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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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EditorialsUpFront 1/17

UpFront 1/17

A couple of months ago researchers announced that iPhone users were more likely to see their phones as a status symbol than those using an android phone. It set off debate on what phones could tell us about an individual’s personality. The research, carried out at Lancaster University, suggested that iPhone users are younger, more likely to be female and more extraverted, and ironically, considering the phone’s popularity, are “less concerned about owning devices favoured by most people”. Android users on the other hand, as well as being male and older, are likely to be “more honest” and “more agreeable”. The research also suggested that android users are “less interested in wealth and status”. As research goes this is all pretty harmless and amusing stuff. But imagine if the data somehow found its way into a profile-driven online decision-making process used to determine membership of a club, the opening of a bank account or even car insurance premiums. Last month, just before the US election made the story old news, Facebook blocked a car insurance company from using potential customers’ online profiles to determine whether they might be a good driver or not. The algorithm the insurance company planned to use included judgements made on what a person posted on the platform, though they claimed they would not include photographs. The insurance company was going to be looking for habits that might point to the applicant potentially being a good driver and that included whether the user wrote “in short, concise sentences, using lists” and arranged “to meet friends at a set time and place.” Facebook blocked the use of the system on grounds of data privacy, but the information is out there. And in the same way that it’s naïve to think potential employers don’t look at people’s online activities before accepting them for jobs, with so much information on purchasing habits, political stances and lifestyle choices now in the public domain, it may also be a mistake to think that this type of profiling won’t filter into algorithms that affect a lot more of our future. Having said that, there’s no need for anyone to be paranoid…  but they are watching… Happy New Year.

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