We believe that the connected home should respect several foundational values:
1. Privacy. We consider privacy a core value to be included throughout the design, manufacture, usage and end of a connected product or service.
2. Read, write, participate. As a matter of empowerment, people should be able to read, write and participate fully in their connected home.
3. Openness. Openness leads to more robust, resilient, and participatory products. For creators of connected products, we advocate for open practices and technologies paired with open reflection and documentation that can serve professional communities learning how to make things with these values.
4. Diversity and inclusion. The connected home is a safe space and must be designed with diversity and inclusivity in mind. This includes challenging assumptions about cultural context as much as taking into account socio-economic factors, gender and other forms of identity.
5. Security. Users and their data need to be protected from any party that might try to track, spy, or hack. Aggregate data needs to be anonymized in a way that guarantees that data cannot be traced back to identifiable users.
6. Sustainability. Sustainable sourcing and manufacturing as well as designing for end-of-lifecycle are important ecological and social considerations as well as an opportunity to position a connected home company better in the market place while saving their customers money.
These values can guide makers of connected products and services. By building these values directly into the products they make, designers and engineers can in aggregate positively shape the Internet of Things landscape.1
Our home needs to be a safe space. It must be respectful of its inhabitants, especially when it comes to sensitive information and personal data. As the home becomes more connected, data-driven services can put this safe space at risk.
Therefore, we must build safeguards such as:
- strong privacy default settings
- requiring clear and unambiguous consent from users
- contingency plans for data breaches
- strict transparency rules
- options to delete data
- and the ability to port data to other services
These safeguards will have to be backed with legal muscle and regulatory accountability for data service providers and technology companies.
Importantly, since many start-ups are creating connected home products, it is especially important to ensure these volatile companies adhere to these safeguards as well.
Privacy by design
Connected home systems should be private by design2 by following measures such as:
- Proactive not reactive; preventative not remedial
- Privacy as the default setting
- Privacy embedded into design
- Full functionality – positive-sum, not zero-sum
- End-to-end security – full lifecycle protection
- Visibility and transparency – keep it open
- Respect for user privacy – keep it user-centric
- The best way of protecting data is to not collect it in the first place
Best practices around consent help build users' trust in connected products. So far, user acceptance of smart home products has been limited, to say the least.
To foster trust, makers of connected products can ensure valid consent is explicit for collecting as well as its usage. This consent must be verifiable. Data controllers must be able to prove "consent" (opt-in), and consent may be withdrawn at any time.
Data breaches are a fact of digital life.
In Europe, there's already regulation in place to determine what happens in a breach.3 It must be reported to a supervisory authority, and individuals have to be notified if adverse impact is determined.
The best companies will go way beyond the legal minimum and proactively seek out users and propose actionable steps to remedy the situation.
Furthermore, users should always be able to delete their data. Again, the regulation in Europe is already in place.
The data subject has the right to request erasure of personal data related to him on any one of a number of grounds including non-compliance with article 6.1 (lawfulness)...where the legitimate interests of the controller is overridden by the interests or fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject which require protection of personal data.
Of course, how deletion works with aggregated data and big data sets is tricky. Nevertheless, these frameworks show how values around a user's control of their personal data can be articulated and advocated.
In addition to data deletion, users should be able to move their data across connected home services. Portability should be guaranteed even as a user moves across different companies' products.
As an innovation opportunity, connected products can offer easy data import and export functions as well as adopt standards that build in portability.
2. Read, Write and Participate
Everyone should be able to understand how the connected systems in their homes work. And from that understanding, everyone should have the ability to modify and adapt these systems to meet their needs and fully participate in their connected home.
To achieve that, users need both the skills to interact with these systems (literacy)4 as well as the technical features and functions that enable these interactions.
Users can see connected systems and understand how its parts interrelate. This includes aspects like being able to see actionable, contextual data and visibility in what happens in the system after certain actions are taken.
