Smell of Data

The sense of smell has help early humans to survive. But since our hunting and gathering has moved to the digital environment our nose can’t warn us anymore for lurking dangers of the online wilderness. The Smell of Data will become a new smell that instinctively warns internet users in case of data leaks by releasing a warning signal when personal data is at stake. The Smell of Data is a project in which science, technology and design meet.

The Smell of Data website
Smell of Data Twitter



The Smell of Data is a research initiated by smell designer Leanne Wijnsma and filmmaker Froukje Tan. Our project however relies on teamwork. We are collaborating with data experts, scientists, laboratories and perfumers. The project will take shape as a documentary film following the process of developing the smell (which is currently being developed by ScentAir in the United States). The project is as much about online privacy protection as the future of smell in digital interaction and experiences.

For this next step in the project however we need your help. As the smell is being finalised we need a way to present it and prototype a near-future speculation of how our electronic gadgets would emit this smell. How would our laptops, smartphones, tablets, routers, smart home devices release smell to warn their owner of a data leak?
We have a collection of electronic smell dispensers as well as apps/plugins (see below) that recognise data leaks. But how can the two be connected to diffuse the Smell of Data? Can a data leak detected by a browser plugin, trigger an electronic smell diffuser attached to your laptops USB and release a warning signal?

The Challenge

A working prototype! No matter how crazy, big or complicated. We’d love to see/hear/experience your ideas and experiments. The aim is to build a prototype that can be presented along with our documentary film at the Science Museum in London this August. The working prototype doesn’t have to be efficient and user-friendly. We’re especially looking for speculative (yet prototype-able) proposals of integrating smell in electronics. Depending on the prototype we are interested in considering to find finances (possibly through Kickstarter to further develop and realise the product and release it with The Smell of Data.

Electronic smell options to explore

We have been collecting various ways of digital scent diffusion. The Scentee for example is an amazing small gadget from Japan that is plugged into the audio jack of your smartphone. Triggered by the Scentee app, it gives off the smell of coffee when you receive an e-mail from your boss or the smell of roses when you receive a text from your lover. The Scentee is a possibility to hack our way to releasing the Smell of Data…We can imagine possibilities with this tool since it is already driven by software.

Further, Smell USB sticks which simply start working as soon as you plug them into your computer or other energy source and emit relaxing fragrances. They don’t work with software (yet) and are simply powered by the laptops energy. Some electric humidifiers are also powered by USB rather than an electricity socket.

Other electric scent diffusers like room fresheners can also be used to experiment and we also have a small electric scent fan that works with a timer and has a motion sensor.


Apps and Plugins to play with..

There are already many apps and plugins on the market that help us using the internet in a safer way. A few examples: “TL;DR” is a plugin that rates the privacy policy of many big websites and services, such as YouTube and iTunes. When installed, internet users receive a notification if they enter a website with a privacy policy that is not ok.
“WiFi Assistant” is an Android app that automatically turns your WiFi function off as soon as you leave your house or office. “Disconnect Me” is a plugin that blocks cookies from being saved when browsing the web.

Even though those apps are very useful, they are not instinctive, and therefore used way too little. For The Smell of Data we don’t have to build a completely new app or plugin, but should be able to make use of those existing and user-friendly apps, and simply add the smell. One place where they come together could be a possible option.

What is this for?

The Smell of Data will be presented at the Science Museum in London as part of an exhibition “Big Data Tracking” (working title) at the end of August of this year. We also plan to present the Smell of Data prototype at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven.
The documentary film, which will also feature the prototype, will premiere at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam in November 2016 and will be broadcasted on VPRO online.