Preserving and Measuring Privacy

Project Overview

Professor Ian Brown, Dr Joss Wright and Piers O’Hanlon from the Oxford Internet Institute will focus on techniques that allow humans to interact with robots and each other whilst balancing the desire for privacy against the need to share information in modern connected environments.  In particular they will seek to embed privacy in the design of robots. While robots can record and transmit what they see and hear, their research is trying to find ways to prevent robots from unnecessarily revealing the identities of those they have recorded

Professor Brown said: ‘When we begin to interact with friendly-looking humanoid robots, our expectations and assumptions shift. New questions arise about how much we trust these devices. Some people might develop an emotional attachment to them, particularly in situations where robots play the role of companions. It is important therefore that we design robots that have privacy embedded into their design, so their information gathering is restricted to what is needed to interact and carry out their tasks, and information about the identity of their human users is kept to a minimum. Otherwise, these robot “friends” could betray the trust of the people they come into contact with, passing on information to third parties.’

Professor Brown and his team will be examining the implications of robots in public spaces, specifically the issue around how much information is gleaned and stored, particularly as these sociable human-seeming devices could lead to us being less guarded about what we reveal.

The techniques being developed for providing information without compromising users’ privacy include matching people into groups with similar interests, either online or at social gatherings, without needing each person to share their interests. This would also allow commuters to search for car-pooling partners without broadcasting their home location and work route, which will be useful as self-driven cars start appearing on Britain’s streets. It would also help motorists plan routes allowing for rush-hour traffic without the need for pervasive monitoring infrastructures.

Image by Michell Zappa on Flickr