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



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4.1.2. Sources of data


Finally, we can provide some clarity into the nature of the devices used to lifelog. There is a broad range of devices which can be (made) suitable for lifelogs. Whilst the ethical relevance may not be immediately clear, this distinction is ethically relevant because the devices will trigger different ethical concerns as the manner as well as the information that is obtained is relevant. Unfortunately an overview of all devices cannot be given as future development leaves open the exact devices which will be used. Nonetheless, we are able to identify the general characteristics of these devices:

  1. Wearable devices: Wearable devices are devices that function while carried on the body. Memoto, ZEO – a device that measures sleep quality –, and the SenseCam are wearable.

    1. Inward facing devices: These wearable devices measure and capture physical conditions of the individual such as heart rate, glucose levels, and bodily temperature.

      1. Implantable sensor devices: A particular subset of these devices is invasive, i.e. they are in the body. This has ethical relevance especially if lifelogs are required by third parties such as governments or corporations as this could mean that the bodily integrity of a person is violated. An example of such a device would be a subcutaneous sensor device which measures glucose using blood samples.

    2. Outward facing devices: These devices measure capture physical conditions about the environment instead of the individual. Examples are the SenseCam and Memoto capturing the environment in which the individual is situated rather than the individual (even though the SenseCam is also able to sense bodily heath which makes it somewhat of a crossover between inward and outward facing).

    3. Online activities: Not all data are captured by sensors that measure physical conditions. Some of the data are about digital activities. These data include amongst others visited websites, emails and can be sourced from any wearable device which allows one to participate in the digital realm.

  2. Environmentally embedded devices: These devices are embedded in the environment in which the person is situated rather than worn by the individual. Examples of such devices are energy usage meters, smart televisions or magnetic stripe cards holders when entering a room or building.

    1. Online activities: Same as above. Examples of devices are desktop computers or smart televisions.

  3. Third party information: Some data are obtained from third parties. Various different third parties could provide information about the individual, such as financial or health institutions.

4.1.3. Weighing challenges and opportunities

Challenges and opportunities weight differently depending on the goal, device and use. It is outside the scope of this article to assess the weight of all challenges and opportunities in all potential domains of use. We will briefly provide two challenges to show the importance of context.



  1. Privacy: If we compare issues with privacy for the use of lifelogs by private consumers for reasons affecting lifestyle with lifelogs worn by soldiers and deployed by the military to obtain information about the battlefield, we encounter ethically relevant differences. For one, third party access for lifelogs used by the military is not an undesirable side effect; indeed, it is the reason why these lifelogs are developed. In case of lifelogs held by private consumers, access by third parties such as authorities requires further justification, for example, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Second, control over information by the subject of the lifelog is of lesser importance in the case of military use than for private individuals. Lifelogs for soldiers would be part of their professional routine rather than a technology where use is free of commitment. Indeed, it might be crucial for the functioning of the lifelog that the soldier cannot temper with information as the military might require highly reliable and comprehensive information whilst citizens may reasonably demand more control for ethical reasons. Third, the issues with outwards facing devices are altered as the soldiers on the battlefield will be in situations in which their counterparts will be aware of being lifelogged and will probably be lifelogging themselves. Moreover, in the case of military use, lifelogs can protect the people being logged as the lifelog can be used to scrutinize the behaviour of soldiers requiring the soldiers to uphold the right standard of conduct.

  2. Impairing social interaction: As we have mentioned, a challenge identified with regard to lifelogs is that social interaction can be negatively affected by lifelogs. When we compare lifelogs to aid persons with dementia in obtaining some information about their daily goings-on with private or corporate use of lifelogs, this challenge has little or no weight to the former while some weight to the latter two. Persons with dementia may feel they gain more control over their lives if they can review events while you can hardly argue that these lifelogs diminish their ability to socially interact. However, if we consider lifelogs for private individuals or corporations then this issue gains more importance. If lifelogging devices worn by employees are used for managerial decisions, this could potentially silence the employee as information would increasingly be obtained from the device. We have already discussed the potential effects on individuals. Importantly, these ethically relevant differences demand specific approaches to alleviate ethical concerns and reap the benefits.

4.2. The choice of keeping lifelogs

Unfortunately, due to the variety of possible lifelog applications, it is impossible to address all issues of lifelogs within every possible domain. For this reason, we decided to narrow our discussion to some underdeveloped aspects of the choice of keeping lifelogs with regard to lifelogs for private users for purposes affecting lifestyle. Despite the rich academic debate on these kinds of lifelogs, there are still challenges which need to be identified. Individual consumers may use a lifelog because they enjoy the activity of lifelogging, value its information, or consider lifelogs necessary to participate in society. These lifelogs are not imposed by corporations, authorities or other institutions through rules and regulations. Moreover, there is no immediate professional or medical need to use the lifelog, which does not rule out that there might be professional and health-related advantages arising from them.

First of all, when discussing private users keeping lifelogs for purposes affecting lifestyle, there remain issues not addressed in the literature we uncovered. We focus on the choice to keep a lifelog as a more comprehensive discussion of all remaining issues would exceed the limitations of an article. We have already addressed informed consent (above), a similar issue, as part of privacy. The choice of keeping lifelogs has implications for values such as privacy that are influenced by the access and control of information about the person. Second, we provide a general approach to alleviate issues relating to the choice of keeping lifelogs. This approach is predominantly applicable to this specific domain of application. If we would consider other domains, such as lifelogs for persons with dementia or for soldiers on the battlefield, an altogether different approach might be required.

With regard to the choice of keeping lifelogs in this domain of application, we first focus on the information available from keeping lifelogs, which could profoundly impact our daily lives. Against this backdrop, we explore concerns about lifelogs kept by persons with reduced competence. Finally, we discuss the voluntariness of holding lifelogs.


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