Upcoming Conference: Surveillance and Society 2016

Alongside BILETA 2016, I’ve another conference coming up in April: Surveillance and Society 2016. I will presenting a paper “Regulation by Design for Ambient Domestic Computing: Lessons from Human Computer Interaction”. I’ll post how it was afterwards, but for now the abstract is below:

This paper will look at the role of design in addressing regulatory challenges posed by ambient technologies embedded in our domestic environment.

Many terms capture the essence of these technologies from internet of things and ubiquitous computing to ambient intelligence and home automation. Broadly we define these as technologies physically embedded around us that sense and process human data to provide contextually appropriate services. These systems have varying levels of visibility (physically and psychologically) and autonomy (from minimal to semi autonomous behaviour). They may prompt a direct interaction (eg through an interface or smartphone app) or/and try to understand our human needs by sensing our presence or movements (eg smart thermostats managing our home heating based on movement).

The relationship between the human and ambient computer is one of daily interaction where technology often mediates routines and human experiences in the home. The goal of many of these technologies is to become assimilated into daily life to the extent they become ‘unremarkable’. There is often a complex ecosystem of actors involved in the provision of both devices and services, from the manufacturers developing and managing the systems, to the third party advertisers seeking access to the data.

Increasingly we see policy and law moving towards involving non state actors in the practice of regulation. A key example is regulators looking to designers to enable regulation by design. From nudges to privacy by design we see a recognition of the power of design as a mechanism to address hard regulatory problems and the importance of designers as mediators.

We recognise that the system designers of these new ambient technologies have a responsibility to their users and they act in some capacity as regulators through their ability to define how the human uses and engages with the technology.

Importantly, the technology is not neutral, it is a product of active choices and decisions of system designers (from system architects and programmers to interface and user experience designers).

We are particularly interested in human agency concerns, which are themselves broad. Narrowing down the problem space is problematic but user control over personal data, (dis)trust in the infrastructure and the importance of decision making and choice when interacting with these systems are particular interests. We consider the range of tools available to system designers within the field of ‘human computer interaction’ to address regulatory concerns.

When designing new ambient technologies, HCI practitioners use methods to build situated knowledge of the practices in the social settings that technologies will be built for, from workplaces to homes and public spaces, often by speaking to and observing users of these systems. They do this to make sure the systems, experiences and interactions fit the context of use. These same design tools and knowledge could be repurposed to understand regulatory issues faced by users in context. Accordingly, we reflect on approaches from the HCI that help system designers engage with their regulatory role, eg value sensitive design or the Scandinavian school of participatory design.

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