18 August 2014

Personalised ads everywhere - the dark side of interactive technology

Proxemic interaction

Mirrors displaying personalised ads in the restroom, talking windows on a train. Ads are becoming more instrusive, almost verging on evil. New research looks at the developments in 'proxemic interactions'

As you approach the mirror in a public bathroom, sensors in the mirror detect your proximity and that you are looking at it. It greets you by name and an advert tailored to you, based on your browsing history, pops up on the mirror's surface: Discount Haemorrhoid Cream! Broadcast to the room for all to hear.

“The moment a display starts addressing me by name I’ll be really concerned. a) People around me would know my name, even though I don’t know them, and b) They know what I’m interested in, and I might not want to share,” says Sebastian Boring, Associate Professor at the Human-Centred Computing section of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH).

With colleagues Saul Greenberg (University of Calgary), Jo Vermeulen (Hasselt University) and Jakub Dostal (University of St. Andrews), Boring has authored an article on the possible negative uses of proxemic interaction - a strategy that allows technological devices to gauge user interest and engagement based on proximity and orientation, and use this as a basis for seamless and natural feeling interaction.

Design technology is starting to make use of these ideas, but the team behind Dark Patterns in Proxemic Interactions: A Critical Perspective are among the first, outside of the world of science fiction, to take a critical look at the possible negative exploitations (dark patterns) of proxemic theory in interactive technology.