Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Canan Canavan, marketing, (non-forensic) biometrics, and the reputed Obamacare-NSA alliance

(NOTE: There are a lot of links in this particular post, and only one of them is self-referential. If you're interesting in this topic, I strongly encourage you to follow the links to get significant additional information.)

Alex Perala alerted me to a TechCrunch article on biometrics and marketing, but before I share the article, I want to remind everyone that (here's the self-referential link) there are different definitions of the term "biometrics." While I personally use it to refer to ways to identify individuals, others use it to refer to crop yields and heart rates. TechCrunch's article falls in the latter category, as can be evidenced by this passage:

The new sensors on smartwatches and fitness bands will enable insight into a user’s heart rate, VO2 max, sympathetic nervous response, blood glucose level, EKG, temperature and more. We’re moving into a world where people will be wearing always-on body-monitoring systems.

What does this mean to TechCrunch author Canan Canavan?

This data fosters new insights and the development of new ecosystems allowing understanding of customers at a much more granular level and the ability to offer them new services.

Canavan notes that we already know WHEN something happens, as well as (thanks to location-based technology) WHERE it happens. A number of services, ranging from Foursquare to Waze, are based upon the "where."

Now, with the addition of the biometric sensors that can measure heart rate and other physical attributes, we can move into the HOW. One of Canavan's examples is illustrative:

[I]magine going on a date where both parties agree to share their biometric data after the date. You’d be able to read their arousal profile and understand that they weren’t as into you as you were into them – all without an awkward phone call.

Or on the other end, you might see a spike when they saw you and a pleasant glowing interaction through the night. We don’t know what love at first sight looks like biometrically, but maybe we’ll know soon.

In another example, when you walk into a retail establishment, the sensors can record your reaction to a particular store employee. (That can lead to some interesting end-of-year personnel evaluations.)

Canavan's reaction to this new world?

It feels predatory, and it is.

But isn't all advertising predatory? Doesn't your TV have a whole bunch of fast food commercials in the late afternoon and early evening, when the advertisers think the mass audience may be hungry? Didn't sugared cereal advertisers once show a whole bunch of advertisements during the Saturday morning cartoons - back when TV had Saturday morning cartoons? This is not a change in advertising behavior, but a much more precise method of the same advertising behavior. Before, McDonald's THOUGHT that some percentage of people might be hungry at 6:00 pm. Now, McDonald's will KNOW that the person in the car 1/4 mile away from the Marengo, Illinois McDonald's IS hungry. And they don't teach you THAT in school. (A few of you will appreciate that.)

But before you assume that your every mood will be recorded by Madison Avenue, or McDonald's, or Facebook, or the National Security Agency, you may want to read Canavan's thoughts on the evolution of something called "emotional fencing." These thoughts can be found toward the end of Canavan's TechCrunch article.

I won't get into that, because I'm still hung up on the question of whether this level of measurement - and personal exposure - is desirable. Will privacy advocates try to stop this via legislation? Will the private sector (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google) and the public sector (the FBI, and the CIA, and the BBC...) fight over the rights to our biometric data? Will misguided individuals try to skirt company terms of service agreements by emphatically declaring that they reserve the right to share their biometric data with others? Will conservatives blame Obamacare for all of this? Will progressives blame Dick Cheney for all of this?

The next few years are going to be fun - and all of the data recorders will know exactly how fun it's going to be for all of us.
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