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"It Becomes More of an Abstract Idea‚ this Privacy" − Informing the Design for Communal Privacy Experiences in Smart Homes.

Martin Kraemer‚ Helena Webb‚ George Chalhoub and Ivan Flechais.


In spite of research recognizing the home as a shared space and privacy as inherently social, privacy in smart homes has mainly been researched from an individual angle. Sometimes contrasting and comparing perspectives of multiple individuals, research has rarely focused on how household members might use devices communally to achieve common privacy goals. An investigation of communal use of smart home devices and its relationship with privacy in the home is lacking. The paper presents a grounded analysis based on a synergistic relationship between an ethnomethodologically-informed (EM-informed) study and a grounded theory (GT) approach. The study focuses on household members’ interactions to show that household members’ ability to coordinate the everyday use of their devices depends on appropriate conceptualizations of roles, rules, and privacy that are fundamentally different from those embodied by off-the-shelf products. Privacy is rarely an explicit, actionable, and practical consideration among household members, but rather a consideration wrapped up in everyday concerns. Roles and rules are not used to create social order, but to account for it. To sensitize to this everyday perspective and to reconcile privacy as wrapped up in everyday concerns with the design of smart home systems, the paper presents the social organization of communal use as a descriptive framework. The framework is descriptive in capturing how households navigate the ‘murky waters’ of communal use in practice, where prior research highlighted seemingly irreconcilable differences in interest, attitude, and aptitude between multiple individuals and with other stakeholders. Discussing how households’ use of roles, rules, and privacy in-practice differed from what off-the-shelf products afforded, the framework highlights critical challenges and opportunities for the design of communal privacy experiences.

Book Title
International Journal of Human−Computer Studies (IJHCS 2023)
International Journal of Human−Computer Studies