Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is your game console spying on you?

I was astonished to read that companies and researchers may be able to use your game console to study a great many aspects of your life, personality, reactions, etc - and won't necessarily tell you about it. Here's an excerpt from Slate's report.

Jaeyong Sung and his colleagues at Cornell University are looking at whether a Kinect could assist people by recognizing their activities—automatically detecting, for example, if someone is brushing her teeth, cooking, or opening a pill container. The models were highly accurate (84 percent) at categorizing behavior for people who the system had seen previously. But even more impressive was how it categorized new people. If someone new visits your home and walks past the video-game console, it still recognized that person’s behavior 64 percent of the time.

Microsoft Kinect motion sensing input device for the XBox 360 video game console
(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

And over the past eight years, in experiments my colleagues and I conducted for car companies like Toyota and Nissan, we used tracking software to detect hundreds of subjects’ facial movements as they cruised through virtual streets in a simulator. We then built mathematical formulas to predict what we called “the pre-accident face”—the nonverbal pattern that occurs seconds before the driver exhibits bad behavior, including swerving, lane violations, and even collisions. The two most predictive facial features for major accidents: the center of the lower lip and the center of the upper lip.

The automobile companies funded this research in the hopes of incorporating in-car solutions that can prevent crashes. For all the potential benefits of this research, though, it would also be possible to use it in more controversial ways. Just imagine the debate that would ensue if insurance companies were granted access to our nonverbal driving histories, allowing them to charge higher rates to drivers who made telltale expressions.

There's more at the link. Disturbing reading, but probably essential if you're to retain even a shred of privacy.


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