From baby monitors to fall sensors, from location trackers to gas detectors, the market is awash with devices connected to the internet that purport to assist relatives and carers in providing safety and care for children and elderly people. These IoT or smart devices allow at-a-distance or even automatic monitoring and even intervention in case of danger, freeing parents (or sons and daughters) for other tasks and commitments. But at the same time, these devices raise issues of privacy and autonomy and even risks of hacking, illegal surveillance or interference.
Conversely, children and the elderly may be not just passive recipients of IoT care, but also active and knowledgeable users of devices (“digital natives” and “silver surfers”), enacting new intergenerational family dynamics and engendering empowerment.
In a southern European country (Portugal), often characterized as an “early adopter” of technology but also with still a very traditional outlook on family roles (where “welfare society” still compensates much of the deficiencies of the welfare state, particularly in the care of the young and the elderly and infirm), what is the place of these IoT devices? Which families adopt them? How do they appropriate and use them?
This presentation aims to explore some of these issues, by drawing on a multi-method research approach, combining document analysis (for instance, of advertisement of IoT products, media articles), expert interviews (with regulators, consumer associations and IoT companies) and interviews with families. It is based on the ongoing research project Engage_IoT Social Engagements with the Internet of Things (funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology).