Investigating Trust in the IoT through comic books

Pastiche Scenarios are a type of scenario that mimick familiar literary styles or draw upon fa-miliar characters to explore the felt-life aspects of technology use as well as socio-cultural themes around technology. Three pastiche scenarios were presented as comic books to participants. At first, the pastiche scenarios were used as thought experiments to explore socio-cultural contexts for a fictional IoT privacy device called a Data Gate, by letting the characters drive the use of the technology. The scenarios were then used as prompts to talk about how participants might use the data gates in their daily lives. Using the comic books as a reference, participants were also asked to draw, write or narrate their own pastiche scenario based on a fictional character. 

The Godfather - CRIME

The construction of thought experiments around an IoT privacy device allowed new concepts, questions and consequences to emerge as lines of inquiry. For example, In the comic I created using the criminal mob-leader, The Godfather, the Data Gate takes the form of a golden ring and is misused for criminal purposes. How could the technology be misused for criminal purposes? What consequences would a technology have on law and order? Such a scenario makes it possible to think through the policy implications of personal privacy control, questioning the ambiguous and contentious nature of privacy itself.


Scrooge’s personality as ‘the miser’ and a person who is confronted by a past he fears helped explore what digital redemption (Jones, 2018) might cost. One of the short scenarios describes Scrooge’s encounter with a Smart Fridge. The Smart Fridge in question has the ability to playback and delete memories of Scrooge’s past, but only for a price. 

What happens when the creepiness of smart devices is compounded by device manufacturer’s economic policies? How does Scrooge’s miserly personality affect Scrooges negotiations about the value of his data and what would he be willing to trade for his legal rights? What place do data rights charters such as GDPR have in a data marketplace? What effect would the Fridge have on Scrooge if he was forced to confront his past self because it was too expensive to delete the stored memories? Pastiche Scenarios can open up HCI research in a rich way by discussing not only socio-cultural themes but also economic and political issues around technology development. The scenario with Scrooge helped unpack how the Data Gates technology might fit in to new economic models for IoT technology.


I developed a scenrio based on an episode from the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory (Lorre and Prady, 2007) that explored themes around consent and domestic relationships in the smart home. The protagonist, Sheldon Cooper is a geeky scientist who works at a research lab with his girlfriend Amy. Sheldon and his friends are a hyperbole of the nerd stereotype (Bednarek, 2012) - brilliant but socially awkward. Sheldon has a clinical and highly objective view of personal boundaries and sees his relationship with Amy as a contract. Sheldon admits that he has been tracking Amy’s menstrual cycle to find out when she is fertile. I adapted the opening lines of this scene to explore how Amy might use a Data Gate to draw boundaries in her relationship and negotiate consent with Sheldon. 

How can we occupy different digital spaces in shared physical spaces? For example, how can a couple that lives together in the same home keep their digital lives private? The Sheldon and Amy scenario revealed how data boundaries might be negotiated in domestic relationships using physical objects that behave like Talismans or Amulets. 

Four participants were recruited from diverse backgrounds. The participants were sampled from three different age groups (20-35, 35-50 and 60+) , reflecting diversity of generational and age-related contexts of technology use. The participants were from three different countries, providing a diversity of cultural contexts in which to study use cases of the Data Gates technology. The sample group consisted of two female and two male participants. Participants were primarily an opportunity sample recruited by circulating a participant recruitment flyer to colleagues and friends via email and by approaching friends, family and acquaintances. 

As part of the co-creation activities, participants were given a task to write, draw or narrate a scenario where a fictional character uses the privacy device presented in the comic books.


In response to the comic books, participants created their own scenarios based around the fictional data privacy device. One participant, for example, wrote a short scenario in which a character from J.R.R. Tolkein's 'The Lord of the Rings' stories use the data privacy device to protect himself from the harmful mental health effects of IoT surveillance.

“So Sam is tired of his friend and liege Frodo killing the vibe on their adventure. Frodo carries an all powerful ring which grants him the power of invisibility. This power to disappear is extremely useful for a hobbit whos short stature frequently puts them at a disadvantage in violent situations of which the hobbits will encounter many upon their quest. The ring enables the wearer to transcend the senses. One significant drawback of harnessing this powerful technology, however is that it reveals the wearers location to the most powerful evil in middle earth. Sam has noticed a trend between Frodo’s ring use and overt paranoid, the making of grandiose statements and a general degradation of their quality time. Sam has a solution, however. Data Gates. A wise elf who has foreseen frodo’s living breakdown told Sam that if he ever perceives a change in Frodo, he must attach the Data Gate to Frodo’s cloak. With this elven mod, the hobbits can harness the great power of the ring without sacrificing their personal safety and the campfires and singing can once again be enjoyed.” (Participant)

The participants responses to the comic books helped identify 'felt-life' aspects of IoT trust, proposing the designers and IoT policymakers should foreground ways of making people feel better about their IoT interactions, even if people's fears of the IoT may be grounded in less-than-scientific facts 

The results of this research contributed to a paper that can be accessed here The comics presented were created by the authors. 

Primlani, N., Blythe, M. and Marshall, J., 2022, October. Digital Rituals in Performance: Transitions to Internet of Things Trust and Security. In Nordic Human-Computer Interaction Conference (pp. 1-11).