Creative Lead at Mozilla Makes Bold Assertion: “Your Memories Will Be Rewritten”

Posted: April 19, 2011 in Academics, Media, Search, Technology
Tags: , , , ,

October 19, 2010-

Remember that scene in the film Back to the Future where Marty McFly realizes that in the photo he carries of his family, he is fading from existence because of the events of the past not transpiring as they should? As a result, he faces the possibility that the shape of his family will change forever? Well, as it turns out, that’s not necessarily impossible.

At least, not according to one of the lead designers and developers at Mozilla, Aza Raskin, Creative Lead for Firefox. During his keynote speech at the University of Michigan School of Information Raskin claimed “the human brain’s predictable fallibility leaves us susceptible to the creation of false memories by brand marketers through retroactive product placement into our photos posted on Facebook and other social networks,” and his assertions are getting a lot of coverage. Raskin, only 27 years old, is one of Mozilla’s most talented innovators, and thus his arguments are by no means falling upon deaf ears. In essence, he’s predicting that social networks will modify our uploaded photos to include product placements and therefore modify our memories.

Specifically addressing the advertising and marketing potential involved in this ploy, Raskin claimed, “We will have memories of things we never did with brands we never did. Our past actions are the best predictor of our future decisions, so now all of a sudden, our future decisions are in the hands of people who want to make money off of us.”

During the talk, to bolster his cautionary predictions Raskin touched upon neurological research into memories and cited the Hollywood blockbuster Inception, which addressed the future potential to tap into and manipulate dreams and memories. This concept of subliminal advertising was also recently addressed in a viral video created by UK illusionist Derren Brown, “Subliminal Advertising,” where the practice of advertising is turned on its head when two high-end advertisers are manipulated into spontaneously generating a pre-determined pitch for a product.

Raskin’s keynote came at an unfortunate time for Facebook, who this week is once again suffering intense scrutiny for their privacy practices. As the New York Times argued, “When you sign up for Facebook, you enter into a bargain…At the same time, you agree that Facebook can use that data to decide what ads to show you.” Yet it was Mark Zuckerberg, the much publicized chief of Facebook, who this week apologized to his users for overly complicated site settings and acknowledged that some app developers on its site shared identifying information about users with advertisers and Web tracking companies.

However, as the New York Times reports, “Facebook has grown so rapidly, in both users and in technical complexity, that it finds it increasingly difficult to control everything that happens on its site.” If you consider that Facebook still claims just over 1,700 employees it seems unlikely that in the next few years the social media Goliath will grow rapidly enough to expand their advertising model to modify users’ uploaded content such as photos and videos. Nor is it entirely clear why they would want to do such a thing, given how infrequently users tend to re-visit their photos even weeks after they have posted them.

On the other side of the U.S., U.C Berkeley professor and privacy expert Deirdre Mulligan had this to say about Facebook: “This is one more straw on the camel’s back that suggests that Facebook needs to think holistically not just about its privacy policies, but also about baking privacy into their technical design.”

In the meantime, perhaps we should all pop some ginkgo biloba and back up the current versions of our photos- just incase.

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