Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Spy Who Scored Me - social media, gamification, data mining & Big Brother

A friend shared this video on Facebook earlier today and it raises (again) many concerns that I've had over the last year or two regarding social media scoring, gamification and how our data is used.

Games, gamification and addiction

I've thought for some time that the flashing lights on our mobile screens are as addictive as slot machines. There are many games that require little or no skill whatsoever but just requires you to push your finger around a screen and in return you get the dopamine rush of a virtual reward. Whether that's a reward in game points, being told you're a winner, it amounts to the same thing - a bit of your screen lit up, and in turn, parts of your brain lit up. A cursory search on Google brings up many articles and research studies about this addiction.

And this addiction is starting at a very young age - children are playing digital games from being toddlers and the addictive nature of these games is apparent when you see how a child behaves when they're told to stop playing or their device is taken away.

At the same time, games can be great fun and are a way for many people to relax. So it's not all bad, as long as we're aware of when it may be getting out of hand.

Social scoring

And then we come on to social scoring. There are several companies like Klout, PeerIndex and their ilk who score people base on their activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I've never been much bothered about my score but these are the social media equivalent of our credit ratings which brands and agencies can use to target for 'blogger outreach' or product promotions. Indeed, I'm sure these scores now feed into our credit rating as well and also feed into job applications and more. I guess that's a feature of living in the modern world and I can't say it's something I'm particularly happy about, nor do I feel I can do much about it either.

Sesame Credit

China takes these two concepts to the next level. Sesame Credit, the brainchild of Alibaba and Tencent, is a combination of social scoring, credit scoring, gamification (or the addictive nature of gaming) to promote and encourage 'good citizenship'. In China, that means compliance, falling in line and not criticising the government or those in power. The video above explains it very well and the BBC covered it a couple of months ago. The Chinese seem to have taken to the system like a duck to water and freely share their current score. Although it's not currently compulsory to participate, according to the video and the BBC, it will be compulsory by 2020.

What about the UK?

Well, I don't foresee that there will be a compulsory system imposed here, but the UK government has been spying on us via our telephone and internet activity for the last 15 years and keeping records on millions of British citizens according to El Reg. I'm sure every government is doing something similar.

Oh, and don't forget that the advertising industry is busy watching us too. Check out The Secret Life of Your Mobile Phone video below and catch the stage show if you can. It's brilliant. There's an audio available of their show at The Hay Festival (£1 to download).

See also You are Your Phone on how the pattern of smartphone use is the pattern of the self.

Big Brother Is Watching You? You betcha. Merry Christmas!

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