Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Facebook is a false friend

P1010034Just because Facebook stopped Admiral Insurance from using its site to analyse your personality profile  doesn’t mean it wants to protect your privacy. 

If you believe that you probably believe that we are controlled by an alien master race (and I don’t mean those people in Silicon valley, or do I?). They just used the PR gaffe by Admiral to boost their own privacy credentials when the whole raison d’être behind Facebook is not to have any privacy. They’ve even experimented on you before in a mood manipulation experiment.

And even if you believe Facebook is not to blame (and of course you’re really the only one to blame, Facebook just makes it easy for you) there are lots of other data companies can use to make moral judgements and assess your risk factors. Your tweets, photos posted by your neighbours on Facebook, Google earth taking a walk round your neighbourhood, and your postcode itself.

Using algorithms they can categorise you and assess your creditworthiness. If you don’t have a credit history or have only just moved in and are not on the electoral register don’t worry, they’ll use your neighbours instead. If you live in an area where credit scoring is poor that may work against you as “banks take the view that birds of a feather flock together” according to Justin Basini, founder and CEO of ClearScore, a ratings agency.

Erik Kert, CEO of Big Data Scoring, puts a more positive spin on this data mining saying “scrutiny of online behaviour is a positive way to boost the financial prospects of people with a thin credit file“. Well not if you are a regular user of gambling sites or a shopaholic surely?

He says his company uses algorithms to predict your “expected probability of default” based on tens of thousands of data points gathered from the internet including social media, web pages you have visited, in fact anything you have made publicly available online.

This “big data” is made available to lenders in the absence of other credit history. Kert says it focuses on how active you are with your online profiles, what sort of activity you are involved in, how you access the internet, and what all that says about your personality. You don’t even need to use a psychologist – the computer decides! (Having said that Cambridge University has developed a tool “Apply magic sauce” to predict your personality based on your Facebook page).

A mortgage broker at Coreco conceded that postcode profiling was unfair if used but said actual methods of creditworthiness assessment are kept a close secret. However “if the information is readily available in the public domain, then lenders are bound to do additional research on people they are about to lend money to. Although nothing has been proven, I would suggest that those looking to apply for a mortgage should be careful. Gambling stories, wild nights out and lavish spending boasts should probably be avoided“.

Precisely! You can’t really blame them can you when you are prepared to put so much of your life on the internet little thinking it will come back to bite you. Your digital footprint never goes away as people have found when applying for jobs or going through a divorce.

Organisations like the Open Rights Group are concerned by these developments and believe society should think about the ethics involved. “Big data is often perceived as being able to deliver neutral decisions but algorithms and poor data can perpetuate social biases on race, gender, religion, or sexuality. There’s also the question of transparency. If we don’t know the full criteria being used how can we appeal against them?”

Young people or those on a low income shouldn’t be pushed into sharing their social media to secure discounts (one of the issues Admiral was criticised for). The right to keep things private shouldn’t be the preserve of those who can afford it

I agree with the last point wholeheartedly but perhaps if people weren’t so willing to be so transparent themselves and share every aspect of their lives, almost by the hour in some cases, they wouldn’t find themselves enmeshed in someone’s algorithm.


Google – perhaps no longer “don’t be evil”

single_eye_movement_500_wht_9341Google quietly dropped its “don’t be evil” motto in 2009, probably because it was making them an easy target for critics.

And they have been criticised for their intrusive ethos. Remember the street cars scooping up you personal data as they drove by?  Just a systems error, really?

Several EU countries are concerned about Google’s poor compliance with data protection and failing to let users know what information they hold on you.

A co-founder of Google, Larry Page, said in 2004  that he saw a time when Google “would be included in people’s brains. When you think about something and don’t really know much about it you will automatically get the information”.

And now we have Google Glass. The stuff of sci-fi, the ultimate intrusion you might think, short of hidden button hole cameras and other spy-like paraphernalia.

Data protection watchdogs, politicians, casino and cinema owners are just some of the few who fear the worst from this new gadget due out next year.

Like Facebook in that they don’t respect your privacy (and you know what I think about them) their chairman Eric Schmidt once boasted that his privacy policy was to “go right up to the creepy line and not cross it”. Really?

PS Let’s not mention their “immoral” tax arrangements!

Facebook Follies

ConfessionFBIt’s been a while since I posted on the perils of having a Facebook account. Things haven’t changed much and it still has no respect for your privacy.

In the past we’ve had stories about how recruiters and divorce lawyers use Facebook to check up on you; how Facebook vigilantes in Delhi shop traffic offenders; how servicemen in war zones are put at risk using it and how the Israeli army catches out people pretending to be Orthodox to skip military service.

And my very first one about how people with lots of Facebook “friends” can still be lonely (which has been in my top five most-read posts for the last 3 years).

So what’s the latest Facebook story to catch my eye? Well it must be Scott Woodburnthe traffic offender who advertised on Facebook for someone to take his penalty points as he was close to being disqualified.

He paid someone, who doesn’t even drive, £250 to take the blame but got 5 months in prison for perverting the course of justice.

Something to put on his Facebook page.

Electronic tagging – the Facebook way

Facebook has done it again. Imposed new technology without asking you. This time it’s software which automatically identifies faces in your photographs starting with all your “friends”.

And you can only untag them after they have been published online. Another example of reducing your privacy by default but that’s par for the course for Zuckerberg.

