Researchers at Lero, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Software, and The Open University‘s Animal-Computer Interaction Lab believe that humans have an ethical duty to take animals’ privacy requirements into account when developing interventions that impact animals’ ability to fulfil essential biological functions, such as protecting vital resources, mating or raising their young.
The researchers have published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Animal Behavior and Welfare, arguing that privacy matters to animals and that technology designers should be mindful of animals’ privacy requirements.
Lero’s Chief Scientist Professor Bashar Nuseibeh and Open University (OU) co-authors Professor Clara Mancini and Dr Patrizia Paci observed that human activity has a massive impact on other animals, destroying natural ecosystems and the species that inhabit them, while expanding artificial ecosystems, such as factory farms, in which billions of animals languish.
“Among the most fundamental animal needs that human practises are disregarding is privacy, all too often regarded as irrelevant when it comes to other-than-human species,” the authors state. “Animals manifest a broad range of behaviours to manage privacy boundaries, disclosing or concealing information such as their presence, a resource’s presence, intentions and interests.
“And they do so through different mechanisms such as physical separation or proximity, hiding from or sharing with, deception and disguise or openness, in order to fulfil personal safety, sociality and intimacy, protecting assets, and securing access to mates.”
Professor Nuseibeh and co-authors analysed 22 scientific papers, published between 1966 and 2010, as the foundation for their paper: “The Case for Animal Privacy in the Design of Technologically Supported Environments”.
They observed that privacy matters to animals, and managing their privacy boundaries is vital for their survival.
“In the paper, we argue for the importance of accounting for animals’ privacy requirements when designing interactive systems and technological interventions for or that may affect animals,” they added. “In this regard, we discuss animal privacy as a design principle and explore the potential of privacy-aware systems to foster harmonious multispecies cohabitation and better animal welfare.
“By way of example, we envisioned possible privacy-aware applications relevant to free-ranging and confined animals. More generally, we propose the notion of privacy-aware multispecies interaction design, and encourage interaction designers to apply their knowledge and skills to ensure that their work contributes to the development of a culture in which everyone’s need to be left alone is respected for the benefit of all.”
The authors point out that human land use for settlements and transport takes over ground inhabited by wildlife who shelter, forage, and reproduce in dens, vegetation, and waterways.
“When roads and edifices are built, animals are either killed or displaced (a practice commonly described as ‘expropriation’ or ‘occupation’ when inflicted upon humans). With the exception of endangered and law-protected wildlife, there is little attention to the destiny of displaced individuals, who end up living in smaller and fragmented intra-urban natural habitats or attempt to repopulate their former spaces now occupied by humans.
“However, many urban environments do not provide the spaces and resources that many animals need to live in an ecologically equilibrate way, including the ability to implement and observe appropriate distance-setting mechanisms, particularly to regulate interspecies interactions.
“To survive, they end up crossing human boundaries through foraging refuses, nesting in buildings, trespassing properties, being consequently labelled as pests and disease vectors, messy scavengers, aggressive intruders, or a nuisance, and almost invariably removed,” they state.
Bashar Nuseibeh, who is a professor of software engineering, Clara Mancini, who is a professor of animal-computer interaction (ACI) and head of the OU’s ACI Laboratory, and Dr Patrizia Paci, who is research fellow in ACI, suggest that some of the responsibility for animal privacy might be fulfilled by enforcing existing animal protection laws or developing new regulations, as well as adopting more responsible approaches to software engineering that manage compliance with such laws and regulations.
“Laws are an expression of societal ethical values. Before the importance of animal privacy can be properly reflected in law, it needs to be acknowledged as a societal ethical value. Consistent with this, we call for a fundamental consideration of animal privacy in the design of technological interventions and the ethical values they reflect,” the three researchers added.