV links (Heath & Luff, 1991).
Users may intrude when they make AV connections, because they cannot discern
how available others are (Louie et al., in press). Furthermore, the intuitive principle
that if I can’t see you then you can’t see me, does not necessarily apply to computer
mediated situations where one person may be able to observe others’ activities with-
out themselves being observed.
A major problem related to dissociation is one’s inability to respond effectively
to a perceived action because one does not know who is responsible for it. A familiar
example of this problem exists with telephones where it is impossible to identify
nuisance callers before picking up the receiver.
Problems of disembodiment and dissociation receive far less attention in the lit-
erature than insidious exploitation of technology. This is unfortunate as they are also
problems for social interaction and communication mediated by technology and
likely to be much more pervasive, particularly because they often relate to purely
unintentional invasions of privacy. Furthermore, by addressing these problems
through careful design, we may reduce the potential impact of system abuse.
It must be pointed out that the technology itself is not inherently problematic.
Resources used in face-to-face situations can be exploited, simulated, or substituted
through design. For example media space systems can embody the principle “If I
see your face, you see mine,” which is natural in face-to-face situations (e.g., Video-
Tunnels; Buxton & Moran, 1989) or they can supply means to convey availability
(e.g., Louie et al., 1992). Dissociation problems in CSCW systems have been
reduced by means of conveying gestures, or even body posture (e.g. Minneman &
Bly, 1991; Tang & Minneman, 1991).
Our ongoing research assumes that problems of interaction, communication and
privacy in ubiquitous computing systems, can be reduced through technological
design refinements and innovations. Disembodiment and dissociation may be
reduced through the provision of enriched
feedback about the state of the technol-
ogy and information being projected about users. Users must also have practical
mechanisms of control over that personal information. We now present a framework
for systematically addressing these issues. Although it may have general use for
designing CSCW technology to support social interaction and communication, we
focus in particular on how it helps us confront privacy as a central design concern.
A design framework
Based on our experience with privacy issues in RAVE and other similar systems, we
have developed a simple design framework aimed at counteracting the kinds of
problems we have outlined.
Addressing the problems
Much of the mutual awareness, which we normally take for granted may be reduced
or lost in mediated interpersonal interactions. We may no longer know what infor-
mation we are conveying, what it looks like and how permanent it is, who it is
conveyed to, or what the intentions of those using that information might be. In
order to counteract problems associated with this loss, our framework proposes that
systems must be explicitly designed to provide feedback and control for at least the
following potential user and system behaviours:
Capture:
What kind of information is being picked up? Candidates include
voices, actual speech, moving video or framegrabbed images (close up or not), per-
sonal identity, work activity and its products such as keypresses, applications used,
files accessed, messages and documents.
Construction:
What happens to information? Is it encrypted or processed at
some point or combined with other information and, if so, how? Is it stored? In what
form? Privacy concerns in ubiquitous computing environments are exacerbated by
the fact that potential records of our activity may be kept and possibly manipulated,
and used at a later date and out of their original context. This leads to numerous
potential ethical problems (Mackay, 1991).
Accessibility:
Is information public, available to particular groups, certain per-
sons only, or just to oneself? What applications, processes, and so on utilise personal
data.
Purpose:
To what uses is information put? How might it be used in the future?
The intentions of those who wish to use data may not be made explicit. It may only
be possible to infer what these are from knowledge of the person, the context, pat-
terns of access and construction.
We now consider each of these four classes of concerns in relation to the follow-
ing two questions:
What is the appropriate feedback?
What is the appropriate control?
We thus have eight design questions which form the basis for a design framework
(Figure 1) with which we can analyse existing designs and explore new ones, with
respect to a range of privacy issues. This framework is a domain specific example
of the QOC approach to design rationale in which design issues, couched as ques-
When and when not to give
out what information. I can
enforce my own preferences
for system behaviours with
respect to each type of infor-
mation I convey.
What happens to informa-
tion about me. I can set
automatic default behav-
iours and permissions.
Who and what has access to
what information about me.
I can set automatic default
behaviours and permissions.
It is infeasible for me to have
technical control over pur-
poses. With appropriate
feedback, however, I can
exercise social control to
restrict intrusion, unethical,
and illegal usage.
Capture
Construction
Accessibility
Purposes
When and what information
about me gets into the system.
What happens to information
about me once it gets inside
the system.
Which people and what soft-
ware (e.g., daemons or
servers) have access to infor-
mation about me and what
information they see or use.
What people want informa-
tion about me for. Since this is
outside of the system, it may
only be possible to infer pur-
pose from construction and
access behaviours.
Control OverFeedback About
Figure 1.
