Big Data

When Companies Study Their Customers: The Changing Face of Science, Research, and Ethics

Hosted by the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship and the Tech Policy Lab this event will bring together some of the many commenters from the Facebook “emotion contagion study,” together with other thought leaders from the academy, industry, civil society, and the legal community, to talk about the changing face of science, research, and ethics. Panelists include Edward Felton, Paul Ohm, and the Lab’s own Ryan Calo. More information, including a list of speakers and registration info, is available on Silicon Flatiron’s event page.

When Apps Attack – Director Calo contributes to

(photo credit Johan Larsson)

My colleague Yoshi told me an interesting story the other day.  He looked down at his smart phone to find a large spider running across it.  Understandably, my colleague dropped the phone in surprise.  The screen on the phone cracked when it hit the floor.

It turns out there was no spider.  Yoshi had been using an app to count calories.  The app makes money by displaying the occasional ad.  This particular ad, for pest control services, consisted of an elaborate spider animation.

. . .

Now take our spider ad.  The ad’s designers scared my colleague on purpose in order to sell him pest control services.  He predictably dropped and broke his phone.  Other academics and practitioners may disagree, but I think what we have here is a case of digital assault.

It will not be long before apps can do much more than just scare people.  There’s already an app store for robots (which I help advise) and a 3D printer that costs $499.  The wizards at MIT Media Lab recently developed an interface that permits the user to reach out and touch distant objects.  But the line between the physical and the digital was perhaps never all that bright in the first place.

An End to Cookie Tracking? – Prof. Calo quoted by The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal is saying :The end could be near for cookies, the tiny pieces of code that marketers deploy on Web browsers to track people’s online movements, serve targeted advertising and amass valuable user profiles.”


Digital Market Manipulation

Jon Hanson and Douglas Kysar coined the term “market manipulation” in 1999 to describe how companies exploit the cognitive limitations of consumers. Everything costs $9.99 because consumers see the price as closer to $9 than $10. Although widely cited by academics, the concept of market manipulation has had only a modest impact on consumer protection law.

This Article demonstrates that the concept of market manipulation is descriptively and theoretically incomplete, and updates the framework for the realities of a marketplace that is mediated by technology. Today’s firms fastidiously study consumers and, increasingly, personalize every aspect of their experience. They can also reach consumers anytime and anywhere, rather than waiting for the consumer to approach the marketplace. These and related trends mean that firms can not only take advantage of a general understanding of cognitive limitations, but can uncover and even trigger consumer frailty at an individual level.

A new theory of digital market manipulation reveals the limits of consumer protection law and exposes concrete economic and privacy harms that regulators will be hard-pressed to ignore.

Xconomy Forum: Big Insight – Making Sense of Big Data in Seattle

The Tech Policy Lab will be at the Xconomy Forum on Big Data in Seattle:

“It’s not about the data, it’s about the insight. Entrepreneurs, researchers, and investors in Seattle and the broader Northwest are finding innovative ways to harness the raw data rushing at us from an ever-widening array of sources and put it to profitable, impactful use. Building on Northwest strengths such as cloud computing and enterprise software, startups and established technology giants alike are defining a new regional specialization here with the potential to transform virtually every field of human endeavor. And investors are taking note: some 15 local companies working on some facet of big data have raised more than $80 million in venture capital in the last year alone.”