Individual Mass Manipulation

There is great commentary on how and why Facebook’s infamous “emotion study” is unethical. The main point being that the researchers and Facebook violated the “informed consent” principle of research on humans.

There have been other “individual mass manipulation” studies. e.g. you could tip the outcome of close elections by manipulating search results. But manipulating the mood of people on a massive scale is “new.” Don’t get confused, I don’t mean it like “they try to influence what we’re thinking through TV and ads.” I mean individual manipulation. Different things are manipulated in varying amounts for everyone individually … basically anything that claims “to only show you the X most relevant to you” falls into this category (especially if they don’t offer a way out of the filter bubble).

But what should we do, now that we known we have the tools to enforce emotions? Why not actually press the “button of happiness“?

Imagine if Facebook could have a button which says “make the billion people who use Facebook each a little bit happier”. It’s quite hard to imagine a more effective, more powerful, cheaper way to make the world a little bit better than for that button to exist. I want them to be able to build the button of happiness. And then I want them to press it.

My dystopian senses tell me: it will be used, but not in the way suggested above. We can probably draw some conclusions from the fact that one of the authors’ work is funded by the DoD. Why would the DoD (or any military/government organization for that matter) fund anything useful to the general good of mankind?

I see three use cases manipulating emotions:

Or to put it more eloquently:

… large corporations (and governments and political campaigns) now have new tools and stealth methods to quietly model our personality, our vulnerabilities, identify our networks, and effectively nudge and shape our ideas, desires and dreams.
I identify this model of control as a Gramscian model of social control: one in which we are effectively micro-nudged into “desired behavior” as a means of societal control. Seduction, rather than fear and coercion are the currency, and as such, they are a lot more effective. (Yes, short of deep totalitarianism, legitimacy, consent and acquiescence are stronger models of control than fear and torture—there are things you cannot do well in a society defined by fear, and running a nicely-oiled capitalist market economy is one of them).

I think put it best in their conclusion (German):

The problem that these kinds of experiments and the systems that actually enable them pose is not that they are illegal, creatively or intentionally evil. This isn’t the case even if it might feel like it.
Instead [the problem is] that they’re only a tiny step away from legitimate everyday practice. That they look a lot like ordinary ads. That they sit on top of an already-accepted construction of reality by non-transparent providers. That because of their scale and stealth they can be so efficiently and easily hidden. That they don’t devise our loss of control, but only exploit it.

The actual study: “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” (PDF)

They Used to Say That About Content

Facebook wants you to help them optimize their ads. You’re supposed tell them which ones you like or dislike so they can replace the ones you didn’t like with other you might “like more.” … This seems so bizarre … In essence Facebook is telling you to curate their ad stream for you the way you curate your own content stream. In doing so they blurt out things like

giving people more control about the ads they see


show you the ads that are most relevant to you

Is it just me, or is this exactly the way they used to talk about content?!? o.O

Android Headphones With Volume Buttons

N=2 is a important milestone in any empirical data set. I’ve now successfully tried two “Galaxy compatible” headphones with volume buttons with my Nexus 5 and I can now say with confidence:

All “Galaxy compatible” headphones work with a Nexus 5. 😉

I’ve actually tried the following headphones:

  • Samsung EHS64
  • Sennheiser MM 30G

Both the call/mute and the volume buttons work.


Declaring People Terrorists so They Don’t Become It

Remarkable (para-)phrase attributed to French examining magistrate Marc Trévidic :

Declaring people terrorists–who are not–so they don’t become it.

This is to become the basis for new French “anti-terror” legislation.

I couldn’t find the original (French) quote, but a German translation of it.

Es gibt Leute, die man als Terroristen kennzeichnet, damit sie es nicht werden.

Which translates into something like

There’re people who get branded terrorists so they don’t become it.

Poetic APIs

During PyCon 2014 Erik Rose gave a very insightful talk about dos and don’ts of designing APIs. Towards the end he “gets meta” and groups all his points into categories drawing connections how different design goals influence each other. You see two main groups–”lingual” and “mathematical”–and he closes with this gem: 😀

This spotlights something that programming languages have over ordinary human languages. Programs are alive! They not only mean things when people read them, but they actually do things when run. So, very literally a program with carefully chosen symbols is poetry in motion.
— Erik Rose (PyCon 2014)

Passwörter und Fingerabdrücke mittels Smartphone abfilmen

Forscher der TU Berlin haben herausgefunden, dass die Frontkameras von Smartphones so gut auflösen, dass man an den Reflexionen in den Augen oder Brillen Passwörter auslesen kann.

Außerdem gelang es auch Fingerabdrücke mittels Rückkamera beim Greifen nach dem Gerät abzufilmen.

… man kann es auch als Nachtrag zu diesem Paper sehen.