Emotional AI, soft biometrics and the surveillance of emotional life: An unusual consensus on privacy

Big Data and Society 7 (1) (2020)
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By the early 2020s, emotional artificial intelligence will become increasingly present in everyday objects and practices such as assistants, cars, games, mobile phones, wearables, toys, marketing, insurance, policing, education and border controls. There is also keen interest in using these technologies to regulate and optimize the emotional experiences of spaces, such as workplaces, hospitals, prisons, classrooms, travel infrastructures, restaurants, retail and chain stores. Developers frequently claim that their applications do not identify people. Taking the claim at face value, this paper asks, what are the privacy implications of emotional AI practices that do not identify individuals? To investigate privacy perspectives on soft non-identifying emotional AI, the paper draws upon the following: over 100 interviews with the emotion detection industry, legal community, policy-makers, regulators and NGOs interested in privacy; a workshop with stakeholders to design ethical codes for using data about emotions; a UK survey of 2068 citizens on feelings about emotion capture technologies. It finds a weak consensus among social stakeholders on the need for privacy, this driven by different interests and motivations. Given this weak consensus, it concludes that there exists a limited window of opportunity to societally agree principles of practice regarding privacy and the use of data about emotions.



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