A framework for designing for feedback and control in ubiquitous
computing environments: Each cell contains a description of the ideal state of
affairs with respect to feedback or control of each of four types of behaviour.
tions, are explicitly represented together with proposed solutions and their
assessments (for more details see MacLean et al., 1991; Bellotti, 1993).
The issues in the cells within the framework are not necessarily independent of
one another. For instance, in order to be fully informed about the purpose of infor-
mation usage, one must know something about each of the other behaviours.
Likewise, in order to appreciate access, one must know about capture and construc-
tion. Understanding construction requires knowing something about capture. Hence
there is a dependency relationship for design of feedback between these behaviours.
Control over each of them may, however, be relatively independently designed.
For those concerned about privacy, and the potential for subversion in particular,
control over, and thus feedback about, capture is clearly the most important. Given
appropriate feedback about what is being captured, users can orient themselves
appropriately to the technology for collaboration or communication purposes and
exercise appropriate control over their behaviour or what is captured in the knowl-
edge of possible construction, access and purposes of information use.
Evaluating solutions
Our framework emphasises design to a set of criteria, which may be extended
through experience and evaluation. Whilst questions about what feedback and con-
trol to provide set the design agenda, criteria represent additional and sometimes
competing concerns which help us to assess and distinguish potential design solu-
tions. The set of criteria acts as a checklist helping to encourage systematic
evaluation of solutions. They have been identified from our experiences with the
design and use of a range of ubiquitous computing services. Particularly important
in our current set are the following eleven criteria.
Trustworthiness:
Systems must be technically reliable and instill confidence in
users. In order to satisfy this criterion, they must be understandable by their users.
The consequences of actions must be confined to situations which can be appre-
hended in the context in which they take place and thus appropriately controlled.
Appropriate timing:
Feedback should be provided at a time when control is most
likely to be required and effective.
Perceptibility:
Feedback should be noticeable.
Unobtrusiveness:
Feedback should not distract or annoy. It should also be selec-
tive and relevant and should not overload the recipient with information.
Minimal intrusiveness:
Feedback should not involve information which com-
promises the privacy of others.
Fail-safety:
In cases where users omit to take explicit action to protect their pri-
vacy, the system should minimise information capture, construction and access.
Flexibility:
What counts as private varies according to context and interpersonal
relationships. Thus mechanisms of control over user and system behaviours may
need to be tailorable to some extent by the individuals concerned.
Low effort:
Design solutions must be lightweight to use, requiring as few actions
and as little effort on the part of the user as possible.
Meaningfulness:
Feedback and control must incorporate meaningful represen-
tations of information captured and meaningful actions to control it, not just raw
data and unfamiliar actions. They should be sensitive to the context of data capture
and also to the contexts in which information is presented and control exercised.
Learnability:
Proposed designs should not require a complex model of how the
system works. They should exploit or be sensitive to natural, existing psychological
and social mechanisms that allow people to perceive and control how they present
themselves and their availability for potential interactions.
Low cost:
Naturally, we wish to keep costs of design solutions down.
The first seven criteria are especially relevant to protection of privacy. The final
four are more general design concerns. Some of these criteria have to be traded off
against one another in the search for design solutions.
Applying the framework: Feedback and control for video data from a
public area
We have begun to apply our framework to RAVE to reveal aspects of its design
which can be refined. For the sake of brevity, we focus on just one aspect of this
media space which involves a video connection from the Commons, a public read-
ing and meeting area at EuroPARC.
In RAVE, people can access the camera in the Commons either in the form of
short glance or indefinite, background, video-only connections. The video data can
sent to devices such as a framegrabber which takes digitised video snaps. These can
be used by various services such as Vepys, a video diary which takes still images of
people via media space cameras, every so often, wherever they are, and stores the
series of images as a browsable record of their day-to-day activity (Eldridge, 1992).
Providing feedback and control mechanisms over video data taken from this
public area is a challenging problem but it is an important one, since the Commons
is an area where many visitors to EuroPARC spend their time.
Our framework prompts us to ask the following questions for which we describe
existing or potential design solutions (relevant criteria appear in italics):
Q: What feedback is there about when and what information about me gets
into the system?
Existing Solutions:
Confidence monitor:
A monitor is positioned next to the camera to inform pass-
ers by when they are within range, and what they look like. This solution fulfils the
design criteria of being
trustworthy, meaningful
and
appropriately timed
.
