Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Controlling People Using Mobile Apps

Photosynth is software that combines multiple photographs into one three-dimensional space, allowing viewers to explore multiple sides of a landmark, for example. A TED Talks video is embedded below that demonstrates how this works. The problem with Photosynth and similar, crowd-sourced documentation of real space is people who capture images to share with others don't always stray from the beaten path.

Researchers from Northwestern University have published the results of a study showing that people are easily encouraged to change their daily patterns using incentives. The researchers installed an augmented reality game on the phones of participants, who would then explore campus "zapping" ghosts in different locations. The zapping motion actually takes a photograph of the location. The McCormick School of Engineering web site explains:

Unlike a regular “augmented reality game,” where the ghosts might be placed randomly, in Ghost Hunter the researchers are able to manipulate where the ghosts are placed; while some are placed in frequently traveled areas, others are located in out-of-the-way, rarely photographed locations.

The researchers call this "soft" control, in reference to social control, a theory of behavior control that includes using incentives to regulate human behavior.

Two University of Texas at Austin School of Information PhD students have used a similar approach to encourage gamers to visit libraries in order to unlock secret content.

While these two approaches to manipulating behavior range from positive to benign, there is tremendous potential to use similar techniques to encourage mobile phone users to do everything from go out of their way to visit a different store, to change physical locations in order to get them to access a compromised cell network and conduct surveillance or download malware.

Yet another reason we need to know what data our mobile devices are sharing about us, and have enforceable limits on how those data are used.


image: www.mccormick.northwestern.edu


Article first published as Controlling People Using Mobile Apps on Technorati.

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