Surfacing ‘Surfing’: Accounting for Digital Practices Within the Home

The Personal Information Hub (PIH) at the heart of the UCN project raises many questions for how personal digital data is managed in future. Of particular interest is pervasive sensor data, for example from smart homes, where the ‘personal’ in personal data becomes a group (e.g. a family) rather than an individual. Shared devices, such as tablets and laptops in the home, create similar ambiguities around ownership. This talk during the 4s/EASST conference (Barcelona Aug 31- Sept 2) explores how such data can potentially render previously unseen activities observable, and hence accountable, to other members of the setting. Examples from UCN studies will be presented which show how this accountability is managed by members through the deployment of various strategies. This work carries implications for both understandings of ordering in the home, and the design of data management systems.

Systems of data logging and retrieval have always been central components of accountability within the professional sphere. This talk will explore the implications of such a technology within the domestic sphere, in the form of an Internet logging and visualisation tool. This technology was created under the noble aspiration of giving individuals knowledge and control of their own data, data that is currently harvested by digital service providers for profit, and elements of the state for monitoring.

The project this study is a part of is one of many similar programmes seeking to nurture a digital citizenry, whose empowerment stems from the conviction that ‘data is power’. Internet use in the home has traditionally been subject to ‘natural accountability’ (Garfinkel 1967) just as any other practice is, but contemporary technologies – particularly mobile devices – render many digital activities unobservable to others (consider, for example, the difficulty parents face in surveilling the activities of their children online). Furthermore, the mundane and deeply embedded nature of Internet use in daily activities even limits observability of one’s own activities.

The talk will consider existing accounting practices around Internet use within domestic contexts, before analysing the accounting work conducted by family members when their activities are surfaced by network logs. The talk will conclude with a discussion of what the consequences of such technologies of accountability in the home might be, where hierarchies of power are multifaceted and dynamic.

More about 4s/EASST 2016:

Posted in Uncategorized