Andy Greenberg at Wired points out an interesting project by one Julian Oliver: A printer that highjacks cell phone traffic. You may have heard of the StingRay, a device used by police (among others) that intercepts cell phone traffic by spoofing a legitimate cell phone tower. Well, Mr. Oliver incorporated a similar device in a standard-issue officer printer.
Why? Oliver was inspired by the common practise of disguising cell phone towers as trees, flagpoles, and other bits of the urban landscape:
For quite some time I’ve had an interest in this bizarre uncanny design practice of disguising cell towers as other things like trees. So I decided to build one into a printer, the most ubiquitous of indoor flora, and have it actually antagonize people’s implicit trust in these technologies.
Once a cell phone connects with the device, it sends the unsuspecting owner some dumb texts and prints weird things for them.
Oliver is not interested in selling copies of this device. The point is rather to undermine people's trust in the appearances of their technology.
Generally, people expect designs to be honest, that is, to be what they appear to be and not to be disguised in some way. So, people expect something that looks like a printer to be a printer and not a tracking device.
As this example suggests, one of the features in favor of honesty in design is that it helps people to get what they expect from a piece of technology. However, being accustomed to honest design may lead people to be overly trusting about what their devices are doing.
One way of addressing this issue would be to make the occasional dishonest design, just to keep everyone on their toes. Thus comes Oliver's spying printer but only as a publicity stunt.
Is Oliver's stunt indeed instructive?