Designing to be let alone in the days of everyware

Ramblings on having privacy in public spaces

Monday, April 4, 2011

Moving Away...

Hello Spammers and People-interested-in-this-blog,

Its been almost four years since I last posted on this blog. This was my room during my final thesis project and writing a blog somehow helped me develop my thoughts when it seemed like noone was listening.

In all these years I have graduated, written papers, moved cities and have even been corporatized.

I still work on privacy though. Designing to be let alone is something I am passionate about. I maintain another blog now and all of you are invited. 


Monday, October 1, 2007

This is a story about a father and his daughter

I Imagined a scenario where there is a strong conflict between to-watch and to-not-watch, and have attempted to solve the crisis.

A father loves his 18 year old daughter very much who is his only source of support, and his only reason to live. The daughter loves her father very much and would do anything for him. In this wonderful relationship comes a few storms once in awhile, as the family is threatened by some killers. The father begins to worry that he might lose his daughter.

One day in the paper he reads about this small tag that he can get injected into his daughter’s shoulder. Then every time the daughter passed by a mobile phone, it would transmit the information of her locations to the satellite and he would get to know where she is, through his mobile or on his email. He bought her a mobile phone, which would constantly tell him where she was and how she was, as it could analyze her voice. Then he took her to the hospital and said “Daughter, I know this is going to be a little painful, but I love you, and I can’t let anything happen to you. I am doing this for you” She smiled to her father and said” yes father, I know what you are doing. I promise never to break your heart”.

The next morning both, father and daughter’s lives changed dramatically. The father looks at his phone, and it maps out his daughter’s location. “What the wonders of technology can do to you! “ he muttered, as his daughter was safe in school now. With that he left for work to his room. From his home computer he attended virtual meetings, and discussed business plans with his colleagues. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the screen, a small map keeps pointing to his daughter’s position and her condition, as to whether she is stressed or upset.

Meanwhile the daughter is attending her classes, unaware that her father is still watching her from home. She decides to bunk a class with her friends and catch up on the latest Sharukh Khan movie. After the movie, daughter goes out to Mc donalds, and then instead of taking the school bus, is dropped at home by her friend.

When daughter meets father, he sits her down calmly and asks her why she bunked her class. Daughter is astounded, “Everyone does it once in awhile, and besides, the teacher was absent today”. Father looks at daughter sternly and says “No more bunking classes for you, now go to your room and work!”.

Daughter is freaked that her father knew about this and stares at her shoulder, where she knows the tag is placed. She wants to remove it, but cant. Then she realizes why her father did all this, because he was worried for her. But the technology gave him much more access than was necessary, so daughter looks at the mirror and decides to talk things out with her father.

“Father, I know you love me, but this is terrible, she says, I cant believe, that you would actually monitor me throughout my day. I am old enough to handle my life. If you want to make sure that I am okay and not kidnapped by some stray robber, which is probably a small chance, then I need to make sure that that’s all you know about me at that point of time. So instead of you being able to monitor me all the time, I am going to make a system in which we can communicate that I am ok and that you are ok. Father looks at her and smirks “Okay then, you give me a solution and I will see if it can work”.

The daughter spends weeks on her computer trying to understand the technology behind the tag, and the systems it involves. Whatever she thought of would have to be simple and allow her control over communication. And then an idea hit her head. She proposed it to the father. He looked at her and said, “Hmmm, okay, that seems like it will work”.

The next day they walk in to meet the tag-makers at their office and place their request. The tag-maker agrees, “Its quite simple, let me know if this system works for you guys” he said.

This is how the tag works. A tag is activated when the mobile reader sends it a signal,( until this, it cannot send out any signal). The tag uses the energy from the signal and sends another signal back to the reader. This action is so fast it almost doesn’t happen, like how we don’t see light traveling, but see it around us, because light travels so fast. What daughter proposed was that the tag would not activate on the energy of the mobile reader alone. It would need the energy of a human hand-touch. In other words, the circuit in the tag is incomplete until a hand touches it. This means that the mobile reader constantly keeps asking the tag to reply, but only when daughter touches the tag, will the tag be able to receive the reader signal and send a signal back. This way, daughter will tell her father where she is, when she wants to,( that is when she is kidnapped or when she is in trouble).

She may even communicate with her father through the number of signals she sends back. For instance, one signal (a tap on her shoulder) could mean “im ok”, two signals (two taps on her shoulder) could mean “I miss you, can you call me now?”, three signals (three taps on her shoulder) could mean “help!”. And at every signal, the father gets her location, her condition, on his mobile and email, which is sufficient information for him.

This way the father and daughter solve their arguments, and both are considerably happy in their lives. And in their experiment, they had created a new way of communication.

Moral of the story: In this story we see how people have come to an understanding in the way they use technology, by understanding what is important and what is not, without any compromises. Today we see offices wanting to tag their employee’s ID Cards in order to keep log of their entry to the office. But by employing RFID tags, they can obtain much more information about the employee’s work patterns. This is not only an invasion of privacy, but also a task that dehumanizes the employee into a laboratory rat. If the tag is made readable, only at the employee’s discretion, or when absolutely necessary, such as entering a highly restricted area, the employee has better privacy.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Rebellious Approach

Create an air of Information Misuse.
  • Increasing misuse of information may lead to the increased need of privacy measures. For this hackers will have to create a scenario where examples of information misuse are more than serious crimes that the measures of everyware offer. Various measures may then be made to protect information and further misuse.
Creating natural faraday shields.
  • How about wearing temporary braces on your teeth of body that can shield you from being read?

