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Brain Hackers

I don’t have a lot of secrets.  By “secrets,” I mean things I tell no one.  Josh will attest that I like to tell him everything I’m thinking and feeling (usually beginning around 11 pm).  If he is out, I will tell my parents, siblings, or friends.  The things I don’t tell are pretty boring, and I wouldn’t call them secrets.

And this article about brain hacking still gave me pause.

There is a difference between choosing to tell Josh my thoughts or choosing to write about events here, and having someone else pluck those opinions or beliefs out of my brain.  Like the technological equivalent to a steaming mug of veritaserum (“Three drops of this and even You-Know-Who himself would spill out his darkest secrets.” –Snape)

The article explains how it could happen… now:

At the Enigma security conference here on Tuesday, University of Washington researcher Tamara Bonaci described an experiment that demonstrated how a simple video game could be used to covertly harvest neural responses to periodically displayed subliminal images. While her game, dubbed Flappy Whale, measured subjects’ reactions to relatively innocuous things, such as logos of fast food restaurants and cars, she said the same setup could be used to extract much more sensitive information, including a person’s religious beliefs, political leanings, medical conditions, and prejudices.

Okay, so not exactly the same thing as knowing that I purchased a chocolate bar this week (by the way, Josh, I purchased a chocolate bar and didn’t share it), but still.  This is especially true if that data was mined unknowingly: if companies or organizations used signals from wearable technology, timing the images with information from the device.

Except… it’s not as if they have to do anything that drastic.  At any given moment, Facebook can look down my wall, see what I’ve posted or liked or read or lingered on, and deduce my political leanings, future purchases, or medical conditions.  And I’ve knowingly given those secrets away, if we can call them secrets.

We give away our thought privacy every time we interact with Facebook content, so why did this article give me pause? 

It was a bit of perfect timing because I just signed up for Note to Self’s Privacy Paradox with the kids.  I’m a Believer.  Take the quiz and find out your privacy personality.


1 Nicoleandmaggie { 02.05.17 at 8:34 am }

Because when they start locking up the dissidents, people won’t be able to hide. Of course, when they start locking up dissidents they won’t need to know people’s actual beliefs, they can just pretend something like this works.

And if we’re talking about national security, we like to think we jail based on actions, not feelings.

2 Working mom of 2 { 02.05.17 at 11:27 am }

Further affirming my decision not to join Facebook…

3 Karen { 02.05.17 at 3:12 pm }

I’m a realist. Which is pretty darn accurate, actually.

4 Chris { 02.05.17 at 5:51 pm }

I also am a realist and it sure sounds just like me- especially the ignoring ads. I truly only watch commercials at all during sporting events, and even then will often do something else to avoid them.

5 Cristy { 02.05.17 at 6:02 pm }

Let’s add another fun wrinkle: Facebook is hiring neurobiologists. Now the question is “why,” and I think it has something to do with the work above. Can you imagine the marketing opportunity of being able to directly connect with people’s thoughts? Can you imagine the horror of being able to easily read someone’s thoughts on our current political climate?

6 Cristy { 02.05.17 at 6:19 pm }
7 Middle Girl { 02.05.17 at 7:59 pm }

YOUR PRIVACY PERSONALITY: THE REALIST I agree with the assessment.

I am much less engaged with social media than I used to be, not so much afraid of privacy leaks and / or hacks but it just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

8 Persnickety { 02.05.17 at 9:01 pm }

Have you seen this?
I was aware of the early studies so my FB info is not entirely accurate (but is somewhat on the mark). I have had a like pruning today as a result

9 Ashley { 02.06.17 at 12:03 pm }

The quiz said I’m a realist and I agree with this assessment. I subscribed to get the 5-day newsletter so I can learn more.

10 Justine { 02.06.17 at 10:46 pm }

I was actually trolled on Facebook the other day, and it’s made me much more careful about where I comment. I’d responded to a video that I saw on an acquaintance’s wall that it was just propaganda, and got myself into a back-and-forth that seemed like it wasn’t going anywhere. Then I posted on an unrelated person’s wall that I’d been deemed a traitor (a word he did not use, to be fair), but he posted below me, having followed me to the timeline of a friend who has public settings. It was unnerving.

My husband recently convinced me to get protonmail and the Signal app. Signs of the times.

11 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.07.17 at 9:47 am }

Makes me want to get off social media. All those quizzes that make us want to give away our selves. And other less insidious ways we give it all away.

12 loribeth { 02.07.17 at 6:53 pm }

Supposedly I’m a Realist. I would agree with some but not all of that assessment.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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