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How much can people discover about you over social media? It began as a mere marketing stunt, but Digital Shadow remains a very useful (and potentially scary) application.
Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs is a sci-fi game that works on a smart premise: that our lives can be laid out to a hacker and used against us. Our family, our friends, our interests, our personalities: they build up a digital trail, leaving us exposed. It sounds like an Asimov or Bradbury concept, but the accompanying Digital Shadow, used to advertise the game, shows us that this dystopia isn’t too far removed from today.
By allowing it access to Facebook, Digital Shadow gets to know you. But how accurate is it really? I let it loose on my profile to find out…
What Actually Is Digital Shadow?
You might not have previously heard of Digital Shadow, but its potential as a marketing tool was genius. The idea is to make the video game believable. Watch Dogs, released last year, is an open-world game in which you play as a hacker, intent on seeking justice on those who have hurt your family. To do so, you hack into Chicago’s infrastructure and access personal data from the city’s inhabitants.
It was a commercial and critical success, selling four million copies in its first week.
Digital Shadow was part of its marketing campaign, a free app that scours a small section of your online trail. It simply states that “you are not a person. You are a data cluster.” It’s a sobering thought, and a useful tool to remind people not to surrender so much data.
It’s very easy to use. You just sign in using Facebook as you might when commenting on sites.
Within 10 seconds, it’s pulled together all it needs to know. Ubisoft says that “the hope behind the app isn’t to make you afraid of leaving a social footprint. Much like the game itself, the Digital Shadow app is meant to provoke thought and conversation, and perhaps lead to further exploration of our increasingly digital world.” But you’d never believe it’s not there to intimidate and scare you with the accompanying disturbing graphics.
I’m naturally very concerned about online privacy. Combine this paranoia with a laziness that has left me with the same display photo for the past few years, and I predict that Digital Shadow won’t find out too much about me. Let’s see, shall we…?
What Does It Actually Know?
Straight away, Digital Shadow asserts that I can be identified with 94.6% accuracy. Facebook uses DeepFace, a facial recognition project that compares two different images and locates the same individual in each. This allows you to tag people with ease. It’s also deeply unsettling: Facebook knows what you look like.
Fortunately, my contacts are a law unto themselves. They tag me just so I see said images, regardless of whether I’m in them or not. That’s why two of the four displayed images supposedly purporting to be me actually feature my Aunty and a baby.
The other two are, indeed, me; interestingly, both are looking slightly away from the camera, and in one, I’m attempting to conceal my face. I try this three separate times to see exactly what Digital Shadow reckons I look like. The first search is pretty successful: three of the displayed photos feature my face. The second is utterly useless, because I don’t appear at all. One of these images shows a hedgehog. The third has mixed results.
This is just an algorithm. If a real hacker had access to my photos, I’ve no doubt that a wider sample would garner an entirely realistic impression of me. And I don’t like my picture being taken. Those who indulge in selfies will get more accurate results.
Next up, it focuses on my relationships with my online friends. Fortunately, the ‘pawns’ are unidentified. Apparently, I exhibit “low risk of exposure.” I don’t know what would be exposed, but this information is nevertheless a relief.
This is swiftly followed by: Stalkers (who interact with me the most); Liabilities (contacts who tag me the most, supposedly able to weaken me); Obsessions (those who don’t reciprocate conversation, or as Digital Shadow puts it, “potentially hostile”); and Scapegoats (people I might sacrifice because I don’t speak to them often).
The friends listed as Liabilities aren’t the people I immediately thought were tagging me in photos. After searching through my albums, I concede that they have in the last five years. But another, my Aunty, doesn’t appear there, despite attracting my attention to pictures, charity fundraisers, and petitions. Instead, she appears in my Obsessions list, ie. contacts who could “be tapped as allies in an attack against you.” I’ll have words with her!
This is a marketing stunt: you need to bear that in mind here. Deducing that family and friends have nefarious plans is a bit unrealistic.
I’ve also got to question what interactions it keeps track of. I presume simple status updates and public conversations because I frequently engage one of my Obsessions in a two-way dialogue via private messaging. This shows the limitations of Digital Shadow: you only give it access to what friends can see; Facebook, meanwhile, can read your private conversations.
Predicting My Personality
I’m then labelled a submissive, “a conformist and demonstrate compliance. You will be governable if pressured.” While I’d argue the majority of people are “governable if pressured,” I rebel against the idea of conformity. Yet it’s quite a loose concept: what am I conforming to, exactly? I don’t go on protests, but I do write and read articles against conformity, about Occupy, about unethical anti-privacy laws.
I predict, then, that most people would be labelled a submissive. Other labels include Volatile, Deviant, Depressive, and Neurotic.
My most used words vary wildly: grateful, thankful, inflict, killing, stupid. Many of these were, I’m sure, said in jest (I’m not owning up to being a psychopath), while ‘grateful’ comes from the decision to participate in an ill-conceived “Five Days of Gratitude” meme (I lasted a day).
By comparing my results to those of my friends, I can also find out the personality traits of, for instance, MUO’s Security editor, Christian Cawley. He, too, is apparently a conformist – something I know to be incorrect.
More interesting is when I’m most active, something I wouldn’t be aware of otherwise. I mostly share links and am particularly active on Thursday evenings. This is pretty likely; I’m typically away from the computer on Fridays and Saturdays, so like to share as many articles as possible before the weekend.
Digital Shadow is also right about my age (my DOB is stated in my profile, so that’s not a surprise), and general locality. The latter might be particularly concerning if, in my three attempts, it had located the road I actually live on. Instead, it’s plumped for three polarised places, all pretty far from where I live. It’s also wrong about my education, and takes a guess at my occupation. I’m freelance, though, so this likely put a spanner in the works.
As for my annual salary… I wish!
The most worrying part is its password generation. Based on all my results, Digital Shadow displays a list of buzzwords that have the potential to give hackers access to emails, PayPal, Amazon, and countless other services! There are plenty of reasons to do online banking, but if you’re concerned about security, this section is especially revealing.
Fortunately, this is all based on personality, so if you’ve followed tips for creating a memorable password, I doubt many of these will be anywhere close to the mark.
Digital Shadow even suggested ‘Spyro’ (or variations thereof) as my password because I shared an article about PS1 games I still love to play!
What’s interesting about this is what Digital Shadow doesn’t look at. Much more can be discovered by assessing what sites and articles I’ve either shared or liked. This is ignored here – but Facebook does take note in order to fashion adverts for your tastes. Indeed, early this year, it was revealed that intelligent machines had assessed the ‘likes’ of over 86,000 volunteers, and predicted their personalities with shocking accuracy.
How Much Does Digital Shadow Reveal?
Results vary wildly. It depends on how much time you spend on Facebook, how many photos you’re tagged in, how often you update your status.
As a marketing stunt, Ubisoft has done brilliantly. It’s memorable, emotive, and creepy. As a tool to find out about your digital trail, it’s the tip of the iceberg: Facebook knows even more. Nonetheless, this could be wake-up call for millions of people.
Why not give Digital Shadow a go? How accurate is it about you?