Creating a Magnetic Riot
  • Everyone purchases large magnets and jams all the readers and tags causing huge losses to the systems and companies. Magnets may henceforth become illegal in shops for personal use. But then most other devices use some form of magnetic energy, and rebels will always find a way to manufacture sufficient energy holes to warp all electronics for miles.
Clones to Clown
  • One could have multiple identities through clones, each with an aspect of the clone-maker. This way, one part of you could gain some privacy while another is out there in the public. This is possible under the circumstance that the world population drastically reduces and laws begin to permit clones to work. It is possible that highly industrialized nations may opt for cloning first because of the fact that they are experiencing a reduced workforce, and are constantly having to outsource their workload.

Where the user has some control

Be read only when you want to
  • The tag in the ID card is unreadable as it is cased in a foil material and shields and signals. When the ID card needs to be read, the person has to touch the ID card, this completes the circuit and the signal can thus be read by the reader. So data is transmitted only when the person wants to transmit data.

Tag remover fans

  • When you stand near a table fan, you can feel it blow away dust from your clothes. when you stand near your table fan it scans the entire boy for new tags, that might have caught on in a product you purchased it. With your permission it kills the tags, like throwing dust away.

A tag eraser
  • An eraser that deletes information from the tag, and restores the information back when you need to provide it to a reader.
Visualizing data reads
  • If a tag can be made to beep every-time it is read (rather than the reader), it makes the user aware of access to his information. If there is constant access, then it would cause a scream instead of a beep. This way we can visualize data reading from invisible sources. When technology affords, then we can have smell tags instead of audio tags, so the visualization is more subtle.


Here are some ideas that I've thought of that could maybe aid us in designing to be let alone in the days of everyware.

From a system point of view

Avoiding the Google-Yahoo! Scenario

  • Government may subsidize the use of RFID systems to companies that are small, to encourage them to offer better services and compete with larger companies.
  • This way, with healthy competition, people will always have a choice to choose rather than submit to whims and fancies of a handful of oligopolic organizations.
  • An ISO certification may be created that allows for following strict privacy measures. This keeps open the checklist for measuring privacy trade-offs and which can be modified and added to by experts over a period of time depending on context. People should be allowed to participate democratically in this as well.
Ensure Trust through smaller groups
  • We could create small panchayats, or clusters which understands its people. This way the individual is protected by outsider invasion into his or her privacy. And can still protect her or his individuality in the group. Smaller systems have smaller issues of privacy because a certain trust is ensured.

Creating a point-of-sale value

  • Privacy can be used as a tool to market a company. For instance "We dont tag and monitore our employees" or "Your information is safe with us", may be used as an advertising strategy to promise customers.

Reduce Crime Rates

One of the main reasons to increase pervasive technology is in the name of offering security, from crime, terrorism. This is a good way to convince any society to allow to be tracked.
If crime rates can be reduced through other means such as
  • "adoption is a good option"
  • Solving terrorism, not through war, but by using peaceful negotiations (being too Idealistic?)
  • By removing dependence on oil, which has been the reason for recent wars and provoked terrorism
  • Increased literacy, which encourages “reasoning”, through worldwide programs, and self-help groups
Use Feminism for Activism

  • Women in society tend to be more conscious to be private simply because of the hassles they face from anonymous strangers, and threats to their integrity. They also prove to be more proactive than men in the office environment. Which suggests that maybe we could target a female audience in someway and convince them to take this case further, in the form of protests, filing suits, spreading the word etc. If current issues can be solved, we might be able to create further consciousness with time as everyware begins to spread.

Will personal satellites solve the issue?

Well if we start looking at the database that stores data, we realize that it is the source of all our problems, because someone can access all our data, misuse data, use against or for satisfy vouyeuristic pleasures.

So I was wondering If we could all have private satellites, which stores all our data. The satellite is geo-stationary and it follows each individual who launched it. Then it serves us all sorts of personalized services, sends alerts to other satellites in case we get kidnapped, takes pictures of ourselves whenever we want, kind of like our shadow or imaginary angel. Would that solve privacy issues?

Of course, if all the billions of us could send a satellite up, we’d not see much of the sun or the sky. And we wouldn’t have any more energy left on our earth for our daily needs. Besides it would be way to expensive. And we could have satellites crashing into each other occasionally destroying with it all our memories, kind of like an Alzheimer’s disease. But its definitely an alternative we can think of when we are living a hundred years from today, and we face graver privacy issues.

Looking into Alternative Genres

Every system will have an opposing anti-thesis to create a certain balance in the system. For instance, how hackers keep a check on the software companies to maintain high security systems. Or how terrorists persuade a nation to monitor its people. Similarly, alternative genres of communication will keep a check on the system of everywares.

Ancient sciences such as telepathy, teleportation, ayurveda, yoga etc may become a way of life followed by a cult of people. It is possible, that a cult begins to re-create this lost way of life, to help them work out of the system. It is possible that we move towards a new way of life, in which an email is not sent via a chip injected into the brain using a network, but via a thought stream. This genre will keep a check on the system, as people begin to misuse these arts to achieve different tasks.