Intentionally Opaque Methodologies

A.I. Systems Intentionally Hiding Data
March 10, 2020
Two-Factor Biometric-Based Authentication
March 10, 2020

Intentionally Opaque Methodologies

Intentionally Opaque Methodologies New tools intended to enhance our digital experience instead track us without explicitly showing how or why.

New tools intended to enhance our digital experience instead track us without explicitly showing how or why.

The latest version of reCAPTCHA, which determines whether we are bots or not, isn’t visible. Rather than asking consumers to click a box saying “I’m not a robot” or select which pictures show traffic lights or bananas, this latest version invisibly tracks how someone navigates through a website and assigns them a risk score.

Developed by Google, reCAPTCHA not only establishes that a computer user is human, it also helps digitize books and improve machine learning programs.

While it may be far less annoying than clicking through the old process, this system looks for other details, such as whether you already have a Google cookie in your browser and whether you’re logged into your Google account.

Over time, the system learns the patterns of real people—but it also means that Google could gain access to every single page you’re accessing. The email program Superhuman similarly uses hidden tracking tools.

Designer and news entrepreneur Mike Davidson researched how consumers were being tracked within Superhuman and revealed numerous opaque surveillance techniques being used—some to power features like email read receipts. (To be fair, Superhuman isn’t the only company embedding tracking pixels in emails.) This could be problematic for a journalist working in a country ruled by an authoritarian regime.

How to use tracking tools ethically and how to disclose their true reach to consumers should be a discussion had by every entertainment, media and technology company this year.