The sense of smell helped early humans to survive. But now that our hunting and gathering has moved to the digital environment, our noses can no longer warn us of the lurking dangers in the online wilderness.

The Smell of Data is a new scent created to instinctively alert internet users of data leaks on personal devices.

A project by Leanne Wijnsma and Froukje Tan.

Learning from gas

In 1937, as a result of an unnoticed gas leak, a huge explosion occurred at the New London School in Texas, killing 295 students and teachers. After this tragic accident, the government decided to add a smell to scentless gasses to make leaks more readily detectable and to prevent similar tragedies. Since then, the number of explosions involving gas have dropped immensely.

Sensing leaks

Gas has no smell. Data has no smell. As recent privacy violation incidents show, data leaks can have serious consequences. That is why we developed the Smell of Data to warn Internet users of data leaks.


Smell is directly hardwired to the brain and it can call up action almost instantaneously. When the Smell of Data is associated with data leakage it will be able to function as a warning mechanism.

How to use
the Smell
of Data?

1. Scent dispenser

Charge the Scent dispenser with the Smell of Data.

2. Connect

Connect your smartphone, tablet or computer to the Scent dispenser via WiFi.

3. Data leaks

The Smell of Data recognises when you visit an unprotected website on an unsecured WiFi network or Hotspot.

4. Warning signal

The Scent dispenser will release a puff of the Smell of Data as a warning signal.

5. Protect yourself

Prevent your data from leaking, use the tips to protect you and your data.

Please note: The Smell of Data won’t secure your data for you. It is an alert mechanism for a more instinctive Internet.

Concept: Leanne Wijnsma, Froukje Tan
Smell: Leanne Wijnsma, ScentAir
Code: Jip de Beer
Scent dispenser prototype: Robert van Leeuwen
Design: Leanne Wijnsma
Camera: Froukje Tan, Leanne Wijnsma
Photography: Simone C. Niquille
Editing: Kristen Scharold
Website: Kris Borgerink

The code is released under Creative Commons: Github.
For the smell, contact Leanne Wijnsma.

Please contact us with ideas, code or future applications.

Amsterdam, 2024.

The Smell of Data is made possible by

And is currently supported by and further developed in collaboration with

A few hands-on tips to create a safer online environment for you and your data.

1. Only use secure websites

While surfing the web, you likely will stumble upon many unsecured websites. These sites pose a serious risk of data theft or privacy violation. When you are using an unsecured website, all data that is exchanged between the website-server and you, the internet user, is up for grabs. This means anyone is able to see your internet activity and steal your sensitive information such as passwords or private messages.

Keeping your data secure is important for many reasons, but one of the biggest risks of using an unsecured website is identity theft. With your personal information, someone can pretend to be you. With your login info, someone can send emails from your account, order things while paying from your bank account, or steal your money. Hackers can also spoof websites, so you might think you are on your banking website, but you might actually on the hackers fake website. This is why it’s so important to make sure your web surfing is secure. [Tips][Hide tips]

2. Use Public Wifi Safely

What makes a free WiFi hotspot desirable for consumers is exactly what makes it desirable for hackers: it requires no authentication to establish a network connection. With just one simple tool your data can easily be seen by anyone nearby. This makes it super easy for a hacker to steal your data because when you send information over the free wifi network, it can be rerouted directly to the hacker without you even knowing it. Every piece of information you are sending out on the Internet, including personal emails, credit card information and passwords, can end up on someone else’s screen. The only way to prevent this is to use Tor or only visit HTTPS websites. In the latter case, the hacker might see you visit a particular website but will not be able to access the information that is exchanged. [Tips][Hide tips]

3. Stop Online Tracking

Cookies are small text files that are placed on your computer by the websites you visit. When you accept cookies, you allow servers to identify you and remember things about you. Cookies are inherently harmless. They are actually a fundamental part of how the web works. The problem with cookies however is that they are used to track you. Everything you do online—every word you type and every Like you click—tells something about you. Detailed profiles are built based on your interests, spending habits, searches, etc. In this way a handful of big companies hold an enormous amount of personal data about millions of people. Depending on your browsing behavior it might also know your sexual orientation, what political party you support or if you have a medical problem. The collected data is being saved and sold to deliver targeted ads. But a huge risk of this data sharing is data discrimination. Based on the personal profile that is created for you, you might be charged differently than others for the same products. Imagine a hotel that is more expensive for you to book because of the street you live on or because of previous searches. Or a more extreme example: the price of your health insurance going up because of your personal data profile which reflects your health history. Another risk is ending up in the Filter Bubble. Because suggestions are only based on previous online activity, internet users can become separated from information that disagrees with their viewpoints, keeping them isolated inside a cultural and ideological bubble as a result. [Tips][Hide tips]

4. Know what you agree with

Terms of service are often too long to read. Clicking the “agree” button of a site, service or platform without going through the document of legal guidelines, rules and permissions happens all the time. The bright blue or happily green “agree” button tells your instinct that you can trust it. But there are a few things you're agreeing to, hidden in the 10 page document, that might change the way you use the web. Using a service without knowing much about its privacy policy can be risky. You often give permission for a service to use your photos and videos for whatever they want (i.e. Facebook) or you allow a company to track your IP address, location, and webpages you visited (i.e. Twitter, Google). Your personal information can easily end up in places you are not aware of. [Tips][Hide tips]

5. Leave no trace

Location tracking technology is becoming more and more common. A prime source of personal location data leakage is your very own cellphone. Marketers want to know your whereabouts at any time. Targeted ads can be sent to you right when you enter a specific aisle in the grocery store. Are the small daily choices we make still our own or based on an alghorhitm? Also governments have the ability to keep track of your location data and always know where you are, including going back in time to track where you were. All of a sudden the location of your device might turn out to be evidence for something you weren’t even aware of. GPS data is not always correct. In addition to these personal risks, the fact that all of our phones together can precisely highlight where a large crowd of people are in any given moment can also be risky. The data can be used commercially or for city planning, but also for crowd control or even possible attacks. Thankfully there are some easy steps to take to stop location tracking. Ensure that Big Brother stays out of your pocket by protecting your physical location. [Tips][Hide tips]

Further tips
Privacy settings update constantly. Make sure you are always up to date by keeping an eye on websites such as and

Thanks Douwe Schmidt, Sijmen Ruwhof, Jip de Beer for the tips
Also: Tor, ToS;DR, BoF, EFF, DT, HSW, Mashable, PCW

Use the contact form or email us: info [at] smellofdata [dot] com. Also:

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