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Using Apps To 'Soft Control' People's Movements

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the achievement-unlocked dept.

The Internet 71

pinguin-geek writes "Computer science researchers at Northwestern University have developed a way to exert limited control on how people move, pushing them out of their regular travel patterns. The key: tapping into some of their cell phone applications. The findings could elicit a broader range of user-collected data by driving foot traffic to under-utilized areas."

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Glad I don't have a smartphone (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39394963)

You cock-smoking teabaggers. Now I'm gonna play me some Minecraft!

This is not about controlling people (3, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39394995)

This is not about controlling people. Even though the guy who did the research refers to it that way. This is about offering people incentives to do something that they otherwise would not do. Part of that may be designing a game to get people to take pictures of places that people rarely, if ever, bother to photograph, but it is still about giving people an incentive to do something you would like them to do.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395027)

That's true. But I suppose the relative novelty is to give them a reward that costs nothing: points (or some other advancement) in a game.

Re:This is not about being an editor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395091)

exert limited control one how people move

Yeah? Oh yeah?! Well I exert limited control two how people move. So there!

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397359)

What's novel about that? Isn't e.g. Slashdot's Karma system exactly that (except that it's not about going to certain locations, but about writing good comments)? And advertisers have used incentives which are even more immaterial than that (like a vague promise that you "feel good" when you use/consume a certain product).

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397579)

Slashdot's karma system gives points for good performance. This innovation is about giving points for tasks that have not yet been done. Different concept.

And advertising is COMPLETELY different.

Re:This is not about controlling people (2)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395051)

No matter what type of stick you use to dangle those carrots, it's still control even if it is passive.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395617)

But at some level this isn't different from any other control exerted by any other game. Angry birds incents you to push certain buttons. Would you push those buttons in that way without Angry Birds? No.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

tomhath (637240) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395067)

AFAIK there are two ways to control people: carrot and stick. This is obviously a variation on the carrot; what he seems to think is novel is that the participants didn't know what behavior they were being rewarded for doing. Seems more like manipulation than control.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395237)

AFAIK it's impossible to manipulate something that you do not control. So I'd say this is control. Just not in a manner you're used to seeing.

Re:This is not about controlling people (4, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395269)

The term for manipulating something that you don't control is "influence". You don't control the target, you present resources and information that the target may choose to use, changing their behavior indirectly.

Re:This is not about controlling people (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395251)

Soft control -> incentives -> not really telling you where to go but rewarding you, in the context of a game or social net app, for going where we would like you

Re:This is not about controlling people (2)

MisterMidi (1119653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395207)

So you're saying people cannot be controlled by offering incentives? So even though your boss offers you an incentive by paying you for it, he has no control whatsoever over your activities during work hours? Good luck finding a job :)

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

fbjon (692006) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395365)

The control comes through a signed contract, not any incentive.

Re:This is not about controlling people (2)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395631)

What made you sign the contract? Was it an incentive by any chance?

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39398405)

What made you sign the contract? Was it an incentive by any chance?

Nothing "made" him sign the contract. But there were no doubt incentives and wants that influenced him to sign the contract.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39398649)

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/made [merriam-webster.com]

I meant 2a, or more precisely 15.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#39400819)

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/make [merriam-webster.com]

is the link.

I indeed had definition 15 in mind. And that brings me back to my comment:

What made you sign the contract? Was it an incentive by any chance?

Nothing "made" him sign the contract. But there were no doubt incentives and wants that influenced him to sign the contract.

The definition of "make" here is "to cause to act in a certain way". But that doesn't hold here since neither the incentives of the employer and the wants of the employee compel the employee to accept particular work contracts. The employer couldn't compel the poster in question accept a contract any more than I could make you post your reply. It was something that was voluntarily entered into.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Surt (22457) | about 2 years ago | (#39404155)

I don't interpret cause and compel as the same word.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#39404835)

The dictionary does since it lists compel as a synonym of "make" in definition 15.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Surt (22457) | about 2 years ago | (#39405989)

That's can interpret, not must interpret.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#39406663)

That's can interpret, not must interpret.

Don't quote a dictionary, if you don't plan to abide by the defintion. It still remains that you erroneous equated entering into a voluntary contract with "control". Recall this conversation in the thread:

The control comes through a signed contract, not any incentive.

What made you sign the contract? Was it an incentive by any chance?

Nothing "made" him sign the contract. But there were no doubt incentives and wants that influenced him to sign the contract.

What was the point of you asking "What made you sign the contract?" if you weren't actually disagreeing with the original poster's assertion of control? And if you were disagreeing, then why use inadequate, by your admission, language?

What are you trying to say here?

