Last week, I forgot my phone while going out to shop for a new pair of shoes. The lesson isn’t that I’m forgetful. It’s what I learned when I forgot to do the three-tap (keys-wallet-phone) while heading out. You see, I didn’t actually end up buying the shoes I liked. They were a bit on the expensive side and I wanted to mull over it since I’m trying to curb my spending (thanks inflation!).
What is weird is that as soon as I logged into Facebook, I saw an ad for the shoe shop I went to and what’s more, the exact pair of shoes I was going to buy. How did Facebook know what I was going to buy? Especially since I didn’t even take my phone? The answer is disturbing: the machines know us far better than they let on.
To illustrate the point, I’m going to share an amazing project funded by Mozilla, which uses emotional recognition to make it painfully obvious that we simply cannot continue treating security as an afterthought, let alone continuing to be surprised at how much it can influence our thought patterns, spending habits, and even our political leanings.
“Stealing Ur Feelings” is an augmented reality documentary where the star is you. The six-minute interactive documentary uses the very same technology that big tech (Facebook, Google, Apple etc) are planning to use (they’ve filed the patents but it’s unclear whether they’ve deployed the tech or not) and shows how AI can determine what you’re feeling – and consequently, how the internet can change because you agreed to convoluted terms of agreements.
Noah Levenson, the artist and engineer behind the project, said:
Facial recognition is the perfect tool to extract even more data from us, all the time, everywhere — even when we’re not scrolling, typing, or clicking. Set against the backdrop of Cambridge Analytica and the digital privacy scandals rocking today’s news, I wanted to create a fast, darkly funny, dizzying unveiling of the ‘fun secret feature’ lurking behind our selfies.
When you open the website, it’s going to ask you to grant access to your webcam. Now, you just sit back in wonder as the documentary tells you whether you like dogs or not, your feelings about pizza and even estimates your IQ.
The stunning part is that this kind of data collection could be going on all the time and changing our internet experience, and we’d be none the wiser. AI could determine you look sad and show you more celebrity gossip in News Feed. Or something more sinister like estimate your IQ and share the data with a potential employer who already pre-screens your CV out of the applicant pool. And we haven’t even gotten to the part where a government could decide you don’t look happy enough when they pepper you with patriotic ads and what they do about it.
It’s a far better watch than read, so I recommend you do exactly that. Want to share your stories of just how creepy Facebook, Google, and other tech companies can be? Feel free to share in the comments below!