In this article, we developed a conceptual framework that helps explain how people form an opinion about the use of sensor technology to improve safety and quality of life. We developed this framework by studying top-down surveillance and differentiate between three personal dimensions and three sensor-related dimensions; all of which can affect people’s attitudes. Based on real-life examples and research on public perceptions, we identified factors that may play a role in what people think of sensor surveillance. These factors can be slotted into our conceptual framework; they support that framework and they also help to define it.
What does this mean for our ongoing research? We conclude this article with two thoughts in that regard. First, we show that our framework can be used to examine public perceptions of other types of sensor surveillance. Second, based on our conceptual framework and survey of possible factors, we offer two suggestions that will help us assemble the focus groups.
1. Applying the framework to other types of sensor surveillance
Although we developed our conceptual framework by studying “top-down” surveillance, the framework is also suitable for examining perceptions of other types of sensor surveillance.
Below, we show that the three dimensions of sensor applications are also relevant to sousveillance, horizontal surveillance and self-surveillance. This gives us a better understanding of some relevant differences and similarities between the various types of sensor surveillance.
Different types of sensor surveillance are often based on the same technology. For example, video cameras are used for “top-down” surveillance (CCTV), sousveillance (smartphone cameras) and horizontal surveillance (security cameras at the front door of a private home). There are also differences. The police and the general public may use different sensor technologies, for example.
Social practice and actors
There are key differences between different types of sensor surveillance in the “social practice and actors” dimension. In “top-down” surveillance, the government and businesses use cameras and other sensors to keep an eye on the public. Earlier studies have shown that people care about who precisely is collecting and using the sensor data. Is personal information being used by public or private parties, and for public or commercial purposes? Which rules apply to these parties?
Sousveillance is interesting in that the “viewing direction” is reversed: the public operates the camera to keep an eye on the authorities and businesses, for example by videoing police officers or emergency services on the job. The viewing direction changes again in horizontal surveillance, with people being videoed by and videoing others. In self-surveillance, people use sensors to track and monitor themselves (see Figure 2).
These various viewing directions do not only change the operator (the person collecting and using the sensor data) but also the individual about whom sensor data is being collected, as well as the reasons for collecting that information and the purposes that it serves. According to the SurPRISE researchers, these are all factors that may affect whether or not the public finds a sensor application acceptable.
Societal, cultural and institutional context
“Top-down” surveillance relates to trust in the police force or a business, for example. Horizontal surveillance and sousveillance relate to trust in other people, including the question of whether they comply with privacy law, for example. It is also the case that the rules that apply to the police and municipal authorities differ from those that apply to businesses and the general public.
2. Suggestions for the focus groups
We aim to bring together a variety of different opinions and attitudes in the focus groups. We will do this by presenting small groups of ordinary Dutch people with scenarios in which sensors and sensor data are used to improve safety and quality of life.
To what extent do ordinary people find these sensor applications acceptable, and why? When do people in fact expect sensors to be used to improve safety and quality of life? What reasons, experience and emotions underpin their views? What advantages and disadvantages do they see?
We want the focus groups to discuss as many aspects of the perceptions of ordinary Dutch people as they can. Based on our conceptual framework and survey of possible factors, we have developed two suggestions that will help us assemble the focus groups.
These suggestions refer to the two basic principles of our conceptual framework: someone (the subject) has an opinion about something (the object). People’s perceptions are influenced by their personal traits and by the characteristics of the sensor application:
- Make sure that the group is diverse and do not lose sight of the individual: We are interested in “public perceptions”. That sounds abstract, but the point is to examine the opinions and experience of ordinary Dutch people. We have seen that someone’s personal traits, general attitudes and immediate social environment may influence their view of sensor applications. Factors such as age, gender, education and the neighbourhood where someone lives may play a role. These are all aspects that we must bear in mind as we attempt to recruit a diverse group of participants. In addition, it could be useful to examine people’s attitudes – for example whether they generally trust the police – before discussing specific sensor applications with them.
Ask participants about the key dimensions of sensor applications: We can generate diversity in the scenarios by varying the three key dimensions of sensor applications. Public perceptions may concern the sensor technology that is being used, the specific practice and parties that are involved, and the societal, cultural and institutional context. Does it matter to someone what type of sensor data is being collected? Does it matter whether the data are being collected by the police or by a private security firm? How about the person whose data is being collected – is that important? Does the perceived trustworthiness of the local police officer or the police in general play a role? And do “being videoed” and “shooting a video” influence the extent to which people find a sensor application acceptable?
We will use these suggestions to help us develop a method for the focus groups. The police can also use these suggestions when discussing the socially responsible use of sensors and sensor data with persons within and outside their organisation.