Accepted paper:

Your mother is watching you: lateral surveillance in smart homes


Albrecht Kurze (Chemnitz University of Technology)
Andreas Bischof (Chemnitz University of Technology)
Johanna Richter (Chemnitz University of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

The paper reports a cultural probe study on Smart Home data. During the study several cases of lateral surveillance occured within the households. The analysis reveals two major preconditions for lateral surveillance in the Smart Home: Situated knowledge and asymmetrical access to data.

Paper long abstract:

Smart Home applications raise questions over privacy. Even seemingly inconspicuous data from simple sensors for light or humidity can reveal domestic activities. In order to investigate if users are aware of potential threats of simple sensor data, we designed a probe study (Gaver 1999; Graham et al. 2007). Participants from 9 households collected data, performed data work and conclusively discussed their experiences. One surprising finding of the field study was that it lead to lateral surveillance within the households. Participants used sensor data to confront other residents with their domestic activity, e.g. being wasteful with energy or controlling their presence/absence. The analysis of this situations reveals two major preconditions for lateral surveillance through Smart Home technology: Participants used situated knowledge (Haraway 1988) about the place and the routine to identify and track other persons in the data. Furthermore, if the access to the data and the literacy of using it was asymmetrically distributed, lateral surveillance was far more likely to occur. Interestingly, the perception of the surveillance aspect of the sensor data was ambivalent. While the participants understood that surveilling others became possible through the data, they did not feel critical about the technology per se and would grant access to their own data in some cases. Concluding the paper reflects those findings in two dimensions. Firstly, it is exploratory work to investigate social implications of Smart Home technology in situ. Secondly, we can derive design implications for future, more participatorily designed Smart Home applications.

panel A03
The social life of smart homes