In practice, "reading" the connected home may be about recognizing common visual cues. Perhaps these cues are standardized symbols displayed on connected objects, or status lights that indicate what's happening to your data, or whether an object is actively listening to audio inputs.
The ability to "read" also applies to data that the home generates. These data sets could include maintenance reports, electricity usage, connectivity maps and more.
Users in the home should be able to read, evaluate and manipulate these datasets as well as understand the algorithms that create and compute with them.
Users should be able to modify their connected home, including the data and algorithms in it, as well as create new ones.
We should be able to query APIs in our home and to build bespoke services on top of them. It should also be possible to identify data that has been modified by other members of the household and to navigate permissions to accept or edit those changes.
Lastly, we should be empowered to fully participate in connected home and the data infrastructure that powers and augments it. This touches on aspects like sharing, collaborating, and open practices.
How can "connected home data" be documented and distributed to other households or contributed to the commons? For example, a home might generate interesting data about the local weather, which it can share with the neighborhood or national weather service. People in the home should be able to understand these kinds of contributions and participate in them when they choose.
Furthermore, how can people cultivate healthy relationships with the people they live with and next to through (and sometimes in spite of) connected systems? How can preferences be expressed and conflicts resolved in a way that gives individuals agency and control?
As our homes become more connected, we must preserve the ability to read, write and participate fully in them.
An open source motto says: If you can't open it, you don't own it. We should all be able to open—and change—the things in our homes.
Open practices for better connected products
Best practices from the free & open source (FOSS) movement—both in software and hardware—fully apply to the connected home.
Especially the positive effects of increased transparency and decentralized quality control can add essential additional security to connected homes.
Consider this as a rule of thumb: Bugs in proprietary software and apps are bad (or at least annoying) but often users can work around them. Bugs and security holes in your home are much worse, and due to the nature of networked complex computational systems, these bugs tend to compound.
In other words, security, resilience, and strong code is key for the connected home.
Diversity & inclusion
The home is a place that is particularly strongly shaped by cultural context and the "users" in it.
Open practices enable people to participate in the creation and use of technologies in their home. This accessibility fosters inclusion and brings diverse perspectives to what a connected home is for and what it can do.
Design & empowerment
Open practices apply not just to the making of hardware and software, but also to how we design and learning about the connected home.
Open design practices, combined with democratized manufacturing thanks to the maker movement, empower the residents of a home to maintain, fix, adapt, modify and improve their connected homes.
Home improvement takes on a new dimension when paired with open source code bases and open design resources, plus open networks of people learning and teaching each other how to hack their connected homes.
Networking & APIs
Services and products in the connected home should be as open as possible. An API enables others to bridge services and build new things by mashing up products.
Where full open source is not an option, a strong and well documented API can offer interconnectivity.
Sharing & learning
On the meta level, we encourage designers and developers to share as much of their learning, process and solutions as possible.
In a field as young and unexplored at the connected home, there is tremendous value to be gained by pooling insights, code, and designs. Openness and sharing encourages innovation as well as professional development and portfolio-building.
In aggregate, these open practices will create a more robust and welcoming ecosystem for the connected home.
4. Diversity and inclusion
The home must be a safe space. That means its residents must have the ability to shape it regardless of, and in response to, their gender, religion, language, ethnicity, origin, professional background, socio-economic factors or age.
This is no simple feat. Connected products and the code running them manifest values as well as biases and assumptions, as do their underlying business models.
When a connected home product is designed, the team might ask themselves questions like:
- What do our users look like?
- What are their needs, requirements, desires?
- What are they likely to want to use our product for?
- How do we expect them to interact with our system?
- How will we listen to and adapt based on what users actually go?
All of these are good starting questions, but they might not suffice. We think it is just as important to ask:
- How can we make sure this product doesn't just work well for an average user, but all users? What do our "edge cases" look like?
- How can our product degrade gracefully if it's modified, adapted, hacked? How if the business model changes or the company goes bankrupt?
- How can we make sure to design for a wide range of cultural contexts, for example with various numbers of users, across languages, and for different expectations of privacy?
