Terms of agreement: Rethinking consent for pervasive computing

E. Luger*, T. Rodden

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


With its emphasis on 'smart environments', the vision of pervasive computing raises critical concerns with respect to consent. When sensors capture data about people, and digital systems interpret and respond to that data below the line of user visibility, two fundamental questions arise. First, are current notions of consent relevant in the emerging class of pervasive systems and, secondly, what are the practical consequences of dealing with consent for such environments? This paper reflects on the key principles of consent and the challenges raised by pervasive systems through a review of multidisciplinary perspectives on consent and technology. The developing complexity and decreasing visibility of pervasive computing systems, coupled with the increasing value and sensitivity of personal data, mean that it is no longer sufficient to design systems that assume users capable of making informed decisions at a single moment. In particular, the unprecedented sensitivity of contextual data, and the potential harms associated with inferences made on the basis of that data, highlights the need to revisit our design principles. Many of these discussions are nuanced and implicate a broad range of perspectives; however, it is clear that there is unlikely to be a 'moment of consent' in pervasive systems. In order to progress this agenda we offer the following set of recommendations to designers, as considerations for future systems design: (i) electronic consent mechanisms (ECMs) must cease to be designed around 'moments in time' and allow for negotiation, (ii) systems should enable establishment of user expectations and development of norms, (iii) systems should be sensitive to third-party interactions and (iv) we should move beyond designing for user control towards designing for user autonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-241
Number of pages13
JournalInteracting with Computers
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013


  • consent
  • personal information
  • privacy
  • ubiquitous computing


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