About 9 months ago, I gave a presentation at the World Future Society Conference called The Promise and Perils of Personalization.
After thinking, reading, discussing, and musing about personalization for about a year, I realized that there is a fine line between useful personalization and creepy personalization. It reminded me of the “uncanny valley” in human robotics. So I plotted the same kind of curves on two axes: Access to Data as the horizontal axis, and Perceived Helpfulness on the vertical axis. For technology to get vast access to data AND make it past the invasive valley, it would have to be perceived as very high on the perceived helpfulness scale.
I remember the first time I saw Google Now deployed on my phone. It told me that my commute to work would take 16 minutes if I left right now. I had never told Google Now where I worked, I had not told Google Now the route I drove to work, nor had not asked it to calculate my commute time. While it was slightly creepy that it knew all this information by analyzing my daily patterns, it was also useful, and the trip over the invasive valley was short. Of course, since I now work remotely from home, Google Now thinks I work at the LDS church across the street from my house now. I’m surprised it hasn’t figured out my gym patterns and started reminding me when to leave for yoga.
I think Google Glass is getting a bad rap simply because it is stuck in the invasive valley. The general population really doesn’t see it as providing useful technology for everyday life. Sure, you can snap a picture from your glasses, but if that’s it then you’re just sneaking into the privacy of others. If, en masse, we viewed Google glass as an incredibly helpful tool, I think it would successfully navigate itself up the steep slope to redemption.
Facebook wanders in and out of the invasive valley depending on the news and the latest release cycle of their apps and privacy statements. When the latest Facebook app demanded access to all my texts, I questioned the helpfulness of the feature it claimed to need these things for – account verification for some users. The idea that Facebook would read all my texts simply to add this one feature for some users slid it back down into the invasive valley for me. This feature is not helpful enough to warrant access to all that data.
In describing the “Invasive Valley” of data access and personalization my husband looked at me and said “Forget Big Brother, wait till you meet Big Mother!” and I think that is where we’re headed. Personalization is going to become our new life nagging companion:
Maybe you should walk now? You’ve only got 2,100 steps so far today.
You have symphony tickets on Saturday night, have you made a dinner reservation yet?
I can see that you’ve eaten yogurt for 4 mornings now, should we should add yogurt to your grocery list?
You’ve only gotten an average of 6 hours of sleep a night for 5 nights, I think you should take an early bedtime tonight.
Clearly enough data is being collected about me that Google Now could do any of these (if it had access to my FitBit and Smith’s card). Don’t these all seem like things your mother would remind you of?