- How can we make sure to allow for socio-economic inclusion?
- How can we design for gender inclusivity and equality?5
One way to designing for diversity and inclusion is to have a diverse team designing the product as well as testing it.
Including ethnographers and anthropologists also can add a lot of value.
And finally, it's worth remembering that a product made with diversity and inclusivity in mind also means it has a much larger potential user base, so it makes sense from a business perspective as much as an ethics perspective.
Computer systems are notoriously easy to attack once they are connected to the internet. The connected home is no different.
Historically, because of the relatively low distribution of smart home devices, security was a bit of a secondary concern.
Recently, with more and more reports of hacked internet-enabled baby phones, CCTV cameras and fridges turned into email spamming machines6, security became more of a priority both in the products' design process and communications.
We believe that tight security is absolutely essential. Users and their data need to be protected from any party that might try to track, spy, or hack—be it criminals, commercial entities or governments.7
Only then the home can be the safe space that is must be.
Aggregate data needs to be anonymized in a way that really guarantees that data cannot be traced back to identifiable users. This includes when data sets are combined with other sets, or in future big data scenarios.
Wherever possible, data should not be saved at all. The best way to prevent abuse of data is not to have it in the first place.
Connected home products and infrastructure are computing infrastructure. As such, they tend to be software-driven, and their life cycles are linked to the innovation cycles of the processor industry.
To avoid connected homes becoming the next main contributor to hazardous e-waste piles, we need to consider sustainability:
- Modularity in design can make it easier, cheaper, and more resource-friendly to replace broken parts and those that need upgrades.
- Open source, compliance to standards, and APIs can help connected products to do their job longer, for example when a mobile operating system emerges or falls out of fashion.
- Better, more ecologically and socially conscious sourcing of material and manufacturing can help reduce the footprint of a product.8
- Recycling and end-of-lifecycle should be considerations through the design and manufacturing process as well as ongoing user communications.9
Makers of connected home products need to make sustainability a priority.
We believe that companies strongly embracing sustainability ultimately put themselves in a better position in the market10—both from an ecological and social perspective (our planet and society can only handle so much more abuse) and because it makes sense for their customers (sustainability can lead to substantial savings in the medium and long term).
1. This set of values is likely to evolve over time as we explore more cases and scenarios. As part of the Good Home project, we drafted a list of more concrete design values, which we include here as a further inspiration: networked, communal, interdependent, participatory, readable, open, humble, adaptable, hackable, diverse, resilient, respectful, sustainable, perfect imperfection, one size does not fit all, local, careful, provocative, post-capitalistic, constrictively critical. See thegoodhome.org/values/ ↩
3. See the EU's General Data Protection Regulationen.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Data_Protection_Regulation ↩
4. We explore this in more depth in the article on connected literacy ↩
5. This starts from more straightforward solutions like dropping binary gender user profiles (male/female should not be the only option) or not asking for gendered user profiles to begin with (consider if they are really required for the core product), and goes into much complex questions of roles and power dynamics surrounding gender in the larger context of domesticity. Also, obviously, marketing. ↩
6. For some up-to-date examples, just search online for the terms "iot" and "hacked". You'll find plenty. ↩
7. We touch upon these issues in more depth in the article on surveillance. ↩
8. For consumer electronics, this is notoriously hard, especially at the resource level. Fairphone has been doing an exemplary job with their sourcing and the transparency around making a smartphone ethical and sustainable: fairphone.com ↩
9. For a great overview of the potential of closure experiences we recommend the excellent work of Joe Macleod available at closureexperiences.com or as an introductory talk recorded at Interaction16: vimeo.com/159666826 ↩
10. The B Corp structure is a promising way to encode values like sustainability in corporate governance: bcorporation.net As a prominent example of a B Corporation that does sustainable and fair production as well as recycling and end-of-lifecycle, look no further than Patagonia's B Corp Annual report 2014): patagonia.com/pdf/en_US/bcorp_annual_report_2014.pdf ↩