Privacy Dimmer

By Peter Bihr

Privacy in the connected home is fuzzy. It’s a tricky business as data about our activity is tracked by our homes, analyzed on the internet, and then translated back into some kind of service or convenience for ourselves. Due to the networked nature of a connected home, intuitive understanding of the underlying mechanics often elude us.

privacy dimmer sketch

The matter gets even more complex the moment we are not in full control of these sensing-and-processing settings like we are in our own homes, but when we enter someone else’s place: If two or more “privacy preferences” collide, what happens?

This is why in the connected home, we need a radically simple, intuitive interface to control our privacy. A blunt instrument that turns up privacy (by turning down “sensing”, ie. the home’s sensors tracking our activity) across all the connected things in the home. We need an interface that is easily readable for everyone around.

Privacy in the connected home is a spectrum, and we should have fine-grained control over it.


Taking this notion as a starting point, the privacy dimmer asks questions we will be facing more and more frequently as more homes get connected: How do we communicate what level of “sensing” and data analysis we are comfortable with in a connected environment? What’s our individual balance of data sharing versus privacy, of value brought about by a smart home versus the price we pay in data? Where does each of us draw the line of what to share, with who, and in which context?

The privacy dimmer consists of a set of two objects: A dimmer installed in the room, and a keyfob.


The dimmer on the wall allows residents to turn down “smartness” in the connected home: What type of data (voice, video, vital signs, wifi signals, etc.) is sensed, processed, and acted upon. Dimming means more privacy and less proactive “smart” behavior by the home, for example in the evening as the day winds down into personal time. Turning up means less privacy but a more proactive behavior by the home, for example in the morning as residents get organized for a busy day.

Privacy Dimmer by Peter Bihr

The privacy dimmer keyfob represents and broadcasts my personal data sharing consent and preferences. Once set up via smartphone app, the much more intuitive, reduced, haptic interface of the keyfob allows to quickly change the bearer’s data sharing consent depending on their context: At a trusted environment like a friend’s home, data sharing consent might be turned all the way up; at a work dinner, in a hotel room, or a stay at a rental apartment data sharing consent might be turned down accordingly. In design the keyfob (or necklace, or bracelet) can range from extravagant fashion statement to the boring and banal, from explicit to oblique.

Upon entering a connected environment, keyfob and the home communicate automatically and check if both the host’s and the visitor’s data preferences are compatible. If they are, nothing happens and all proceeds as is. If they are not, the keyfob gives a subtle feedback via status LED or vibration to indicate potential conflicts so the bearer can decide to address the issue with the host and ask to dim the house’s sensing or, in more extreme cases, decide not to enter at all.

Design values addressed: Provocative, Readability, One size does not fit all, Respectful, Open Source