Mind Reading Hacks? Happening already.

In the not so distant future, you will be wearing your health tracker while playing a VR game, hooked up to a Brain Computer Interface (BCI). It will open up a realm of possibilities for gameplay, therapy, research. It will also open up your brain to being exploited to extract private data. While you are connected to the BCI to asses your stress levels, it could read the host of other signals your brain creates in order to glean information from you that you don’t want to share and that you might not even be aware of says Tamara Bonaci (she’s also working to protect us)

“Electrical signals produced by our body might contain sensitive information about us that we might not be willing to share with the world. On top of that, we may be giving that information away without even being aware of it.”

Leaky Data

This vulnerability is possible because our actions contain far more data than the content we intend to convey. Even the old adage that only 10% of communication is verbal acknowledges that we are leaky data clusters made flesh.

I first found out that a friend was pregnant because their Facebook connected Spotify account told me they were listening to Whalesong Hypnobirthing. I know now that they are ambitious parents and that the baby goes to sleep at 6:50pm because that is when Sleeping Mozart for Baby Geniuses comes on.

You might say that this does no damage beyond occasional embarassement. You are willing to put up with ads that haunt you wherever you browse because you can ignore them or even find them a useful reminder to purchase something. And if your partner discovers the present you were planning to get them, well, that’s the tradeoff for convenience.

But: If you use Facebook, you helped elect Trump. You helped the Brexit campaign. This may be alright with you, but your turn will come and your cause loses because of this as well.

Your leaky Facebook data helped Trump and Farage’s Leave capaigns target messages to you, or save money by not advertising to you at all. It told their on-the-ground campaigners to give you a nudge to go vote, or to skip your door. Oh well, that’s the tradeoff youre willing to make for convenience.

Except, you’re selling me off in that trade as well. Your likes and quizzes and posts and clickbait and rants give Facebook a better idea of who you are. Your browsing habits and the posts you click on even if you do not “publicly” interact, give them a sense of your mindset, outlook, fears. Their other data points make it possible to find other people like you — in my case the only difference is that I am just lurking and not being active on the platform (that leaves its own trail as well by the way). So your smiley faces and broken hearts are helping Facebooks corporate users target me as well. Thanks. And I now live in a Brexit Trump world as well. Thanks.

Go ahead and regret this situation on Facebook — I will probably give them this datapoint too.

Privacy Badgering

Once you’ve had a right old moan, get looking into social media and communications that let you keep hold of your own data. I am enjoying discovering the blockchain based Akasha, still in its very early infancy, which means if you’re willing to lose a bit of functionality and your friends aren’t all there yet, you can play a part in shaping it. Well, thats a trade off I’m willing to make.

If you use free email services, encrypt your messages with Thunderbird and the Enigmail extension so even The Google can’t know what you did last summer (this only works if your recipient also encrypts, so evangelise). Try out Signal instead of SMS: Android, Apple. Browse through Tor to hide everything including where you are, or use the Privacy Badger extension for Firefox and Chrome to select who tracks you.

Keep up to date with these issues at Electronic Frontier Foundation, follow the grugq.

Bit of broader context on the Trump and Brexit use of Facebook personality type profiling. They were not the only ones, and anybody trying to sell you shit you don’t need is probably doing it too.

Granted, in some ways, Trump’s campaign might have taken the practice to a new level. A case in point: its self-described “voter suppression” efforts, which involved nonpublic Facebook “dark posts” (since suppressed by Facebook and the campaign) aimed at discrediting Clinton among specific groups of African American voters.

Cathy O’Neil


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