Neuromarketing advances

Paul Raven @ 16-11-2010

Via George Dvorsky, the NYT reports on further developments in the increasingly-technologized voodoo psychology of making you want to buy sh*t you don’t need:

Neuromarketing is simply the latest incarnation, says Joseph Turow, a professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “There has always been a holy grail in advertising to try to reach people in a hypodermic way,” he says.

[ A “hypodermic way”? Interesting choice of language, there; am I the only one who instantly thought of junkies slumped in dark rooms after reading that sentence? ]

Major corporations and research firms, he says, are jumping on the neuromarketing bandwagon because they are desperate for any novel technique to help them break through all the marketing clutter. “It’s as much about the nature of the industry and the anxiety roiling through the system as it is about anything else,” he says.

Personally, I harbour a (totally irrational and unfounded) hope that persuasion marketing will turn out to be a relic of the pre-networked world; when there are infinite channels through which to market, then all marketing is noise, and hence doomed to failure (or at least to being avoided) unless it has a tangible value for the audience independent of the product or service it is trying to sell.

But opinions are divided as to whether neuromarketing might be anything more than the next rung on the ladder up from the focus group:

Mr. Chester says the government traditionally hasn’t restricted advertising for adults because adults have defense mechanisms that can distinguish between truth and untruth.

[ I rather suspect that those “defence mechanisms” are not innate, but learned… and even then only with varying degrees of effectiveness, as a glance at contemporary political debate makes patently clear. ]

“But if the advertising is now purposely designed to bypass those rational defenses, then the traditional legal defenses protecting advertising speech in the marketplace have to be questioned.”

Proponents of the technique, however, say neuromarketing is simply a more accurate barometer of consumer response than traditional focus groups.

Dr. Pradeep of NeuroFocus, for one, says his company will never use subliminal techniques — like embedding stimuli that last 30 milliseconds or less — that people can’t consciously register. And while other neuromarketing firms have been involved in political campaigns, testing candidate speeches and ad scripts, NeuroFocus has not.

“If I persuaded you to choose Toothpaste A or Toothpaste B, you haven’t really lost much, but if I persuaded you to choose President A or President B, the consequences could be much more profound,” Dr. Pradeep says. “The fact that we can use this technology to do this doesn’t mean we should.”

Moreover, at this point, neuromarketing probably isn’t sophisticated enough to realize some of its critics’ worst fears.

Like any technology, neuromarketing is effectively morally neutral; it’s the hand that holds the gun that commits the murder, so to speak. And while I have some concerns about technologized marketing reaching into our brains, I also have the utmost confidence that someone somewhere will be building a spamblocker for it. Everything can and will be hacked.


That’s one sweet hack, kids

Paul Raven @ 28-10-2010

Would the assembled congregation please open their prayer-books and recite with me the Futurismic mantra: Everything Can And Will Be Hacked. And, far from being more easily controlled by technology, the kids will be better at hacking it than the people deploying it [via SlashDot]; this is the 21st Century evolution of the way my mother used to ask me to open her “child-proof” medicine containers for her back in the 80s.


Biometric scanners “inherently fallible”

Paul Raven @ 04-10-2010

Regular readers (and other brands of cynic) will find this to be no shock whatsoever: natural changes in the human body due to aging and health issues can render biometric identification systems “inherently fallible”. Sometimes stuff gets hacked without anyone even trying.


From carjack to carhack

Paul Raven @ 16-08-2010

As if you didn’t have enough things to worry about when you’re driving… researchers have demonstrated some rather worrying security holes that could allow an attacker to PWN your car’s onboard computer systems by spoofing the signals from the wireless tyre pressure sensors [via George Dvorsky]:

… previous experiments showed what could be done with a physical connection to a vehicle’s computer. The new work by teams from the University of South Carolina and Rutgers tried a different tack: spoofing the wireless sensors in wheels used by tire pressure monitoring systems, required in all new U.S. vehicles since 2008.

The researchers didn’t find a wide-open door so much as the security employed by a 1920s speakeasy: once they learned the secret knock, the unidentified test car’s controls let them in no questions asked. The team sent fake warning messages from 40 meters away, and in another experiment, got the test car to flash a warning that a tire had lost all pressure while beaming the signal from another car as both drove 68 mph.

Because each sensor uses a unique ID tag, it was also possible to track specific vehicles, in a way that would be far less noticeable than roadside cameras.

The hacked car usually reset its warnings after the spoofed messages stopped. But after two days of tests, the electronic control unit for the tire monitors fell off its twig and had to be replaced by a dealer. The researchers note that it took several hours of graduate-level engineering to devise their tools and crack into the monitors, but that the actual technology for doing so cost about $1,500.

Buying off-the-shelf kits to accomplish this sort of hack will be as easy as buying an ATM credit card skimmer or a few hours of run-time on a botnet; it’s just chips and code, after all. And now, would the congregation please join with me in chanting the votive mantra of Futurismic: Everything Can And Will Be Hacked.


California proposes car license plates with electronic ads

Paul Raven @ 21-06-2010

Well, things are pretty tight in California, money-wise, so you can’t fault them for looking to cut that deficit. But this proposal is bad news for anyone frustrated by the ubiquity of advertising on every surface of the world: electronic license plates which show the vehicle’s code number while in motion, but which switch to (presumably network-served) adverts after a few seconds of coming to a halt [via SlashDot].

Regular readers (and, indeed, anyone with the remotest knowledge of how electronic technology actually works, if only in the abstract) will doubtless have spotted more fundamental problem, but just in case, I’ll remind you that Everything Can And Will Be Hacked. Hell, there’s already a proof-of-concept for electronic billboard exploits. So the no-mercy breed of road-warrior may want to avoid cutting in front of more geeky communters should these things go into production…


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