What If An App Could Read Your Mind?

What If An App Could Read Your Mind?

The other day, my eight year old daughter showed me an app she had downloaded on our iPad mini. By facing the camera at her forehead, she can supposedly gauge the degree to which she has been “naughty” or “nice”.
The amusingly fake “metrics” it uses as part of its “algorithm” include things like “baths refused”, “tantrums”, “swear words”, and “school buses missed”.

As my daughter knows, children who are deemed “naughty” by Santa Claus, receive no gifts. A “naughty” judgment could be a potentially devastating blow, especially for a little girl who for the entire month of December eagerly anticipates the arrival of Christmas.

I was concerned she would take it seriously and be upset by any result less than “100% nice”. I was prepared to snatch the iPad out of her hands and immediately erase the app and slap a permanent ban on any future downloads of it by her.

Fortunately, that wasn’t necessary. She’s pretty savvy and aware for her age. She gets the joke.

But I couldn’t help but be just a wee bit curious. So I asked her to try it out on me.

She placed the iPad against my forehead, positioning the rear camera so it could — presumably — receive the signals which supposedly carry information revealing the inner workings of my mind.

After a few moments of “number crunching”, the app spat out its verdict:

“84% Nice.”

I was amused.

And it got me thinking. What if there were an app that could determine whether someone was either “naughty”, “nice”, or somewhere in-between? How implausible is this idea, given how much data is stored about us?

And how would such a number be used? Would it be like a credit score, which has the power to determine our creditworthiness, and therefore the interest rates that banks and credit card issuers charge us for borrowing their money?

As most of us know, our browsing data is already being mined extensively and used to deliver ads that are supposedly tailored to our interests.

I visited one site recently that featured a new cloud-based application that promises to build your website for you automatically, with just a few bits of general design and content guidance from you, and some artificial intelligence magic, provided by them. Since that single visit a couple weeks ago, I’ve been bombarded by ads for it, and on just about every site I visit.

This is not a new phenomenon. And it’s not likely to end anytime soon.

Just this week, Twitter followed the lead of Google and Facebook when it announced that it’s going to identify the other apps on your device so they can serve you more targeted ads.

We should expect to see more of this ahead. The debate over online privacy will continue to rage on.

In the meantime, I’ve reassured my daughter that Santa will definitely conclude that she’s been nice this year, which means she can expect to receive gifts from him. I’ve already emailed her wish list to him, and she has retained a hardcopy of the list in her “files” — just to be sure.

As for me? I’m going to try out the new, ad-free social network that promises not to sell my info to third parties: ello.

What concerns you the most about digital privacy? Or the lack thereof? I’d like to hear from you in the comments.

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