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This 'Smell of Data' Device Emits an Aroma When Your Data Is Leaking

A more instinctual approach to data security.

Samantha Cole

Imagine: Leanne Wijnsmam

Created by Leanne Wijnsma and Froukje Tan, the "Smell of Data" project explores the concept of dangerous data leaks. Like gas leaks, which were given a detectable smell in the late 30's, Wijnsma and Tan experimented with assigning potentially harmful data practices a scent to warn when you're leaking data.

They made a working prototype to test their concept, Wijnsma told me in an email. They wirelessly connected it to a phone, laptop or tablet over WiFi. If it detects a public hotspot or otherwise unsecured connection or website, the palm-sized device spritzes a warning puff. It's like an air freshener for your sloppy internet habits.

Scents can evoke powerful responses from our mammal-brains, connected to memories, fear, and evolutionary survival—reactions that we don't have in the virtual world, but might need when, say, we're logging on to our bank accounts in a public place and putting our identities at risk over unsecured connections.

"From now on we can also smell when out personal data is at stake, so that internet users are more aware of the many traces they leave behind and are instinctively triggered to take action," Wijnsma said.

She describes the smell as "a bit metallic," with "essences of citrus." Could be worse. Could be rotten eggs.