Mannequin (the Toby):
In order to alert people to the presence of the camera, a
mannequin affectionately named Toby is positioned holding the camera. Toby
draws people’s attention because he looks like another person in the room. Origi-
nally the camera was in his head, but this concealed it and some visitors thought it
was deliberately being hidden. Now Toby holds the camera on his shoulder. This
feedback is
less obtrusive
than the confidence monitor (which can be distracting),
however it is less
meaningful
because it doesn’t tell you whether the camera is on,
or if you are in its view.
Alternative Solution:
Movement Sensors:
A solution which might supplement the use of confidence
monitors would be to try using infra-red devices to alert people, either with an audio
or visual signal, when they move into the field of view of a camera. These would
provide
appropriately timed
feedback about onset of capture of video information,
however they would not be
meaningful
without some other form of feedback.
Q: What feedback is there about what happens to information about me inside
the system?
No Existing Solution:
The confidence monitor does not inform visitors and newcomers to the lab that
the video signal is sent to a switch. This can potentially direct the signal to any
number of nodes, recording devices or ubiquitous computing services in the lab.
Unfortunately Toby cannot tell you whether recording or some other construction
of video data is taking place. In fact the EuroPARC policy is that recording never
takes place without warnings to lab members.
Proposed Solutions:
LED display:
A simple design solution would be to have an LED status display
by the camera, connected to the media space switch and other devices responsible
for collecting, recording and distributing the video signal. This is a
low cost
pro-
posal to give
appropriately timed
feedback about when and which services are
actively collecting information. Unfortunately it might not be sufficiently
perceptible
.
Audio and video feedback:
We could provide audio feedback to indicate connec-
tions and image framegrabbing but it could be
obtrusive
and
annoying
to provide
repeated audio feedback to a public area at a sufficient volume to be heard all round
the room. An alternative would be to superimpose the flashing word “Recording” on
the screen of the confidence monitor. This would have to be refined to find a solution
which draws attention whilst being
unobtrusive
.
Q: What feedback is given about who has access to information about me and
what information they see?
Existing Solutions:
Textual information:
In order to warn people that they might be “watched”, Toby
wears a sweatshirt with the message “I may be a dummy but I’m watching you!”
printed on it. Together with the fact that Toby is holding a camera, the
meaning
of
this is fairly clear in a general sense, but not specific enough about who is doing the
watching and when.
Proposed Solutions:
Viewer display:
One option is to display a list of names or pictures on the wall to
indicate who can watch a public area. If we want to update the information we could
adapt Portholes, an “awareness sever” which distributes images to EuroPARC and
PARC media space users (Dourish & Bly, 1992). In order to be
perceptible
to pass-
ers by, the display would have to be larger than a normal monitor. We could project
images of who is currently connected to the camera onto the wall. However, this
would be
expensive
, and possibly
intrusive
to those who connect to a public area.
Audio feedback:
In private offices audio feedback alerts occupants to onset and
termination of short term glance connections. Such feedback about video connec-
tions to the Commons would be
inappropriately timed
, since they are normally of
the long term background variety which outlast most visits to the room.
Q: What feedback is provided about the purposes of using information about
me?
No Existing Solution
There is no technical feedback about the intentions of those who access the video
signal. However, lab members are reasonably confident that their privacy is not
threatened by others’ uses of information, probably because, in a public area, they
already behave in what they consider to be a publicly presentable and acceptable
fashion.
Proposed Solution:
We cannot provide technological feedback about people’s intentions. These may
only be deduced from feedback about capture, access and utilisation of information,
together with knowledge of the culture, context and individuals concerned.
Q: What control is there over when and when not to give out what
information?
Existing Solutions:
Moving off camera:
People can move on or off camera; there is a “video-free
zone” in the commons for those who want to relax in private. This kind of solution
is very
easy to learn
.
Covering the camera:
If certain activities, such as the potentially embarrassing
“weekly step-aerobics work-out,” are taking place in the commons, the camera lens
is covered. This is an extremely
trustworthy
solution.
Behaving appropriately:
If people have to walk in front of the camera, they can
orient themselves appropriately to it given the
meaningful
feedback they obtain
from the confidence monitor (for example, they will probably not get too close or
stare into it for fear of appearing foolish).
Control over what happens to information, who can access it and for what pur-
poses it is used?
We do not propose to give individuals any additional technical control over the
capture, construction and access of the Commons video signal because it is a
public
rather than a private information source. Technical control over purposes for which
information can be used, however, is impractical with any information source,
whether public or private. At EuroPARC, social control is effectively exercised. The
culture of acceptable use which has evolved with RAVE dictates that certain prac-
tices are frowned upon.
Lab members are always expected to warn others that constructions and access
other the normal background connection, glance and Portholes services, are occur-
ring. For example, Vepys video diary experiments, in which subjects have their
picture taken wherever they go, are announced to all lab members and the subjects
wear labels to warn of potential recording of camera images in areas they enter.
