Tijmen Schep's Open Source Candle Project Combines Smart Home Tech with Privacy

Created by Shep and "a group of Dutch technologists," Candle offers smart home functionality without sacrificing the user's privacy.

Designer Tijmen Schep is demonstrating how voice-activated assistants and smart home systems don't have to go hand-in-hand with an abdication of privacy rights through Candle, a project which has created a functional prototype of a privacy-centric smart home — and which is providing the ability for anyone to follow in the project's footsteps.

"Candle is an example of a privacy friendly smart home of the future. The primary goal of the project is to stimulate companies to produces privacy friendly devices," Schep and colleagues explain. "The secondary goal is to allow anyone to build their own copy of our prototype, so that they may help us spread the message that more privacy friendly smart homes are possible.

"We are a group of Dutch technologists, designers and thinkers, most of us from Amsterdam, who felt that we could inspire the market by creating examples of the products we would like to see. Our goal with Candle is to provoke the market into creating the products we would be willing to buy. Protecting privacy is better for consumers, but it also makes business sense. Just as the market for ecological food has exploded in the past decade, we foresee a similar growth for ethical technology in the decade to come. We hope to be a part of that change."

The project builds on a 2016 book by Schep dubbed Design My Privacy: 8 principles for Privacy Design. The team's prototype was officially unveiled at Dutch Design Week 2019 featuring a privacy-centric focus by Shep, aesthetic design by jeweler Dinie Besems, the ability to deliberately falsify data added by Jesse Howard - meaning, Howard explains, that a teenager could bring home a date without the CO2 or particulate sensor ratting them out - and a gateway which can immediately disconnect the smart home from the internet on-demand or on-schedule. "Hackers have gotten sophisticated enough that they will try to take over smart home devices at night," Schep explains, "so any disruption in service won't be noticed."

The prototype is currently on display at Spring House, described as "a club house for radical innovators," where visitors can try out the technology for themselves. The company's website, meanwhile, offers instructions for building your own version of each of the prototype's devices out of off-the-shelf components like Raspberry Pis and Arduino-compatible microcontrollers — a means to get the Candle technology more broadly tested while still looking to convince manufacturers of its merit.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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