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Using Apps To 'Soft Control' People's Movements 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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Using Apps To 'Soft Control' People's Movements

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  • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @09:31AM (#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.
    • 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.

      • 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).

        • 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.

    • by Kneo24 ( 688412 )
      No matter what type of stick you use to dangle those carrots, it's still control even if it is passive.
      • by Surt ( 22457 )

        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.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      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.
    • 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 :)
      • by fbjon ( 692006 )
        The control comes through a signed contract, not any incentive.
        • by Surt ( 22457 )

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

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            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.

            • by Surt ( 22457 )


              I meant 2a, or more precisely 15.

              • by khallow ( 566160 )

                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 v

                • by Surt ( 22457 )

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

                  • by khallow ( 566160 )
                    The dictionary does since it lists compel as a synonym of "make" in definition 15.
                    • by Surt ( 22457 )

                      That's can interpret, not must interpret.

                    • by khallow ( 566160 )

                      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?

                    • by Surt ( 22457 )

                      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. :-)

      • 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 n
        • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @01:18PM (#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.

        • 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.

        • 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

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

      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

    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      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 y

      • 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."
    • 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!

    • You mean, something like this.... []

    • 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 cli

  • Privacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thereitis ( 2355426 ) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @09:36AM (#39395019) Journal

    “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.

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

    • 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.

  • by TheVelvetFlamebait ( 986083 ) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @09:53AM (#39395107) Journal

    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.

    • 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?

    • Air Miles [] 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.

  • ... 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.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • by yotto ( 590067 ) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @10:33AM (#39395279) Homepage

    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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.
    • by Anonymous Coward

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

  • 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.

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

    This application already applies these methods to shopping.

  • by Paul Fernhout ( 109597 ) on Sunday March 18, 2012 @12:02PM (#39395785) Homepage

    by Theodore Sturegon from the 1950s: []

    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...

  • Come visit our quaint shops! Only 15 km away! Turn left now! []

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

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling