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The Creepy Factor – Brain Hacking threatens privacy

Sander Duivestein
September 11, 2012

Beyond the intimacy of data In “Data becomes more intimate” I looked at the evolution of data. Information is becoming increasingly more personal: information technology gets under our skin. The figure below – from the report “Strategic Information Management for Competitive Advantage” by Gartner analyst Mark Raskino – makes this point as well. In the last fifty years we are collecting more and more data. At first, we only stored data about payments and products, nowadays, thanks to the advancing technology we can even collect data about our emotions and brainwaves.

No more secrets In the article “Customer Intelligence, Privacy, and the Creepy Factor” Larry Downes describes how – in the era of Big Data – all these data sources can be combined to predict consumer behavior. This brings up the issue of the “creepy factor”. Do we want our “deepest darkest secret preferences” exposed to companies and governments?

Earlier this week researchers from the Universities of California, Oxford and Geneva announced that they had succeeded in “hacking” the human brain by using an off-the-shelf EEG device to play computer games. The Emotive brain computer interface (BCI) could read brain signals and discover personal information, such as credit card numbers and PINs. The research was based upon the question whether we are dealing with a threat to privacy:

“More specifically, we are interested in understanding how easily this technology can be turned against its users to reveal their private information, that is, information they would not knowingly or willingly share.”

At the end of the study the researchers concluded that we are only at the beginning of the “hacking” of someone else’s brain. The increasing quality of the devices will most likely ensure that – consciously or not – the brain signals of individuals can be drained in order to steal private information. The API’s of the BCI’s can have access to the raw EEG signals of the human brain. It lies at the ingenuity of the hacker what he can do with these signals. Conclusion In the comedy “The Invention of Lying”, starring Ricky Gervais, an alternate is reality sketched in which people are unable to lie. In this world, people constantly make cruel and rude comments. Ads are just as blunt and truthful as the people themselves.

“The story you’re about to see takes place in a world where the human race has never evolved the ability to tell a lie. This is a typical town in that world. As you can see, people have jobs and cars and houses and families, but everyone tells the absolute truth. There’s no such thing as deceit or flattery or fiction. People say exactly what they think, and sometimes that can come across as a bit harsh.”

The film represents a possible future scenario that arises when privacy no longer exists. A world where people can no longer have secrets. Whether you like it or not. Big Data and the latest information technologies make that kind of world possible. A world that indeed can be called “creepy”.

About the author

Trend Watcher – New Media, Trend Analyst VINT | Netherlands
Sander Duivestein (1971) is a highly acclaimed and top-rated trendwatcher, an influential author, an acclaimed keynote speaker, a digital business entrepreneur, and a strategic advisor on disruptive innovations. His main focus is the impact of new technologies on people, businesses and society.


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