Challenges and Opportunities of Lifelog Technologies: a literature Review and Critical Analysis



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4. Discussion


As the results section showed, the debate around ethical issues offers an interesting discussion on a rich variety of challenges and opportunities concerning lifelogs. However, there remain important ethical elements, which have been neglected in the literature so far and need further analysis. For one, the variety of goals, sources of data, and users of lifelogging has not yet been accounted for in the current ethical debate. There is a need to reassess the challenges and opportunities with regard to specific goals, devices and users because the various domains of application and devices trigger idiosyncratic challenges and opportunities. Hence, some of the already identified challenges and opportunities are not applicable or have different weight in a particular context. Others have not yet been identified. For instance, there is no reference to the self-surveillance of soldiers or other officials in the current literature, even though programs such as the aforementioned DARPA project ASSIST or LifeLog show a clear interest in lifelogs by governmental authorities. Also, there is little written about the challenges and opportunities that occur when corporations are entitled to hold or access lifelogs.12 This is noteworthy as the history of lifelogs demonstrates that companies have a strong interest in holding vast amounts of information about individual people. This poses various challenges and/or benefits as corporations and governmental institutions exert real influence. Unfortunately the assessment of the weight of the various challenges and opportunities covering most domains of use falls outside the scope of one article. In order to discuss the weight of the challenges and opportunities for these domains, we first have to clarify the concept of lifelogs and lifelogging and identify the potential goals and users. Secondly, we will show that challenges and opportunities have different weight when lifelogs are applied in different contexts. Thirdly, we provide our own ethical analysis. We focus on one specific domain, namely lifelogs used by consumers for reasons affecting lifestyle. One challenge particular to this domain is discussed which has been underdeveloped in the discussion is the choice of keeping lifelogs. Finally we will present a general approach to alleviate concerns with the choice of keeping lifelogs.

4.1. The goals of lifelogging


A lifelog provides an insight into a person’s life. There are various goals for lifelogs. Dodge & Kitchin (2007) call the functioning of a lifelog “autobiographical” (p.7) but this is confusing as it is the lifelog and not the users that provide meaning and significance to data by processing data into information. Rather, a lifelog provides access to a ‘history’ or ‘biography’ of the parts of a person’s life that are lifelogged. In this sense, the lifelog is commissioned rather than written by the individual. Another common metaphor is something in the manner of lifelogs as a “portable, infallible, artificial memory” (Bell & Gemmell 2007) but this metaphor has its flaws. The information a lifelog contains can surpass the information one obtains through experience. For instance, identification software can recognize people in photos whom you did not notice at the time, GPS and WiFi can track distances more accurately than a person’s guess, and a heart rate monitor can measure heart beats. Some of this information goes beyond our perception let alone what we can remember. In addition, the information stored is only associated with a particular part of the memory as they contain solely quantifiable information. Also, the kind of information a lifelog can contain is limited as discussed in section 3.1.2.

The particular goals of a lifelog are manifold. Moreover, different agents will have diverse motivations to use the lifelog, e.g. medical institutions use lifelog services for different reasons than an individual consumer. The following examples demonstrate this:



  1. Lifelogs can be used to benefit health or improve medical practice. Some authors considered lifelogs or specific lifelog devices to have the potential to serve as a therapeutic tool (Allen 2008; Bell & Gemmell 2009; O’Hara, Tuffield & Shadbolt 2009). The SenseCam, for example, can serve as a mnemonic device to support patients at an early stage of dementia (Piasek, Irving & Smeaton 2011).

  2. The use can be corporate: This can have productivity goals. By increasing knowledge about the behaviour of employees and feeding back this knowledge, employees may improve their performance at some task or they may even improve by the knowledge of being monitored (Rawassizadeh 2011). Also corporations can reap safety and security benefits as the following of procedures and caring for the self can be an instrument for the well-being of the employees. Corporations will be better able to target and tempt customers by using their lifelogging information.

  3. Governmental institutions could profit from lifelogs either because lifelogs provide them with more information about citizens which was the case with the DARPA LifeLog project (DARPA IPTO) or they can equip soldiers with lifelogs as is the case with the soldier body suits which are aimed to provide digital memories from the battlefield (Schlenoff, Weiss & Steves 2011, Shachtman 2004).

  4. Individuals could also choose to create a lifelog for many different reasons: they feel a personal need to create a lifelog: they might enjoy the activity of lifelogging or the information they obtain from the lifelog; they feel that a lifelog is a requirement to participate in their social community; they are just curious. The Memoto is marketed to these people.13

4.1.1. Users of lifelogs


As there are many potential goals, also there exists a variety of potential users for which lifelogs are designed. Our working definition left these undefined. We can distinguish at least 4 different kinds of users for which a lifelog can be designed:

  1. Private individuals: Individuals can create a lifelog about themselves. This seems to be the most discussed form of a lifelog within the ethical debate about lifelogs.

  2. Corporations: Corporations are ignored as potential users of lifelogs in the current academic debate on the ethics of lifelogs. However, they might be the main users of lifelogs via equipping employees with lifelog devices. Currently, Stanford University is developing a life archive, which seems like a lifelog, about William McDonough’s working life as a sustainable architect (Flemin 2013).

  3. Public institutions: Public institutions can also use lifelogs by providing patients with lifelog equipment. Medical institutions may use lifelogs as some treatments and therapies can improve or depend on monitoring the patients. There is already work done on lifelogs for dementia patients. Also universities could use lifelogs as an instrument to obtain data for all kinds of research or advance their technological abilities.

  4. Governmental organizations: Despite DARPA’s LifeLog project and DARPA’s ASSIST project, governmental organizations are mostly neglected as potential users. For example, lifelogs could be beneficial when deployed to monitor soldiers in battle.
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