Innovation That Matters

Internet security

Internet security gets its own smell

Work & Lifestyle

A new device uses scent to warn computer users when they are at risk of a data breach.

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Security is an ever-present concern on the Internet. We have seen a number of apps and devices that address the need to keep data secure, from an app to secure information storage to an earphone that can prevent leaks of confidential information. But no one has yet suggested warning people of possible data breaches with smell – until now. Just as in the 1930s, a pungent smell (mercaptan) was added to natural gas to warn people of leaks, a cultural researcher has now devised a project that uses smell to warn of potential data leaks.

Dutch designer Leanne Wijnsma received a grant from the Dutch Cultural Media Fund to research and develop her project, the Smell of Data, in collaboration with filmmaker Froukie Tan. Wijnsma created a scent dispenser and a unique scent – the Smell of Data. Users connect their smartphone, tablet, or computer to the dispenser via WiFi. The dispenser will recognise when the user visits an unprotected website or an unsecured WiFi network or hotspot and will release a puff of the Smell of Data as a warning signal.

The Smell of Data will not secure your data, it is designed as a tool to help people develop a more instinctive approach to Internet security. Wijnsma designed the scent herself, with help from a specialist lab. She chose a scent with metallic and citrus overtones, with the idea of bringing to mind metal components; with the citrus acting to energise the user to take action to fix the breach. The Scent of Data has been developed as a concept, which will be exhibited in Amsterdam, along with a short film about the work, but Wijnsma is considering manufacturing the product for sale in the future. What other novel uses might there be for smell to act as a warning?




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