Evading Big Brother

A write up of the methods and findings from our HDI Network funded project has been published in the Journal of Visual Communication, Volume 21, Issue 3.

Our article “Evading Big Brother: Using visual methods to understand children’s perception of sensors and interest in subverting digital surveillance” can be found online here:


Testing Countermeasures

The second phase of our HDI Network research project with children involves testing the inventions created by kids in phase 1. As the inventions are speculative, this is less about practical testing and more about seeing what other children think of the concepts that were created.

To do this testing during lock down restrictions we have created a website that helps us facilities a conversation with participants about device sensors, and allows them to provide feedback on the inventions created by the children in phase 1.

The illustrations were created by Juliette Coquet, the website was created by Arman Ataman and Dimitrios Menexopoulos.

Co-Designing Sensor Disruptors With Children

As part of our HDI Network funded research with children, we have been running a series of creative workshops to investigate children’s attitudes towards the sensors in common smart devices.

The workshops have included a series of activities which allow children to explore their relationship with smart devices using creative and artistic methods. These include imagining the secret inner-space of their devices, and designing speculative tools and inventions which allow them to deceive the sensors embedded inside the devices.

Below is an example of a speculative device designed to block the sensors on a child’s smart watch. More details about the project and the outcomes will be published soon.

A child's sketch of their invention for a device which blocks the sensors inside a smart watch.
A child holding a model they've created of a smart phone sensor blocker
an animated render of speculative smart watch blocker

Countermeasures Network Event

We will be holding our first Network Event for the HDI funded Countermeasures project “Giving children better control over how they’re observed by digital sensors” on Friday 5th February. This event will be a chance for members of our project network, including Royal College of Art, University College London, Glasgow School of Art, Dubit, Technology Will Save Us, Projects by If, Kids Know Best, BBC, and Glück Workshops, to meet and discuss the key themes of Kids, Technology, and Data Ethics.

The theme for the fist event is Observed/Unobserved. We will be exploring what insights we as a community of researchers and experts have already gained about how children use sensor-enabled technology, and also considering what questions and issues still need to be addressed within our different disciplines. 

If you’re interesting in attending the event, tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/countermeasures-tickets-139375268179

More information about the event can be found below.

HDI Network Funding

We’re pleased to announce that we have won funding for the project from the Human Data Interaction Network to continue research for the Countermeasures project.

The HDI Network is a UK EPSRC Network Plus, focused on research which increases understanding and control over how our data is used by applications and systems. More information on the network can be found on their website here.

The Countermeasures project was funded through the theme of Surveillance and Resistance, which looked for projects which designed methods of resistance against data surveillance.

Our project is titled Countermeasures: Giving children better control over how they’re observed by digital sensors”. It aims to take the concept of tool kits for lying to objects, and apply it to the context of children’s use of technology.

Children face particular risks of data surveillance when using technology. They are frequent users of sensor-enabled devices such as phones, tablets, TV’s, game consoles and smart speakers. However, they are often not the owners or intended users of these devices, as legally their parents may be the device owners and account holders. They might be less aware of, or have less consent over, how the data generated from these devices is used.

The project seeks to address these issues by researching the following questions:

  1. What understanding do children have of the sensing capabilities of the digital devices they use?
  2. To what extent does a child’s understanding of digital sensing affect their exposure to surveillance?
  3. What practical methods of sensor blocking or disruption are most suited to provide children with agency in relation to surveillance?
  4. How does the knowledge and use of sensor-disabling tools affect children’s attitude towards digital sensing?
  5. What would children’s ability to alter data collecting sensors mean for the kids media industry?

We will be running co-design workshops with children aged 8-12, to find out more about their knowledge of the sensing abilities of their devices, and to design tools for blocking or deceiving the sensors they commonly encounter.

The co-designed tools will be developed into an open source tool kit, which others can use to gain agency over the way they are observed by sensors.

CHI 2019 Paper

On the 9th May I presented my paper “Countermeasures: Learning to Lie to Objects” at CHI 2019, as part of the Alt.CHI series – the part of the conference for critical, artistic, and avant garde approaches to Human Computer Interaction.

The abstract for the paper is: 

Ubiquitous computing is leading to ubiquitous sensing. Sensor components such as motion, proximity, and biometric sensors are increasingly common features in everyday objects. However, the presence and full capabilities of these components are often not clear to users. Sensor-enhanced objects have the ability to perceive without being perceived. This reduces the ability of users to control how and when they are being sensed. To address this imbalance, this project identifies the need to be able to deceive ‘smart’ objects, and proposes a number of practical interventions to increase user awareness of sensors, and encourage agency over digital sensing through acts of dishonesty to objects.

The paper can be viewed at the ACM website here. You can also view a video of the presentation.