New Age Privacy

Julia Nacsa

Júlia Nacsa
Dec 15, 2015 · 6 min read

Preface

Imagine landing in Europe in 2035: new borders, maybe even new names, all built on the ancient heritage we have always known. In the recent decades, digital information dramatically increased its value; data became a global currency, along with natural resources like gold, oil, silicon, tantalum or water. All that’s precious on Earth needs to be mined.

The value of data has changed the way we started thinking about using technology. As consumers, we reached our pain threshold: we were slowly awakening to realise our importance in the jigsaw puzzle of tech giants. Decision makers were pressed to regulate harvesting, selling and mining our data. Recently, some up-and-coming startups have innovated on their business model: they gave up on being the sole owner of user-generated data. They see their customers as datainvestors, who demand full transparency into what their data gets used for.

Such thinking started to penetrate municipalities, non-profits and health care services as well. They strive to become nimble in responding to what citizens need and want. Except, they don’t ask people’s permission; they harvest, mine and analyse data generated on city streets and inside homes. The justification? “It is for a greater good”, so that everyone equally enjoys their social benefits. We praise proactive interventions that predict and prevent anything unfortunate. The result? No traffic jams, accidents or epidemics; less uncertainty, no serendipity. Giving up on truly living for a perfect life’s sake.

We didn’t completely run out of problems, though. Now that we rid ourselves of small annoyances, we could finally shift our focus towards truly daunting challenges: making food and water shortages, learning disabilities and lifestyle diseases history. As a good citizen, it is our duty to contribute with whatever we have — data or knowledge. Nobody forces you, nor can you get tax cuts or insurance discounts. You do it for your family, for the future, for yourself.

Just like any other currency, data is not bulletproof against devaluation or theft. Hackers a nd cryptographers still fight an endless chain of battles, trying to outsmart one another. Storing and sharing data still holds significant risk: what if my data gets in the wrong hands? Now that we are all vested in this, self-education and control becomes ever more crucial.

Underneath the stylish decorative finish, our homes are equipped with all kinds of sensors, jotting down everything about our lives onto silicon chips, without us noticing anything. How we move around, what we consume, how we are developing. We used to quantify our bodies only, today, we are quantifying our society as a whole. The benefits of your data are beyond your own self, it keeps us all out of trouble. Home as a safe haven has never been more important. We need a place to retrieve from all the collective responsibility and decision-making.

We live ever more private lives. We don’t take it lightly to let data out of our home.

We were craving for data control, and we have grown to understand the great responsibility that comes with it. The more data-savvy amongst us created tools to consciously share our data with entities we trust, for causes that truly matter to us. Imagine peeking into a home in 2035. Family life looks ever so slightly different.


Vignettes of a Future Home

Home-made

It was almost dinner time, just enough for Mia to get ready. As the steak was searing in the pan, she heard the car door shutting; she was so excited. As soon as Alan, her husband, and her daughter, Lana stepped inside the house, their tastebuds got triggered by the warm smells in the air. Every occasion to eat natural food was special. For Lana, it was nearly impossible to imagine that her parents used to have such flavourful meals every day. Mia taught her daughter already: real food was not as healthy as the machine-made, but sometimes it was worth breaking the rules for taste. While Lana was helping her father to clean up the table, her mother dialled the farmer’s markets with the Data Passage. Lana couldn’t recall a time when Mia missed this ritual after dinner, even though she didn’t understand why. Mia explained to her, “The supermarket need to know how much food people will actually buy. This way, we can buy real food whenever we feel like”.

Checkups

Mia took out her contact lenses, getting ready to sleep. She suddenly remembered: her samples were due for diabetes screening. Since she got pregnant, she felt as if all her steps were being watched, “for her own good”, of course. She got the lenses scanned quickly. She knew the drill — the results will be ready for her in a few hours. “So far so good, blood sugar level is normal, good enough to share,” she thought, and she took the Data Passage to the bathroom to share her anonymous data with the local hospital. A few days later, at the next meeting with her pregnancy support group, Mia and other moms-to-be were left startled. “Look, the Health Center sent us even more supplements and superfood. Our sugar levels are truly under control.” they said jokingly.

Dedication

Lana was fighting with her homework for literature class. She was trying over and over again. The sentences just didn’t make sense. She kept losing focus of what line she was reading on the page. The letters got tangled up into words she had never heard before. With a deep sigh, she shut the book loudly, and went back to building the Lego robot of her dreams. Mia came into her room; she glanced at the pile of untouched books on the desk. Just like yesterday, or every day in the past months. She had a hard time comprehending how a 6-year old could assemble complex mechanics, while having trouble learning to read. Everything hightech has been made so easy to reach, but real learning challenges were left unresolved. She sat down by her daughter, who was immersed in her creative flow. “Are you reading this book? This used to be my favourite,” she said, grabbing Dr. Seuss from the stack. Lana gave in to her mom’s nudging, and hit up the book. As she was reading out loud, Mia kept correcting her misread words. Later that day, Mia walked in Lana’s room with the Data Passage in her hands. She could see the disbelief and shame in her daughter’s eyes. “I thought you said we can’t take that in my room,” Lana asked. “I know, but I will break that rule now. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea for us to let the school know so much about what you do at home, but now I think it might help them to see how you are getting along.” Mia had always been doubtful to share anything with the school about Lana, but the fear that her daughter’s learning troubles might go unnoticed was just too much to take. “Your teacher knows you very well already, but we will see if this helps or not,” she comforted her daughter, and let her play with Legos for the rest of the day.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

Júlia Nacsa

Written by

Interaction designer. Currenly making noise @mimihearing. @frogdesign @ideo @umeadesign alumna.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

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