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Strangers in the Room: Unpacking Perceptions of 'Smartness' and Related Ethical Concerns in the Home

William Seymour‚ Reuben Binns‚ Petr Slovak‚ Max Van Kleek and Nigel Shadbolt


The increasingly widespread use of 'smart' devices has raised multifarious ethical concerns regarding their use in domestic spaces. Previous work examining such ethical dimensions has typically either involved empirical studies of concerns raised by specific devices and use contexts, or alternatively expounded on abstract concepts like autonomy, privacy or trust in relation to 'smart homes' in general. This paper attempts to bridge these approaches by asking what features of smart devices users consider as rendering them 'smart' and how these relate to ethical concerns. Through a multimethod investigation including surveys with smart device users (n=120) and semi-structured interviews (n=15), we identify and describe eight types of smartness and explore how they engender a variety of ethical concerns including privacy, autonomy, and disruption of the social order. We argue that this middle ground, between concerns arising from particular devices and more abstract ethical concepts, can better anticipate potential ethical concerns regarding smart devices.

2020 ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems