Tuesday, 17 June 2008

User 927: The new paradigms of influence and their risks

User 927 is a play premiering in Philadelphia, based on the infamous AOL weblog incident of 2006 – you may remember the 650,000 search weblogs that were inadvertently "released" by AOL and earned notoriety for the assault on privacy.

The play's storyline centres around tracing the mind of the "user 927" through his/her (perhaps a his, given the search terms) search queries over the 3 month period. I followed the conversation a bit- it is positively uncanny how much the search log reveals about the individual… for instance, about user 64,XXX who over a period from march to july, searched for the following- "fat calipers", "getting pregnant", "how to beat morning sickness", "looking good whilst pregnant", "wedding gowns for the pregnant", then the search terms take a different tack-"abortion clinics in place X", "can Christians have abortions" etc- as you can see- you get a clear view of what they are thinking- an individual's search terms, plotted on a timeline, can be used to build out a complete psychological profile .

Think implications search terms can be used for:

  • For the next level of micro- marketing- which of course means that precision targeting and precision focus is possible, and the benefit is that as a consumer you will not be hit by annoying ads, but will be targeted by messages that are absolutely spot-on not only for your interest, but also in timing. We are getting smarter about getting the individual's Interests right with the advent of social networks, but timing of the message is still a bit of a hit-and-miss.
  • There is a billion dollar industry around matching partners (personal and professional)- this could be very well used to enhance the quality of that match
  • Remember the Tom Cruise film Minority report and "precogs"? well, search log analysis and psycho profiling perhaps could be used to target crime-doers before the crime is committed.
  • Once the net goes mobile (which it already is, by the way!), locational and map based services are also an exciting opportunity to target

That said though, lets not forget about the possibilities that open up on the risk side?

  • We have Big Brother watching- given the sweeping powers by regulation and state authorities (eg the Patriot act, authoritarian nation states' -china), search terms could be used for illegal surveillance of individuals and unlawful targeting
  • Also, what goes around comes around- how do we ensure that privacy and security concerns are rightfully being paid heed to?

Haven't we heard this before? With entirely new set of tools that give us more power to profile, we are faced with the choice of that power being wielded both for good and for bad- so how do we regulate so that we maximize the good and minimize the bad?


 


 

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