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Surt (22457) | about 2 years ago | (#39407077)

I don't know what to say. Your effort to misunderstand me seems deliberate at this point, which makes me think I'm being trolled. I think I've adequately clarified the meaning I intended at this point for anyone else in the non-existent audience at this point. :-)

Re:This is not about controlling people (2)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 2 years ago | (#39396099)

I think you -- and a lot of other people in this thread -- misunderstand the concept of "control." Here's a /. car analogy to help:

When I get in my car and turn on the key, the car has no choice in the matter. If the battery is sufficiently charged, there is gas in the tank, and all of the other systems are in working order, the car WILL start. As I turn the steering wheel, the car follows my directions. When I hit the gas, it speeds up; when I hit the brakes, it slows down. The car gets no say in whether or not it does the things I command.

On the other hand, when I go to work, my boss may give me instructions, and I may be highly motivated to follow those instructions, but I *ALWAYS* have a choice. I can do what my boss says or not -- and there have indeed been times when I have chosen "not" for various reasons (I knew it was a bad idea, I knew he would change his mind when he had additional information, I was busy with higher priorities, etc.).

The first example is "control" -- that which is controlled has no options in the matter. The second example is influence or incentive -- that which is influenced has a choice, and even though the likelihood of choosing something other than what the influencer wants may be minimal, there is a statistically significant chance of something else happening.

Re:This is not about controlling people (4, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 2 years ago | (#39396443)

When I get in my car and turn on the key, the car has no choice in the matter.

I've owned cars that would disagree with you on that score.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

chrismcb (983081) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397883)

The first example is "control" -- that which is controlled has no options in the matter. The second example is influence or incentive -- that which is influenced has a choice, and even though the likelihood of choosing something other than what the influencer wants may be minimal, there is a statistically significant chance of something else happening.

The second example is also an example of control. Sure the control is through an influence, but that IS the definition of control.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

MisterMidi (1119653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39398285)

I see what you mean, but I'd argue that influence is a degree of control. IMO, control isn't black and white or a binary 0 or 1. In between no control at all and full control there is some control, or influence.

To return a car analogy, when your car skids on ice, you no longer have full control over it, but you still have some control. You can influence it.

Just like your boss controls (within limits) what you do during work hours. Sure, you may choose not to do what you're asked to, just like he may choose to terminate your contract. To avoid being unemployed, you let your boss control you to a certain extent.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397093)

Others have very thoroughly answered your question, in particular element-o.p. gave a very clear example of why this is not control, but is rather influence.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

MisterMidi (1119653) | more than 2 years ago | (#39398315)

It was a rhetorical question, my point is that influence is a degree of control, see my reply to element-o.p.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395463)

If I'm offered an incentive, say cold hard cash I might do what they want. The electric company locally wanted to put in an AC cut off. It does not impact me at all and I get money and I get a lower electric bill. It surprised me that two hours of the AC being completely off would not really bother me and that I would save money.

My boss is a anachronistic toad who will not see the benefit of telecomuting to the point he's threatened to fire people who suggest it. In that case how about a punitive incentive such as a tax or removal of tax breaks for every car they force to put on the road or make them pay 100 percent of the cost of maintaining and running that car to the employee? It would back hand the asshole in the one place he's vulnerable, his wallet.

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395625)

The question is what incentive can you offer people who know it's not a "ghost zapping game", but a ploy to get you to take photos of unusual view angles and out-of-the-way places? I'd have a serious problem with anyone taking pictures through cell or tablet devices without even the user knowing the pictures were being taken -- talk about a situation and software that is ripe for abuse by "we don't need no steekink warrants" law enforcement types. (e.g. Being conned into taking a photo that shows where you are 20 minutes after sending a text arranging to meet your dealer, or taking shots every half an hour using the phone of someone who is known to be in a gang.)

However, I do see the potential for the idea of providing real rewards for taking out-of-the-way photos. Things like points/coins to be used in the owner's favourite pay-as-you-play "social" game, for example, or iCoke points to be saved towards some Coke-sponsored trinket (I stopped collecting iCoke points when I realized you couldn't even get a free Coke by doing so like you could with the old system -- all you can get is downloads of MP3s that I don't want to listen to in the first place. 'twas a sad, sad day when I realized the old "You're a winner!" cap liners were no more. But I digress...)

What about a photo-based "geo-caching" type game, where players are given the GPS coordinates and a description of what they're supposed to shoot when they get there?

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397107)

Absolutely, I can see this as being a great way to get these pictures, especially if it is being done openly. As in, "Yes, I know they want pictures of obscure locations (such as the back of Lincoln Memorial), but they make it fun to go out of my way to take those picutres."

