Data protection concept targets your nose

Smell of Data project attempting to add your senses back into the protection equation
Written by John Fontana, Contributor

The Olfactory Internet is upon us, and data protection now has a smell that's targeted at shielding users from unprotected Wi-Fi and unsecured web sites.

Dutch experience designer and self-described "escapist and empiricist" Leanne Wijnsma, along with filmmaker Froukje Tan, have created and documented the concept of associating data leakage with a real-world smell.

The idea came from comparing gas leaks and data leaks. Odorless gas can be deadly so a scent is added to protect people from harm. Wijnsma is using that same concept with data.

​Copyright: Simone C. Niquille

The concept now has code and a hardware device (see photo) that connects to a computer and emits an odor warning the user that they are in sketchy territory.

This isn't technology for securing data; it's an alert mechanism for what Wijnsma calls the instinctive internet. A sense of smell helped early humans to survive, but it can no longer protect us in the "online wilderness," according to Wijnsma's The Smell of Data web site. She says smell is hardwired in the brain and can immediately call a person to action. This reality, she says, creates a warning mechanism. As an empiricist, she subscribes to the theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses.

In 2013, Wijnsma was shaken by Edward Snowden's revelations of global surveillance, and she began thinking about the lurking dangers on the internet. Surveillance was the norm and on the rise, and Wijnsma felt she was losing grip on her own data. Privacy, tracking, and terms of service became concerns.

So she set out to address some of these issues.

Her Smell of Data concept includes a scent dispenser that connects via Wi-Fi to a smartphone, tablet or computer. The device recognizes when the user visits an unprotected web site or unsecured Wi-Fi network or hotspot, and emits a puff of a scent to warn the user.

The code is available on GitHub under a Creative Commons license. The scent is available through Wijnsma.

The five episodes of the Smell of Data film can be found here.

Editorial standards