Dezeen Magazine

Smell of Data fragrance alerts internet users to leaks of their private data

This grenade-shaped scent diffuser has been designed to alert internet users of data leaks from their smartphones, tablets and computers.

A smell of data

The Smell of Data fragrance bottle releases a metallic scent when a user encounters an unprotected website or Wi-Fi network on their devices.

Leanne Wijnsma and filmmaker Froukje Tan created the product in response to concerns about data security on the internet. The project aims to educate users about what is going on with their data.

Wijnsma and Tan evolved the concept by researching the human response to gas leaks.

"Compare the Smell of Data with the smell of gas," said Wijnsma. "We were taught to find this smell dangerous – and we know exactly how to act when we smell it."

A smell of data

The designers were particularly inspired by a 1937 explosion in the US state of Texas that was caused by an unnoticed gas leak. The incident prompted the government to artificially add scent to odourless gases, making them more readily detectable.

Wijnsma and Tan received an e-culture grant from the Dutch Cultural Media Fund to develop Smell of Data in 2014 and launched it in September 2016 at the Science Museum in London.

They will also present the project at the Manifestations exhibition during Dutch Design Week 2016, which runs from 22 to 30 October in Eindhoven, The Netherlands.

The bottle, with its many sides and transparent shell revealing internal wires, is a prototype designed for exhibition display.

A smell of data

Wijnsma and Tan are exploring whether the product can be turned into a more wearable item, possibly jewellery, to improve its usefulness.

As an increasing number of our everyday items become connected to the internet, designers have raised concerns about personal data security.

In a previous article on Dezeen, architect Rem Koolhaas expressed concern about lack of privacy with smart-home systems.

"There is a potentially sinister dimension to, before you know it, being surrounded by a house full of sensors that can follow you on the moment of entry," he said. "It creates, in my feeling, unhealthy knowledge of your personal behaviour preferences."

A smell of data

These internet-based technologies are vulnerable to hacking, according to experts, at which point personal information is no longer private.

Wijnsma and Tan were also inspired in their project by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who increased awareness around the issue of government surveillance through computer networks.

"After Snowden's revelations a discussion about privacy started and awareness of possible risks was raised," said Wijnsma "People started caring about their privacy a lot, but I was surprised that real action, even though sometimes simple, was hardly taken."

Project Credits:

Concept: Leanne WijnsmaFroukje Tan
Smell: Leanne Wijnsma, ScentAir
Code: Jip de Beer
Scent dispenser prototype: Robert van Leeuwen
Design: Leanne Wijnsma
Camera: Froukje Tan, Leanne Wijnsma
Photography: Simone C. Niquille
Editing: Kristen Scharold
Website: Kris Borgerink