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

chrismcb (983081) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397865)

This is not about controlling people. Even though the guy who did the research refers to it that way. This is about offering people incentives to do something that they otherwise would not do.

Google define's "control" as

The power to influence or direct people's behavior or the course of events.

So you got some people to do something they wouldn't normally have done, so you influenced their behavior... or you controlled them!

Re:This is not about controlling people (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39401129)

Exactly and its something we retailers have been doing for years. You want someone who is on the fence to purchase? throw in some cheap swag, like a wireless mouse. this makes the person feel good, like they are getting something "free" and it makes them more likely to buy. In this case they want the person to take fugly photos so you give them some carrot to take fugly photos and they are more likely to take fugly photos. Hell everybody does this, look at those "games' which are nothing more than mouse click fests like farmville or some of the MMOs. You make sure to dole out the rewards in just the right amount, not too much or they won't feel any accomplishment, not too little or they'll feel frustrated, hit the right amount and you'll get them clicking on that mouse like a hamster trying to get a pellet.

Hell even the malware guys figured this out ages ago which is why we have the dancing bunnies problem [codinghorror.com] . You offer them the right reward, be it free songs or porn or some dumb match 3 games and even though they may feel its really not such a good idea they will go right through all those security measures and roadblocks you put in trying to protect them, all so they can have the bunny.

Sadly most humans are impulsive things and really not that hard to figure out, all you have to do is wave the right shiny in front of their face and they'll happily dance to your tune. Probably the easiest way for this guy to get those pics is make it like a contest, and each time you do what he wants you get another shot at the prize. i bet he'd have folks tripping over themselves to do what he wanted and it wouldn't even have to be huge prizes, one iPad, one netbook, and a dozen little wimp prizes like wireless mice and gift cards. Hell if he played it right he wouldn't even have to pay for the prizes as the corps would give him a little swag for the plugs.

Privacy (5, Insightful)

thereitis (2355426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395019)

“Obviously users need to know where their data is going,” he said, “and we take every measure to protect user privacy.”

Yet another phrase that has lost all meaning.

you insensIti7e clod! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395041)

Grandstanders, the Pre(ferrably with 'an Indecision and Handy, you are free

Re:you insensIti7e clod! (1)

Surt (22457) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395639)

Is this some sort of encryption program embedding data in slashdot?

Re:you insensIti7e clod! (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 2 years ago | (#39396447)

Is this some sort of encryption program embedding data in slashdot?

If morons masquerading as Anonymous Cowards can serve as encryption engines, then yes it is.

Spying (1)

im3w1l (2009474) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395073)

Is this the future of intelligence gathering? Instead of collecting it yourself, dispatch the minions!

Re:Spying (1)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 2 years ago | (#39396069)

That would be the present, actually. Where spies can't get themselves, they bribe or coerce others who can, to do what they want done.

Re:Spying (1)

Loughla (2531696) | about 2 years ago | (#39402153)

It's called crowdsourcing. If the OED can do it back in the Olde Timey Days, and programs like Foldit can do it now, why not the state department in the future?

The best way to win a fight is to have someone else do it for you.

Warning: Article not nearly as cool as it sounds (3, Insightful)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395107)

The control exerted is obvious, not particularly forceful, and not particularly new. All the researchers have found is that some people will go a small distance out of their way in order to fulfil an objective in a mobile game. Somewhere, there's a guy in an advertising agency who's laughing his head off at their amateur discoveries.

Re:Warning: Article not nearly as cool as it sound (1)

Barbara, not Barbie (721478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395241)

The article is flat-out stupid.

What next, "discovering" that guys behaviour can be "soft-controlled" (what a non-word) by anything that een vaguely suggests boobs?

Re:Warning: Article not nearly as cool as it sound (1)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395313)

I'm sorry, did you say something Boobara, not Boobie?

Re:Warning: Article not nearly as cool as it sound (1)

thereitis (2355426) | more than 2 years ago | (#39397501)

Air Miles [airmiles.ca] has been enticing people to spend their money differently for years. A personal example: instead of buying 1 loaf of bread, I might buy 4 loaves of bread in order to get the "50 bonus Air Miles" offered on that item, or spend over $100 in one transaction to get some other air miles bonus.

www.NoSeriously.org (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395155)

For funny images visit here http://noseriously.org

I'm sure Rupert Murdoch ... (0)

Rambo Tribble (1273454) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395201)

... would secretly agree that controlling the information that is delivered to a mass of people can easily be used to direct and manipulate that mass.

or Occupy Wall Street ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395401)

Pretty obvious example of controlling a handful of people

Herd the prey to the killing zone (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395263)

Urban gangs can now offer a free game for people to play, along these lines. As part of the game, get people to walk to a not so nice part of town (but not obviously horrible, of course). Gang members can be waiting to mug them. Or rape them. Or kill them. Maybe all three!

