Futurist Research Firm Releases Report on Technology and Deception

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While infotech may not exactly push people to deceive others, studies suggest it does make lying easier, according to research from the futurist consulting firm Social Technologies.

By making it easier to remain anonymous, infotech can liberate people from the rules and reprisals that otherwise might restrain deceitful behavior, according to analyst Scott Reif, author of a new brief by the futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

He points to a 2006 poll which found that 74% of respondents felt that technology makes it easier to lie. A majority (51%) of the same respondents claimed they felt less guilty lying through the buffer of technology than they did in face-to-face conversations.

"Certain types of communications media are particularly conducive to lying, especially text messaging and Web-based transactions," Reif explains in the report. "Both of these applications feature feedback delays, involve few emotional cues, and require people to supply only minor personal details in order to seem authentic---all of which tend to reduce the inhibitions to employing deceptive tactics."

Creating false impressions

Infotech can make it far more efficient to manufacture and sustain impressions that deviate from reality, in venues as diverse as dating, business relations, and marketing.

  • Dating and dishonesty. While dating and deception have always gone hand-in-hand, online dating has taken the potential for dishonesty to new heights. The Web allows people to represent themselves in any way they choose, without having to validate their claims unless they meet their correspondents face-to-face.

"As long as these deceptions remain minor, studies show that online daters are willing to excuse the behavior as savvy self-promotion. In fact, online daters sometimes apologize for being too honest, which in some dating circles is seen as a sign of low self-confidence or even of haughtiness," Reif notes.

  • Faking popularity. Tools to help people create and sustain an identity that differs from their own are proliferating---increasingly, in the real world as well as online. A number of services have recently emerged to make people appear more popular among their peers.

"For example, someone interested in impressing a first date by receiving 'important' phone calls might use a service like Popularity Dialer, which allows users to select the type of call they'd like to receive---male or female interest or calls from the boss---then receive a call or a message at the appointed time," says Reif. Similar techniques are being used to seed user profiles on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook.

  • Creating the ideal image. Doctoring digital images no longer requires the technical expertise it once did. Average consumers can now alter images using built-in camera features and desktop editing software.

"Some companies are starting to build deception-enabling features right into their devices," Reif adds, noting that Hewlett-Packard offers a "slimcam" feature on some of its camera models that lightly compresses images---taking about 10 pounds off the appearance of anyone it photographs."

Business implications

  • Mechanisms to create trust and verify information are still nascent in the online world and in other new types of communication, and are likely to enable and provide these new verification mechanisms, in areas from online dating to ecommerce.
  • The wide range of reliability in online information will continue to create markets for trusted sources, whether in new media or old. People will continue to want high-integrity, trustworthy advisors in diverse areas of consumer life.
  • Trust is an essential asset for any brand, but can be undercut by engaging in activities, like flogging, that could be seen as disingenuous or deceptive.

"Attempting to manufacture positive interest in a service or product can backfire, with consumers assuming that the opposite of the manufactured message is true---and viral media tends to spread negative 'gotcha' stories with alacrity," Reif concludes. "At worst, engaging in deceptive practices may undermine companies' ability to assert their perspective on any issue."

Learn more
To set up an interview to talk to Scott Reif about technology and deception, contact Hope Gibbs, Social Technologies' leader of corporate communications: (hope.gibbs @ socialtechnologies.com).

Scott Reif ) Futurist
Scott Reif is a futurist and contributing writer to Social Technologies' Technology Foresight and Global Lifestyles multiclient projects. He also serves as a project manager, administering and writing for custom client projects. Scott's domains of expertise include social foresight and epistemological futures, with a special focus on the emerging fields of complexity studies and integral theory. Currently a graduate student in the MS program for studies of the future at the University of Houston, he is in the process of completing his thesis work on the study of behavior under conditions of uncertainty. Scott has a BA in philosophy from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland. Areas of expertise: Automotive and transportation, media and entertainment.

About Social Technologies
Social Technologies is a global research and consulting firm specializing in the integration of foresight, strategy, and innovation. With offices in Washington DC, London, and Shanghai, Social Technologies serves the world's leading companies, government agencies, and nonprofits. A holistic, long-term perspective combined with actionable business solutions helps clients mitigate risk, make the most of opportunities, and enrich decision-making. For information visit http://www.socialtechnologies.com, our blog: http://changewaves.socialtechnologies.com, and our newsletter: http://www.socialtechnologies.com/changewaves

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