Functional privacy concerns of older adults about pervasive health-monitoring systems

Andrew McNeill, Pamela Briggs, Jake Pywell, Lynne Coventry

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Technologies designed to support ageing can be deemed to be ageist in that they often exhibit a benevolent paternalism that tries to ‘protect’ older people. Often this involves gathering extensive data to monitor physical and cognitive decline at the expense of an individual’s privacy, with an underlying, often implicit, assumption that older adults no longer need much privacy. We consider such issues in the context of a project which seeks to promote the well-being of older adults. We conducted interviews with 20 older adults (10 males, 10 females, mean age=73) to ask, under what health and wellbeing circumstances would they wish to protect their privacy? Using thematic analysis, we uncovered six distinct reasons why older adults want to maintain privacy: protection from harm, autonomy, to present a positive social identity, to break free from social norms, to protect others, and to protect their own self-concept. We conclude that privacy is a highly valued resource for older adults and one that enables them to live fulfilling lives. We consider the design implications of our findings, noting that designers should aim to protect privacy from the outset, rather than viewing privacy as a ‘bolt-on’ that would inhibit data collection under specific circumstances. These concerns speak to the ‘paternalism’ agenda, in that older adults should be considered as active agents in the management of their own data disclosures.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPETRA '17 Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on PErvasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9781450352277
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2017


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