Now begin the poo-pooing from the people who can't possibly believe that other people can even think like that.

Covertly transferring images from your phone (4, Insightful)

yotto (590067) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395279)

I have no problem with a game like this if the makers of the game were up front about it. I'd probably even play. Sounds fun. See new areas, get out in the world, get some sun and exercise, and get some cool pictures and points to boot. All the while, you're helping someone make 3-d models of real world things. Seems like a win all around.

But you secretly snap pictures with my phone and upload them to a server? No way. No fucking way.

Re:Covertly transferring images from your phone (3, Insightful)

pinguin-geek (1283322) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395509)

You have to differentiate between experimentation and use; when you test the idea you need to make sure that your users knowledge of what you are doing is not affecting your results and weakening your conclusion. Of course, if ever deployed, you have to tell people what are they doing.

Re:Covertly transferring images from your phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39396441)

I have no problem with a game like this if the makers of the game were up front about it. I'd probably even play. Sounds fun. See new areas, get out in the world, get some sun and exercise, and get some cool pictures and points to boot. All the while, you're helping someone make 3-d models of real world things. Seems like a win all around.

Someone makes the models, then sells them for a LOT of money.

I would not play this, unless I got paid to.

Re:Covertly transferring images from your phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39397945)

The models would presumably be CC licensed or public domain so anyone could make physical copies of them.

Re:Covertly transferring images from your phone (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39403457)

With the exception of the 3D models part, this game already exists... It's called geocaching.

Idiots who can't read... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395289)

"exert limited control ONE how people move,"

Didn't any of you notice that? Oh, I forgot - you're all Americans, who have totally given up any attempt at spelling anything properly.

More THAT, better THEN, etc.etc. Fucking morons.

Re:Idiots who can't read... (1)

darth dickinson (169021) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399603)

Thus sayeth the Anonymous Coward.

You hacked my eyes, you bastard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395301)

You hacked my GPS, you bastard.

Avoid Ghetto App (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395351)

But what if we want to avoid crime when driving, walking, or cycling from point A to point B? You call it politically incorrect. I call it being safe. Hanging around ghettos and trailer trash is bad news.

Re:Avoid Ghetto App (3, Funny)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395471)

Who are these people? They must be hackers, they keep offering to sell me cracks.

Lots of ghosts in airports (1)

Mishotaki (957104) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395407)

I heard there was a lot of ghosts in airports, especially near the TSA security checkpoints... Gotta catch them all!

Already in use commercially (1)

geggam (777689) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395585)

http://shopkick.com/ [shopkick.com]

This application already applies these methods to shopping.

Yet another idea from "The Skills of Xanadu" (3, Insightful)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | more than 2 years ago | (#39395785)

by Theodore Sturegon from the 1950s: http://books.google.com/books?id=wpuJQrxHZXAC&pg=PA51&lpg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false [google.com]

He also envisioned in that story the internet, wireless mobile computing, a gift economy, groupware, nanotechnology, the open source movement, an abundance outlook on life, and more...

Fir5t 4ost (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39395849)

It. Do not share posts. Therefore members al9l over

Ohoho Ohoho... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39396777)

You take mysoft you take my soft control
You got me living only for the night...

Lauran Branigan dixit.

Oh the horror. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39397139)

All I can see is the worse case scenario when you expect your smartphone GPS to use the fastest most direct course to your destination. Instead, it pushes you into an 'under utilized' area a.k.a a slum and you're mugged, raped, or murdered or all three. I think pushing people out of their routines is a bad idea. If you want more foot traffic in an area use a TV ad campaign, billboard signs, radio spots. All have worked well forever.

Perhaps in a more modern retelling of the Batman saga, The Wayne family is lured into an unsavory part of town because of this attempt to influence their movements.

Shopping on Stradbroke Island (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39398103)

Come visit our quaint shops! Only 15 km away! Turn left now! [baysidebulletin.com.au]

Researchers that don't understand the concept ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39398729)

... of research.

FTA: "This has led researchers to ask the questions: How can we get mobile users to break out of their patterns, visit less frequented areas, and collect the data we need?"

Well, you could pay people to go get the data you need instead of wasting your grant money on shiny toys for your lab that don't really accomplish what you're supposed to be doing.

Not safe (1)

Woogiemonger (628172) | more than 2 years ago | (#39398809)

Privacy concerns aside, I hope these researchers take into consideration the gamers' safety when sending them into bad neighborhoods.

Very old idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39402319)

Greenland. Iceland. "Here thar be Serpents"

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