He believes everything should be out in the open except his own info – you can’t “friend” him. And he clearly believes it’s easier to seek forgiveness than seek permission.

Zuckerberg relies on consumer inertia ie people can’t be bothered to change or cancel things, and using “opt out” processes rather than an “opt in” one that privacy campaigners say Facebook should offer.

I never though I would find anything good to say about the EU bureaucrats but their regulators on the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party are apparently going to investigate.

There are other pieces of software that do the same thing. Apple offers a similar service in iPhoto but there you have to choose the faces you want recognising and then confirm each name tag and it’s not an on-line service.

This is the reason I don’t like Facebook. They ask you for your data and then they own you. I have a choice on Linkedin and Twitter doesn’t ask for any personal details but Zuckerberg wants everything about you put online.

Some might say more fool you for having an account in the first place.

The Sunday Times did a big piece on this yesterday (12/6/11) and revealed that Google has filed a patent application for face recognition software to help identify celebrities. It could theoretically be used to identify anyone by scanning social networking sites for matches.

Before you know it those strangers with the camera phones have your identification and whatever you have chosen to put in the public domain in their possession.

Marketers, advertisers, sales people, and criminals would all have the information they need to target you.

And there is also a system of mass observation which uses video cameras to monitor people in public areas. At present it is not used for identifying individuals but the company plans to install face recognition software as the next step.

The UK is apparently the countries with the most CCTV cameras per head of population and we have car numberplate recognition software already on major motorways and roads. How much more Orwellian can we get?

Those you have read – top 10 in 2010

When you first sit down to write a blog you hope people are going to want to read it – unless you plan it as a private journal where you can unburden yourself or have a rant at the world (OK so occasionally I have a rant too).

So it’s great for me that so many people have read my blog posts and some of them have even posted comments  – usually in a friendly way although occasionally mischievously.

So which posts had most readers in 2010? In reverse order:

10th most read: Living Together Apart (LTA) on the increase

This was a follow-on from my first ever posting and obviously reflected current trends among couples of all ages

9th most read: Daydream believer

This was an early post which originated in contributions I made to the Daily Mirror and Eve magazine. Perhaps we are all romantics at heart and want to believe in the power of dreams but it was also expanded into a guest business blog for my friends at Smoking Gun PR

8th most read: I’m stressed – gaze into my eyes

Well we all prefer a pretty face don’t we but it turns out that swearing also helps us withstand pain better!

7th most read: What sex is your job?

And still on pretty faces it seems you can sometimes be too attractive for your own good.

6th most read: Shoot yourself in the foot – join Facebook

As an avowed non-Facebook person it was pleasing to see that people did want to understand the down-sides of entrusting your personal life to it.

5th most read: Pigeons smarter than people??

Surprisingly popular perhaps but maybe it explains why some people still feed these flying vermin, especially outside high street bakers’ shops.

4th most read: What makes you happy?

And on a more positive note .. don’t we all want to be happy?

3rd most read: So many “friends” yet still lonely

My first post about the perils of Facebook – and yes I admit it was a bit of a rant!

2nd most read: 101 reasons why you can’t live together

The very first thing I ever posted and it obviously struck a chord (and thanks to everyone who contributed both willingly and unknowingly!)

But by an overwhelming number of views – 3 times the second most read – the clear favourite and most read post:

Blushing – do men find it attractive?

This was another early post and originated with a contribution I made to an article in the Daily Express but has continued to appear in my top posts section.

So thank you everyone and all the very best for 2011 when I will do my best to bring you more interesting posts.

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Halfalogue is not better than none

Why are mobile phone conversations so irritating?

I can’t be the only person to have asked people in quiet carriages in trains to stop making calls or  to speak more quietly on a metro train.

I understand that people speak more loudly into a mobile phone than a land line because of the way a mobile phone is constructed and part of it is about being a captive audience. Now researchers at Cornell university have found another reason.

When you listen to a “halfalogue”, or just one half of a conversation, it’s hard to predict what the other, unheard, person is going to say. This makes it more distracting and demands more of our attention.

In the experiments, described in Psychological Science, listening to halfalogues was more distracting than a monologue or a two-way conversation and it resulted in poorer performance on reaction time and tracking exercises.

It seems that when people speak on mobile phones they think no-one is listening when in fact everyone is whether they want to or not, almost like a reflex. Unintentional eavesdropping means you have to pay more attention to work out the meaning.


So much social networking, so little time

Malaysians have the most “friends” on their social networks, according to a study in 46 countries, with an average of 233 followed closely by Brazil with 231 and Norway with 217.

In Japan the average is only 29, perhaps reflecting cultural differences about what friendship really means, and 68 in China (no surprise perhaps given the state censorship).

Malaysians also spend more time on these sites spending an average of 9 hours a week on them, followed by Russia with 8.8 hours and Turkey with 7.7 hours.

TNS, the company that carried out the survey, say the biggest changes are due to the use of mobile phones to access the internet rather than using computers and that consumers are now spending more time on social networking sites than using e-mail.

Interestingly, given the strict control by the government in China (think of what happened with Google for example), 4 out of 5 users there write their own blogs compared to 1 in 3 in the USA.

See also: “Shoot yourself in the foot, join Facebook” and “So many friends but still lonely” and Facebook vigilantes...