There’s a lot of noise about the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT). Estimates abound of the number of home devices that will be connected by year such and such. There’s also a rumble of unease amongst adopters about what this brave new world will eventually bring. What control will I have over the connectivity, so that I don’t tell them things I’d rather keep private? Consumers have a different, more personal relationship to their living space than they do with devices they use in public. Is my domestic space to be colonized by data droids? Will analytics end up transmitting the temperature of my bath water, the frequency of my lavatorial flush?
Notions of privacy are difficult to crystallize as they are intimately bound up with personal integrity and different individuals set different boundaries. It is not the same as security, which is swiftly identified as protective; keeping bad things away. At what point does a fully connected home become living in a gold-fish bowl? For mainstream consumers Internet enabled white goods appear to come from outer space. Can there be too much science in an appliance? Qualitative research can solve how best to bring IoT connectivity into the private realm, to explain benefits and explore limits.
What is meant by private can be more than resisting unwarranted observation. There’s an open-ended, creative dimension. Speaking at the launch of a book shop Jeanette Winterson said: ‘you hear this trendy stuff about how it’s the content that matters, you can stream it, have it on your tablet, but in a book you are carving out for yourself a self-contained, private space.’ She aligns the private with the formation of new thoughts. Everyone has a need for inner space: where corporations can’t see you dream.