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Averting Robot Eyes

The authors argue that home robots will inevitably cause privacy harms while acknowledging that robots can provide beneficial services — as long as consumers trust them. This paper evaluates potential technological solutions that could help home robots keep their promises, avert their “eyes”, and otherwise mitigate privacy harms. The goal of the study is to inform regulators of robot-related privacy harms and the available technological tools for mitigating them, and to spur technologists to employ existing tools and develop new ones by articulating principles for avoiding privacy harms. Five principles for home robots and privacy design are proposed: data minimization, purpose specification, use limitation, honest anthropomorphism, and dynamic feedback and participation. Current research into privacy-sensitive robotics, evaluating what technological solutions are feasible and where the harder problems lie, is also discussed.

Abstract: Home robots will cause privacy harms. At the same time, they can provide beneficial services — as long as consumers trust them. This Essay evaluates potential technological solutions that could help home robots keep their promises, avert their eyes, and otherwise mitigate privacy harms. Our goals are to inform regulators of robot-related privacy harms and the available technological tools for mitigating them, and to spur technologists to employ existing tools and develop new ones by articulating principles for avoiding privacy harms.

We posit that home robots will raise privacy problems of three basic types: (1) data privacy problems; (2) boundary management problems; and (3) social/relational problems. Technological design can ward off, if not fully prevent, a number of these harms. We propose five principles for home robots and privacy design: data minimization, purpose specifications, use limitations, honest anthropomorphism, and dynamic feedback and participation. We review current research into privacy-sensitive robotics, evaluating what technological solutions are feasible and where the harder problems lie. We close by contemplating legal frameworks that might encourage the implementation of such design, while also recognizing the potential costs of regulation at these early stages of the technology.

"Averting Robot Eyes" by M.E. Kaminski, M. Reuben, C. Grimm, W.D. Smart Maryland Law Review, Vol. 76, p. 983, 2017