Anyone who objects to this can either avoid the label wearers or ask the researchers
concerned to make sure that they are not recorded.
Use of the framework
In the example, our framework serves three important purposes.
It helps to clarify the existing state of affairs with respect to privacy problems,
and social norms and practices currently in place.
By clarifying the problems, it helps to point to possible design solutions and
explore a range of possibilities.
It is used to assess the solutions in terms of how they might reduce the existing
problems as well as how they might cause new ones.
With regard to this last issue, it is important to point out that, while the frame-
work and design criteria help us evaluate proposed solutions prospectively, it is only
by implementing these solutions that we can truly judge their usefulness. A case in
point is the software infrastructure, Godard, whose privacy feature allows users to
select who is allowed to connect to them. Consistent with the criterion of being fail-
safe, the default is that lab newcomers are automatically denied access until each
person in the lab explicitly allows them access. Unfortunately, because lab members
generally forget to change their settings, newcomers find that they are unable to con-
nect to anyone. As a result, they have been known to give up trying and thus never
get in the habit of using RAVE. There are simple solutions to this problem, like auto-
matically notifying people to whom an unsuccessful attempt to connect has been
made. However, many problems are not foreseen and thus evaluation through use
must always be part of the design cycle.
In addition, the framework itself needs to be evaluated and refined. To do this we
will be applying it to a range of existing ubiquitous computing technology at Euro-
PARC. In doing so we hope to identify how it needs to be enhanced or extended.
Discussion and conclusions
In this paper we have focused on technical, rather than social or policy solutions for
protecting privacy in ubiquitous computing environments. We have argued that this
is an important design focus, and offered a framework as guidance. That being said,
it is interesting that the framework has also highlighted ways in which cultural
norms and practices affect and sometimes ameliorate privacy concerns.
In spite of shortcomings which our framework highlights, RAVE is, in general,
very acceptable to lab members. In part, this is because feedback and control of
information capture are well attended to overall in its design, enabling people to
orient themselves appropriately to the technology. Further, lab members know
roughly how it works, and trust the benign culture which governs its use. Visitors
have no such knowledge or trust, and one can imagine that, other contexts, a RAVE
style media space could seem very sinister indeed. It is thus quite understandable
that many visitors to the lab experience some trepidation.
RAVE is a research tool and is also itself the object of research, like all of the
ubiquitous computing systems at EuroPARC. It is not intended to be a model for a
commercial, standard media space. Rather, it is an instance of a facility which has
evolved inextricably with a culture of use and is only thus acceptable to members of
that culture. The problems highlighted by our framework could, however, point to
design refinements which might be essential in other contexts.
Another issue which the framework helps to elucidate, is the delicate balance that
exists between awareness and privacy. Providing too much awareness of other peo-
ple’s activity and availability may be seen as intrusive. However, too little awareness
may result in inadvertent invasions of privacy such as when people cannot tell how
receptive another person is to being disturbed. The aim then is to provide awareness
without crossing the line into intrusiveness.
A related issue is that data which could be feedback to one person may feature
someone else’s personal information which they might not want to make available.
For example, our proposal to display large Portholes images of people currently
connected to the Commons camera may make them feel as if they are on display.
This suggests that designs which solve some privacy problems may cause others.
Our framework must therefore be applied not only to the systems in place, but also
to the privacy solutions themselves.
It is often the case that design decisions involve trade-offs and compromises.
Designing to protect privacy is extreme in this respect. There is no guarantee that
features put in place to protect privacy will confer the benefits that the designer
intends. We therefore aim to prototype some the design refinements we have sug-
gested and evaluate these in use at EuroPARC in the near future.
The framework described in this paper aims to provide a systematic basis for
tackling a range of user-interface design problems. The problems we have been
dealing with are those that interfere with interactions between people and the
exchange of personal information and that are likely to arise with CSCW systems
and, in particular, media space and other ubiquitous computing systems. Perhaps
more important, we have made the case that
privacy is a user-interface design issue
,
and one which we hope will become an increasingly integral part of the design pro-
cess of information technology in general.
Acknowledgements
We wish to thank Mike Molloy and Paul Dourish for their support in implementing
some of our design ideas. We also thank Bob Anderson, Sara Bly, Graham Button,
Matthew Chalmers, Paul Dourish, Bill Gaver, Steve Harrison, Mik Lamming, Paul
Luff, Wendy Mackay, Allan MacLean, Scott Minneman, William Newman and
Peter Robinson for interesting discussions and helpful comments on drafts of this
paper.
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