In the middle of September I had the pleasure of speaking at an Emotion Capture and Trust Workshop hosted by Bangor University’s Andrew McStay (@digi_ad) and hosted at Digital Catapult (@digicatapult) in London.
Andrew is an expert in media and persuasive communication conducting a global AHRC-funded study about trends in emotion artificial intelligence (AI). He wanted to gather opinion from industry, policy bodies and civil liberties groups on the social, political, legal and industrial consequences of technology companies that collect data about our emotions.
This is a cause close to my heart as here at Sensum we believe passionately that those organisations accessing consumer data must do so responsibly, particularly in the realms of emotional AI. With technologies allowing us to measure heart rate, electrical activity in the brain, breathing, eye tracking and facial expressions – ethics are everything.
And as we are racing closer to a world where technology isn’t just on us, but in us...the way in which tech providers, companies accessing and using this data, and consumers interact with this information is even more important.
How and what this should look like is exactly what myself, Andrew, Javier Ruiz Diaz of the Open Rights Group, Matt Celuszak from CrowdEmotion and Simon Rice from the Information Commissioner’s Office discussed with the event’s attendees.
Naturally opinions were strong and a lot was talked about but the three key points which I took away from the discussion were:
1) Individual control is everything - The information needed to monitor emotions is primarily biometric. In our case, we combine things such as heart rate, skin response, eye tracking and conscious questioning, to come to a conclusion about someone’s emotional state. This data is unique to that individual and so therefore by its very nature, highly personal. As such we should be giving the individuals producing this kind of data through our technologies, or through wearable devices and fitness trackers, complete control over their data. It is they who should decide where it goes and what it’s used for.
2) How we currently determine consent is confusing - We are all familiar with those enormous terms and conditions and consent pages that we click through to access our favourite apps, but how many of us actually read them? I’d hazard a guess at not many of us. Legally the companies publishing these are offering us consent but are they making it too hard for us to really understand what we’re agreeing to? Opinion in the group was divided on the matter. Some people felt that consumers needed to have everything explained to them in minute detail, while others felt that this was just too confusing and that top-line bullet pointed data that was easy to understand was the way forward. Either way, the entire group agreed that ensuring consent was vital.
3) Companies should see data privacy compliance as an enabler, not a barrier - As with most compliance and governance issues, managing personal data is a complex and time-heavy task for organisations. So much so that many see it as a barrier to investing resources in more innovative and exciting things. But our group felt that if approached correctly, it could be used by organisations as a way to positively engage with consumers, society and the government. Striking up a conversation with your audience to find out what they are and aren’t willing to share is a fantastic way to get to know them better and build a stronger relationship.