People can request that Google obscure their property on Street View. Computer vision automatically obscures faces and number plates before photography is published. (Photo: Screenshot/Google).

Our homes are on the internet

Services like Google Earth and Google Street View and Uber’s move into mapping make our personal surroundings easily available to everyone on the Internet. Satellites and cars with cameras go past our homes, taking images of what’s going on outside our homes, what kind of net curtains we have and what colour our front door is.

They are outside the human scale. We don’t know when they go past us and we can’t communicate with them. It’s impossible to preempt them or tell them to not take photos of our surroundings. This means if we object to these images being available, we have to wait until they’re published and go through a process to remove them.

And people do. This street in Berlin, and many others, have several buildings blurred out, a consequence of the privacy concerns discussed in Germany when Google Street View launched in 2010. Many sensitive areas across the world have been obscured on Google Earth.

People use stickers like this to broadcast their intention to not have junk mail put through their door, before it happens. We’re interested in how this thinking can be applied to how digital services collect our data. (Photo: Marine Schepens/IF).

New letterbox stickers

When I was younger, I delivered leaflets. I knew what houses didn’t want them because they’d have a sticker near the letterbox that said “no leaflets”. What’s interesting is that people’s intention to not have leaflets put through the door is expressed before it happens.

“The right to object” element of the GDPR gives people the power to stop organisations from processing your data. I thought about how our data is collected now, and how our objection to it being processed is usually made after it has happened. It’s interesting to explore how the sentiment from these old stickers can be carried through to digital services.

Part of a home broadband router’s setup, our prototype illustrates what the interface for home privacy control looks like. (Photo: Screenshot/IF).

Giving people more control

This prototype explores a possibility that people can tell companies that collect imagery to not show images of your home. I imagine that when you get a new home broadband router, part of the setup process would involve deciding whether you’d allow street view or satellite photography to be published. There’s other things like preventing your WiFi network information from being recorded that could be included.

But this idea isn’t just about opting out. For some people, satellite imagery and street level photography is useful and enjoyable – to see the changes to their home over time. Think of a farmer who wants frequent, higher resolution pictures of their land, to know how their crops are growing. Or a shop owner who wants more recent images of their shop accessible to the public, because they’ve put up a new sign. This prototype explores the user need of wanting photographs by being a service where people can make these intentions known.

What’s important is that people have their consent understood before information about our personal spaces are put online. I think this prototype is a first step towards that.